Understanding Dreams

Understanding Dreams

Dreams are an unsolved mystery. As we attempt to solve this mystery, we must first ask ourselves, “Why do we dream?” The problem is that we don’t really know. We know we get tired, and we know we need sleep, but why do we need to dream? What even is a dream? Well, that you already know the answer to but let’s answer this in a more scientific manner.

Dreams are thoughts, emotions, and images experienced during sleep. They’re pretty unpredictable. They can be scary, joyful, or just completely out of whack. According to disturbmenot.co, “We have 4-6 dreams every night.” and “We forget up to 95% of all our dreams shortly after waking up.” So everyone dreams. Even those people who claim they never dream and can’t recall their dreams, still dream. Blind people dream, and research shows that pets probably dream as well.

Despite the difficulty collecting evidence scientists have developed a few theories suggest that dreaming helps us process our memories and emotions. During the deepest sleep stage called REM – short for rapid eye movement, the brain sifts through the experiences of the day, picking what will be forgotten and what will be remembered. Dreams end up in the trash can for the most part, but there are exceptions, and some dreams are remembered.

According to an experiment done by neuroscientist Matthew Walker, it appears that dreams tied with strong emotions like nightmares are more likely to be remembered because they arouse the brain and body more. Sometimes the dream is so intense that it wakes the dreamer. When one wakes up right in the middle of the REM stage, they are more able to recall their dream. He explains this more in his book Why We Sleep (Hilary Brueck, There’s a Scientific Reason Why We Remember Some Dreams but Forget Others (Business Insider, 2017)).

Dreams can help illuminate suppressed emotions and signal to the dreamer’s overall mental health. The type of dream you experience depends on what you’re thinking/experiencing at that point in life. Nightmares are usually linked to stress. Research conducted by Dr. Michelle Drerup shows that dreams can even be influenced by where you live. “There seems to be some cultural influence on dreams,” the doctor states. “For example, the same type of dream might be more common in Germany” (What Do Dreams Mean? (Cleveland Clinic, 2022)).

Given this information, it’s beneficial to know what these visions mean. So, here are some common dreams and their meanings. Disclaimer, these meanings can fluctuate from person to person, but this is what they most likely represent. First off, falling. This could be falling off a tall building or tower. This can signal you need to let go and enjoy life more. This could also show that something is going downhill in your life (relationships, stocks, expectations, etc). A fun dream about flying can represent freedom and independence (Cherry). Being chased is another popular dream. It can indicate that you’re trying to avoid something. This can be taken a step further if you analyze what could be chasing you. If you’re being chased by a stranger, it could mean that you have anxiety in the real world, but you don’t know the source of it. If you’re being chased by an animal or someone you know, they may be a representation of something that you’re afraid of (Porter).

Another cool thing about dreams it that they kind of give us super powers. For example (this is still being tested), falling asleep for just 15 seconds after attempting a math problem gives you a 3x chance at solving it after you wake up. However, taking a full blown nap degrades your chances. It sounds odd but so far research has found that the first stage of sleep (N1 – where your’re half asleep half awake kind of thing) is when people are there most creative. This can be seen in daydreaming. Although, once deeper stages of sleep are reached this creative spark fades. Different variations of the following experiment have been set up. It starts out with someone trying to solve a difficult problem. When that person gets stuck they try to nap while holding a water bottle in their hands. When they fall asleep the muscles in their hand relax and the sound of the bottle hitting the floor wakes them up. This would in theory wake the person while they were in the creative sleep stage and give them that 3x better chance at solving the problem (Corbley).

In case you fell asleep, here’s the shortened version. We don’t know a whole lot about dreams because it’s a difficult topic to gather information on. What we do know is that they play a key role in processing our thoughts and emotions. The more we learn about this mystery the more we learn about ourselves.


Works Cited
Cherry, Kendra. “9 Common Dreams and What They Mean.” Verywell Mind, 23 July 2022, https://www.verywellmind.com/understanding-your-dreams-2795935. Accessed 29 March 2023.
Corbley, Andy. “Waking Up Just After Falling Asleep Helps Problem Solving — Old Myth Confired.” World at Large, 14 December 2021, https://www.worldatlarge.news/function-health/2021/12/14/waking-up-just-after-falling-asleep-helps-problem-solving-old-myth-confired. Accessed 31 March 2023.
“Dreams: What They Are and What They Mean – Cleveland Clinic.” Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials, 15 June 2022, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/dreams-and-dreaming/. Accessed 29 March 2023.
Porter, Liam. “What Does it Mean to Be Chased in Your Dreams? | Sleep Matters Club.” Dreams, 5 October 2021, https://www.dreams.co.uk/sleep-matters-club/chased-in-dreams. Accessed 29 March 2023.
“Why We Remember Some Dreams but Forget Others.” Business Insider, 13 November 2017, https://www.businessinsider.com/why-we-remember-some-dreams-but-forget-others-2017-11. Accessed 29 March 2023.