What are dreams?
Everyone has awoken from a frightening dream or rolled out of bed feeling fulfilled because of a dream. Dreams allow individuals to feel as if they are using the time they spend sleeping for entertainment and learning. Dreams have always been an area of interest for many people, but the true origin and substance of dreaming remain a mystery to most.
Dreams, as defined by Dictionary.com, are “a succession of images, thoughts, or emotions passing through the mind during sleep.” 1
Dreams occur in all stages of sleep but occur most frequently and vividly in the first stage of REM sleep.2 This stage is the most important in the sleep cycle as it provides a period of restoration and healing for the body and mind.
If an individual gets the recommended eight hours of sleep in a night, they can go through at least 4 stages of REM sleep resulting in hours of dream time, although most dreams are never recalled.2 Many individuals report never remembering dreams when, in actuality, they are simply not placing importance on dreaming. People tend to recall their dreams about once every few days on average; however, if one is awakened during REM sleep, they can recall their dream 80% of the time.3
It is thought that dreams occur because of the process during REM sleep when the brain synapses are activated and intensive firing of neuronal pathways that hold memories and experiences occurs.2 This stimulation may be what causes dreaming and recall of prior experiences, future goals and a mix of the two.
Some of the most common dreams are those of individuals being chased, pursued, embarrassed, failing at something, or falling. While these types of dreams can all derive from different situations and causes, they all present a frightened sensation to the individual having the dream. Additionally, all dreamers place emphasis on different areas of their lives causing similar dreams to have various meanings to different individuals.3 For instance, more than 80% of college students noted having had dreams of the falling nature. These dreams are thought to originate from feelings of insecurity or fearing loss of emotional balance.3
While the significance of dreams is still unknown, it remains that REM sleep is truly essential to the body and mind’s health and wellness through storage of information and healing that is vital to performance during the daytime.
1. Dream (n.d) On Dictionary.com—Retrieved May 24, 2012, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/dreams?s=t
2. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.
3. Carskadon, Mary A. Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreaming. New York: Macmillan Pub., 1993.