Dreaming has stumped philosophers, psychologists, and sleep medicine experts for decades. Why do we dream? What do our dreams mean? And can you train yourself to remember your dreams? Here’s what we know.
Do you remember the dream you had last night?
“Everyone dreams, but not everyone remembers it,” says Shelby Harris, PsyD, associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. And as it turns out, there are a few reasons why you might remember or you might not — and whichever it is probably doesn’t predict how well you’re sleeping.
Anxiety, Medication, and Personality May All Affect Dreams and Dream Recall
Remembering your dreams doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how restful your sleep is, Dr. Harris says. Instead, recalling those dreams is a lot more likely to depend on a number of factors, from your current level of stress to the medication you’re taking.
The following can influence whether or not you remember your dreams:
- Anxiety Levels Before Bed People are more likely to remember their dreams when they’re anxious or depressed, Harris says, perhaps because they also tend to wake up more when they’re worried, and do so in the middle of various dreams.
- Medication or Health Problems Certain medicines, including some drugs that treat depression, can suppress dream sleep, says Dr. Subramanian. Similarly, sleep apnea(a condition characterized by short pauses in breath many times while you sleep) can also minimize the time you spend dreaming.
- Gender and Personality Research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that adolescent girls were more likely than their male counterparts to remember their dreams. This study also found a link between creativity and dream recall: Participants with stronger dream recall were more likely to identify themselves as creative compared with those less likely to recall their dreams.
Most of Our Dreams Happen During REM Sleep
When it comes to the question of why we dream, sleep medicine research has in fact revealed perhaps surprisingly little. Experts suspect the purpose of our dreams may be to help us deal with emotional problems from daily life, to be creative, or to sort through memories and other thoughts, among other theories, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Sometimes, you might find yourself having unusually frequent nightmares or even repeatedly experience the same awful dream. In the worst cases, you can end up with disturbed sleep and images from your nightmares may haunt you for the rest of the day. But can you learn anything about yourself by thinking about the themes of these sorts of dreams? Sleep studies and psychological research suggest that you can and that your nightmares may, in fact, be a very useful guide to unmet needs and unresolved issues in your life.
Nightmares come in thousands of different forms, and no two are entirely alike. When it comes to meanings, nightmares are often easier to analyze if you look at the key themes or events taking place.
However, a dream’s meaning isn’t always as obvious as you might think. As we go through nine of the most common bad dreams meanings, think about when you last had a dream like this (and what was going on in your life at the time). In retrospect, you’ll likely be able to see connections between your nightmares and the things that were most troubling to you at the time.
Sharing your feelings whether with family, friends, or a therapist may help you better cope with the events that may be disturbing you. In addition, your physical health may need attention, regular exercise and consistent sleep are helpful. With physical activity, you may fall asleep faster, and enjoy a deeper sleep. Other helpful tips include relaxation therapy, (mindful meditation) to reduce muscle tension and lessen anxiety.
Right off for a walk….