One savvy 5 year old said that dreams were “television we see in our sleep” – and she’s not far wrong! Dreams are depictions of a particular moment or issue in our lives which need our attention; they come from the part of us that knows all about us….but of which we know little about.
Dreams come from the deepest part of ourselves – the unconscious mind, which is likened to a vast ocean on which the conscious mind floats like a cork. Dreams are mental experiences that occur while we are asleep. We know of the existence of dreams because most of us report having mental experiences such as thoughts, images, and emotions while asleep—and we can see consistent areas of the brain become activated during dream-sleep.
Why do we dream?
Dreams serve various functions, including:
Snapshot of one’s life at a given moment
While there are many theories, nobody truly knows why we dream. What is agreed upon is the fact that dreams are an integral part of sleep and do have an important psychological function.
Does everyone dream?
While everyone dreams (in fact, all mammals dream – if you watch your dog or cat digging, barking or hissing in their sleep, it’s a pretty safe bet they are dreaming), not everyone will remember their dreams or they may be sleeping too little or too deep in order to dream. In fact, research has shown that 50% of a dream is forgotten within the first five minutes of waking by most people.
How long do dreams last?
Nobody knows for sure. Rapid eye movement, or “REM” sleep, the form of sleep associated with vivid dreaming, can last up to about 45 minutes but we really have no definitive method for timing dreams. Subjective estimates of dream length, however, are proportional to length of dream reports. This is consistent with the theory that dreams can last a long time rather than flash by in an instant as some early dream theorists conjectured. However, having said all that, the unconscious mind is very clever and can transmit a great deal of information in condensed form in a dream, which may allow for dream content to be quite rich, even in short bursts. The normal sleep cycle consists of four stages, stage 4 being when we dream; we enter into stage 4 some four to five times per night, so it is quite possible that during each stage “dreamlets” can occur, lasting a few seconds to 20-30 minutes.
Are dreams meaningless?
Dreams, I believe, are messages floated up from the unconscious mind to get the conscious mind, i.e. the one that identifies themselves as “I” to focus on a particular issue of importance to the dreamer.
Most dreams are structured into narratives. Some dreams (dreams that tend to be associated with N3 NREM sleep) can lack narrative action and instead are just presentations of a visual scene or a single set of thoughts. Still, even these non-narrative dreams are not meaningless to the dreamer.
It is only the dreamer, however, that has the key(s) to deciphering what the dream symbols that appear actually means for them.
FAQs ABOUT SLEEP
How much sleep should I get a night?
There is no ‘normal’ length of time, it is whatever is natural for you. We all feel sleepy at times but it is important that it is not disruptive to your daily life and general health. Regularly getting less than five to six hours of sleep a night is a no-go as it significantly increases the risk of stroke and heart disease, with evidence that not sleeping enough may ramp up the ‘fight or flight’ response to stress, releasing hormones that speed up heart rate and raise blood pressure.
Are naps bad for me?
Planned daytime naps improve alertness without necessarily affecting nocturnal sleep. Try to limit naps to around 20 minutes – any longer and they may leave you groggy and interfere with night time sleep. If you find yourself needing a nap on a regular basis, chances are you need to re-evaluate your sleep. If you experience insomnia or poor sleep quality at night, napping might make these problems worse.
Can you catch up on sleep at the weekend?
Sleeping in on the weekends doesn’t fix all the deficits caused by workweek sleep loss. A few days of lost sleep can have adverse effects including increased daytime sleepiness, worsened daytime performance, an increase in molecules that are a sign of inflammation in the body and impaired blood sugar regulation. Recovery sleep over a weekend may not reverse all the effects of lost sleep during the week and if it disrupts your normal go-to-bed and get-up routine that could also impact on sleep quality.
As you get older, do you need less sleep?
It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age. It’s not about needing less sleep, but unfortunately as we get older sleep quality declines and we experience a change in sleeping patterns – whether that’s more frequent wakings in the night, loss of non-REM sleep or more daytime napping
Why can’t I sleep?
Sleep problems can be triggered by something stressful like a work problem or even something happy like a wedding. Sometimes the problem goes away once the stress is removed – but it can persist. This can lead to a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and feelings about sleep, which in turn can lead to poor sleep
How can I fall asleep fast?
A reliable schedule is a critical part of being a healthy sleeper; once you’re in bed, you should give your mind something to focus on, rather than, say, the fact you’re not sleeping.
What is REM sleep?
“Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep makes up approximately 20-25% of sleep,” according to Dr Neil Stanley. “It’s during REM sleep that most of our ‘story-like’ dreams occur since REM sleep appears to be involved in processing emotional memories.”