Why Do We Dream?

Dreaming has been on the great mysteries humans have been trying to figure out for thousands of years. Dreams are often surreal and have a fantastical feel to them, yet for many contain elements of everyday life in them. Many believe dreams are expressions of our deepest desires or messages for ways to improve on ourselves. Although there is debate on the function of dreams, the latest research says that dreams may serve memory consolidation and mood regulation. In terms of memory consolidation, it is thought that dreams help the brain store important information and purge irrelevant information. Dreams are thought to help regulate moods by allowing time to reprocess difficult thoughts and feelings.

Most people have 3-5 dreams each night. They occur during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Dreams can last anywhere from several seconds to 20-30 minutes. As the night progresses dreams usually last longer and longer. Most dreams are forgotten and fade very quickly. Those with sleep disorders and sleep deprivation usually have fewer dreams overall and less benefit from dream function.

Lucid Dreams and Dream Analysis

Lucid dreams are those dreams that the person becomes aware of, meaning the person realizes they are dreaming while they are dreaming. During lucid dreams, many people are able to manipulate and control events within the dream. Research shows lucid dreaming usually occurs in the later stages of REM sleep and brain scans have shown prefrontal, parietal, and temporal lobe areas are active during lucid dreams.

Dream analysis became all the rage in 1899 when Sigmund Freud published his book on dream analysis. There was a proposal for universal symbols in dreams that signify certain things. Because there is no scientific way to study this and verify these dream elements and symbols, most experts agree there is no way to analyze dreams and that most dreams do not signify anything at all.

What Causes or Increases the Risk of Nightmares?

Nearly everyone has experienced a nightmare at some time in their lives and upon waking recall the negative content of their dream which may fill them with terror, anxiety, or great sadness and continue to feel these distressing emotions upon waking and may make it difficult to return to restful sleep. The most common nightmares include: being chased, death or dying, feeling lost, feeling trapped, and being attacked. Children are more prone to nightmares than adults and have a harder time shaking them off due to their struggles at times with separating fantasy from reality.

There is a number of ideas about what causes nightmares. One of the most notable is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) where many people end up re-experiencing elements of their traumatic event in their nightmares; something known as flashbacks. Other causes of nightmares can include anxiety disorders where a person is prone to worry and fear, which ends up manifesting in dream content as nightmares. Sleep deprivation or a fluctuating sleep schedule can result in rebound REM sleep which may trigger more dreaming and possibly nightmares. Side effects of medication (notably Chantix) or withdrawal from some medications can increase the risk of nightmares.  Jet lag, fever, or other illnesses have been linked to an increase in nightmares. Lastly, some people may be genetically predisposed to having more nightmares. Though not fully understood, there are studies that show genetics may cause nightmares to occur more frequently in some families.

If you are struggling with nightmares and dream content, feel free to contact IPC so you can schedule a consultation with one of our psychologists or psychiatrists so we can help discuss treatment options. Please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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