Just dream on!

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Who doesn’t like to dream in their sleep? But what are dreams, and how do they connect to our daily lives? A. Radhakrishnan explains this common, yet much misunderstood phenomenon.

“Dreaming is an act of pure imagination, attesting in all men a creative power, which if it were available in waking, would make every man a Dante or Shakespeare”.
– Mitch Hedberg
After she woke up, a woman told her husband, “I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for our anniversary. What do you think it means?”
“You’ll know tonight.” he said.
That evening, the man came home with a small package and gave it to his wife.
Delighted, she opened it to find a book entitled The Meaning of Dreams!

Nothing can be more peaceful than to enjoy a deep, carefree sleep, having the most beautiful dream of your life. Dreams have fascinated and mystified humanity since the beginning of time. Though science has allowed us to learn much about the human brain, the content and purpose of dreams has been a topic of scientific and religious speculation.

The length of a dream can vary from a few seconds, to about 20–30 minutes. Most dreams are immediately or quickly forgotten. They tend to last longer as the night progresses.

If we remembered all our dreams, we might not be able to distinguish dreams from real memories, say researchers. Some say our minds don’t actually forget dreams, we just don’t know how to access them. Dreams may be stored in our memory, waiting to be recalled.

Interpreting dreams
Dreams, basically stories and images our mind creates while we sleep; a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations usually occurring involuntarily in the mind, can be vivid and exciting. Negative emotions are much more common than positive ones.

Some experts say dreams have no connection to our real emotions or thoughts, but just strange stories that don’t relate to normal life. But they could be reflecting our own underlying thoughts and feelings, our deepest desires, fears, and concerns too.

Often, peoples’ dreams of being chased, falling off a cliff, or appearing in public naked are likely caused by hidden stress or anxiety. Dreams may be similar, but the meaning behind them is unique to each person; so one should not depend on books to evaluate it.

During a full eight-hour night sleep, most vivid dreams occur in the typical two hours of deep Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, when the brain is most active. People are more likely to remember the dream if they are awakened during this phase. Oneirology is the scientific study and attempt at drawing meaning from dreams and searching for an underlying message and used for the lucid dreamers.

A lucid dream is one ‘where you have a dream where you know you were dreaming during your dream’’ Such dreamers are able to influence the direction of their dream, changing the story so to speak. But many dream experts say it is better to let your dreams occur naturally.

In most other dreams, the person dreaming is not aware that they are dreaming, no matter how absurd or eccentric the dream is, perhaps because the brain’s prefrontal cortex, exhibits decreased activity. This allows the dreamer to more actively interact with the dream without thinking about what might happen, since things that would normally stand out in reality, blend in with the dream scenery.

REM sleep and the ability to dream seem to be embedded in the biology of many animals too. Studies show signs of dreaming in all mammals including monkeys, dogs, cats, rats, elephants, and shrews, as well as in birds and reptiles.

Sigmund Freud calls it an insight into hidden desires and emotions; others suggest that dreams assist in memory formation, problem solving, or simply are a product of random brain activation. In modern times it is seen as a connection to the unconscious mind, ranging from normal and ordinary, to overly surreal and bizarre.

Dreams can at times make a creative thought occur to the person or give a sense of inspiration. One school of thought feels dreams have no purpose or meaning, and are nonsensical, others feel it’s necessary for mental, emotional, and physical health and a conduit of creativity.

The ancient intepretation
The ancient Greeks and Romans saw it as direct messages from deities or deceased persons, predicting the future. The Egyptians practiced dream incubation with the intention of cultivating dreams that are a prophecy. The Mesopotamians averred that the soul actually visits the places and persons, the dreamer sees in their sleep. The Chinese speak of two vital aspects of the soul, of which one is freed from the body during slumber to journey in a dream realm, while the other remained in the body. The Indian text Upanishads, defines dreams as merely expressions of inner desires or that the soul leaves the body and is guided until awakened.

Judaism, considered it an interpretative part of the experience of the world and from which lessons can be garnered. The ancient Hebrews connected their dreams heavily with their religion. Christians mostly thought that dreams were of a supernatural character. Iain R. Edgar says that in Islam dream interpretation is the only way that Muslims can receive revelations from God. To some indigenous American tribes and Mexican civilisations, dreams are a way of visiting and having contact with their ancestors. However, the Middle Ages held dreams as evil, and the images as temptations from the Devil.

Most dreams however, are not symbolic, but straightforward and realistic depictions of the dreamer’s fears and desires. Herodotus in his The Histories, writes “The visions that occur to us in dreams are, more often than not, the things we have been concerned about during the day.”

People who are blind from birth do not have visual dreams but are related to other senses like auditory, touch, smell and taste, present since birth. A small minority of people say that they dream only in black and white as they were only exposed to black and white television and films in childhood.

Dream content, than thought content when awake, is important to people and they are more likely to view a positive dream about a friend to be more meaningful than about whom they disliked.

Dream incorporation is a phenomenon whereby an actual sensation, such as environmental sounds, are incorporated into dreams, such as hearing a phone ringing in a dream while it is actually ringing, or bed wetting when dreaming of urination. The mind awakens an individual however, if they are in danger or if trained to respond to certain sounds, such as a baby crying.

The recollection of dreams is a skill that can be trained. It can be recalled if a person is awakened while dreaming. Women tend to have more frequent dreams recall than men. Finally, you’ve probably seen a dream catcher, featuring sacred charms like feathers and beads, hanging from a tree, a porch or even in a souvenir shop. Alternately called ‘Sacred Hoops’, native Americans used it as a talisman to protect sleeping people, usually children, from bad dreams and nightmares.


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A.Radhakrishnan

A.Radhakrishnan is a Pune based freelance journalist, short story writer and poet who loves to make the world happy.

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