Why Do Dreams Exist? Psychologists Explain the Answer

You might be wondering, why do we enter a fantasy world when we sleep? What do our dreams mean? Dreams can be both reassuring and frightening. In dreams, you can do things that are otherwise impossible in the real world – you can fly, talk to animals, rise up from the dead, etc. But it can also be scary at the same time.

On average, we dream for about 1-2 hours each night. We usually forget most of what we dream about, and in fact, there are a few people who even claim never to have had dreams their whole life. According to research, if a person awakens directly after a sleep episode of rapid eye movement, he or she will remember their dream, sometimes even in great detail. These reports suggest that the person is conscious during their sleep.

Types of Dreams and What They Mean

There are different kinds of dreams. Some are lucid, others vague. Some are lovely, others scary. Some people get recurrent dreams. There are also people who believe their dreams are prophetic and about two-thirds claim they have experienced having deja vu dreams.

Some psychologists in Montreal say that ‘flying and falling’ dreams are also quite common, along with the dream of losing a tooth or several teeth. Dreams that feature someone being chased are quite common as well.

Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis therapy is very useful in helping people interpret and analyze their dreams. It is aimed at giving you an insight into your own unconscious motivations and tendencies. Freud would always encourage people to talk about their dreams without hesitation. According to him, dreams are about a person’s past and present and each dream is an attempt at fulfilling one’s desires.

Our dreams aren’t direct representations of what our subconscious mind is telling us but they need to be analyzed as they do symbolize our true feelings. Freud believed that dreams occur as a result of our inner conflicts between our innermost desires and the societal conflicts that arise from acting out on these desires.

Criticisms and Other Likely Explanations

However, several critics of this Freudian theory point out that if dreams are simply a way to fulfill our wishes, then why are a lot of dreams negative?

Some researchers have proposed that dreams do not necessarily involve desires or conflicts. In the rapid eye movement phase of our sleep, neurons that secrete acetylcholine become active in the brain, which in turn activate muscular and cerebral cortex paralysis. This causes us to see images in our dreams.

This would explain why some people have dreams wherein the images that are evoked are related to episodes that have recently occurred or from our most recent thoughts. For example, a patient that is anticipating a surgical procedure in the coming days may have frightening dreams in the nights leading to the operation. What this essentially means is that our dreams usually express what is currently significant in our lives, instead of something that stems from our heart’s deepest desires.

Final Thoughts

If you’re bothered about your dreams, you can take steps to try and understand what they mean. Experts suggest that you record your dreams daily. If you find it hard to remember the details, keep a journal by your bedside table and write at least a few sentences each morning (as soon as you wake up) for a couple of weeks. Identify your recurring thoughts or feelings in that dream. Then identify recurring thoughts in your daily life, and compare. Consider every element of your dream and try to find similarities in your real life with the dreams that you’re having. Doing these things can help you discover the meaning of your dreams.