Dreams are one of the most mystifying aspects of sleep. Since Sigmund Freud helped draw attention to them in the 19th century, considerable research has worked to unravel both the neuroscience and psychology of dreams.
There are many theories on why we dream, but there is one that is generally accepted: Dreams are a collection of thoughts, struggles, emotions, events, people and symbols that are relevant to the dreamer in some way. They occur during REM sleep, and are usually very vivid and detailed.
The most common dreams are nightmares, but they can also be lucid or vague. They’re often accompanied by a sense of paranoia, anxiety or depression. And they can be triggered by things such as medication or mental health conditions.
Nightmares are a form of hallucination, and they can be associated with a variety of mental health issues including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). If you’re having nightmares that are negatively affecting your sleep expert on dreams, it’s important to talk to a doctor or a mental health professional.
Your dreams are your mind’s way of talking to you during REM sleep. During this stage of the sleep cycle, your brain works differently than during non-REM sleep, says Alan Kuras, a licensed clinical social worker at Westmed Medical Group in California. This makes it more likely that your dreams will involve strange or surreal events, like ghosts, monsters or even aliens.
They’re also a way for the brain to process new information and gain insight into previously unsolved problems, psychologist Rubin Naiman tells CNET. He’s a researcher at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and a fellow in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
When you dream, the content is different than what happens in your waking life, and that’s why they’re often so difficult to interpret. It’s hard to tell what a dream means, but it can be helpful to write down your dreams when you wake up.
It’s more common to forget your dreams than remember them, so it’s best to not try and recall them as soon as you wake up. This could be because your memory isn’t as good at that time of the night or that the neurotransmitters forming memory aren’t as active during REM sleep, Kuras says.