The topic of dreams has been a conversation starter for centuries. Even before Inception, we all wondered where dreams came from, how to capture them before they faded into the abyss, and—most important—what they meant. The notion that “It was just a dream; it’s no big deal” is something we’ve been hearing since childhood. It isn’t totally farfetched, as it’s hard to truly delve into something you can never truly grasp. But with social media and a slew of external sources for establishing more and more connections with the outside world, we sometimes forget to prioritize our innermost thoughts. Dreams are a part of those deep manifestations and can have true significance. So take a moment to dig deeper and truly figure out the meaning behind that time you dreamed you had superpowers.
In order to demystify dreams as best we could, we talked to Sleep Disorder Specialist Ross Levin, PhD, about where and why dreams develop, how to keep them in our memory once we’re awake, common themes and their meaning, and more.
Why and where dreams develop is incredibly complicated, but you should know that your neocortex and hippocampus are implicated.
“Multiple areas of the brain are affected,” says Levin. But the takeaway is that two of the most important parts in play when you’re dreaming are your hippocampus—which manages your emotions, knowledge, and memory—and the top layer of your brain, known as the neocortex, and its four lobes.
We all dream, unless we’re suffering from temporal lobe abnormalities.
Levin states, “We all dream during REM sleep, which happens about four to five times a night.” Each dream may last anywhere from five to 20 minutes, but many people do not remember the subject matter.
We can’t remember dreams when we wake up because our memory is state-dependent.
“Memory is mediated by different neurochemicals during REM and waking,” declares Levin. Many of the dreams we’ve had will be forgotten by the time we get out of bed.
Writing down your dreams is the best way to improve your dream memory.
Get a dream journal, and keep it by your bedside so you can immediately jot down your dreams upon waking.
A recurring dream represents a place of stagnation.
Having one dream arise again and again indicates that you’re stuck in a moment. There is something you need to examine, work through, and ultimately let go of.
Dreams aren’t defined solely by positivity; nightmares fall into the same bucket.
“Nightmares are distressing and highly vivid dreams that awaken us from sleep,” says Levin. They can be brought forth by alcohol or drug use, emotional problems, fear, stress, or trauma.
Here are some common themes and their meanings:
- A chase can be quite terrifying and can be proof that you need to face a less-than-satisfying situation or personality trait. You may be unwilling to tell the truth about what’s actually going on or may be facing an obstacle when it comes to accepting the reality of the circumstances at hand. If you continue to avoid and disregard your problems, they will continue to grow, unfortunately.
- Death and loss can be quite symbolic and do not have to serve as omens of what’s to come. Whomever you’re losing in your dream could hark back to a part of yourself you’re afraid to be without. Or you could be going through a fluctuation in your life in which something you once found pleasure in is falling away. You should allow yourself to feel upset and grieve, but a change might be warranted and good for you if it is resolving an internal conflict.
- Doors often represent a transition or shift, whether physical or figurative.
- Falling denotes feeling overrun or defeated. The foundation and security in your life are slowly disappearing because of a slew of responsibilities or the sudden fast-paced motion of daily events. It’s a sign that you need to invest in self-care: Take a vacation or even just a day of rest during which you are disconnected from the outside world.
- Flying can be part of an amazing dream or a nightmare. If you’re experiencing a sense of euphoria and stability while in the air, then you’re truly seeing things with new eyes and shifting your vantage point for the better. If there’s a sense of fear, then you may be harboring feelings or thoughts that are toxic and bad for you: You need to work on letting go.
- Nudity can be quite disturbing, as it might be if you were to actually awake naked in public. It symbolizes a feeling of being exposed and defenseless. Your true self is showing, which can definitely bring on a sense of worry if you aren’t ready. Embrace all of who you are, and be a bit easier on yourself.