Dreaming is a phenomenon that captures the curiosity of many. The hidden meanings of dreams are often clues brought to you by your subconscious, revealing your deepest desires. This is why dreams can help guide you to make important decisions.
Dreaming is like watching an episode of your life. When a dream is real and vivid, you might feel sensations and emotions very intensely. Some dreams are more vague, giving the dreamer a bird’s-eye view of the scene but limited involvement.
Sometimes dreams jolt us awake with a feeling of fear, anger or confusion. And when a pleasant dream lingers on the cusp of our consciousness, we don’t want to wake up.
Salvador Dali, a Spanish surrealist painter known for exploring subconscious imagery, once said, “When we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another.”
It’s clear that for as long as humans have been keeping records, analyzing the meaning of dreams has captivated our curiosity. Mesopotamians chiselled their dreams into clay tablets that date back as far as 5000 years ago. The ancient civilizations believed dreams were messages sent from the gods or from the deceased, holding hidden meanings they needed to interpret. Some cultures believe that dreams offer glimpses into the future.
Science has advanced by leaps and bounds since then, and thanks to innovations such as fMRI and EEG machines scientists are able to observe a dream as it’s happening. We’re learning so much about how our minds work, yet the purpose of dreaming is still shrouded in mystery.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the meaning of dreams, what dreams can symbolize, what we can learn about ourselves through our dreams, and the benefits of keeping a dream journal.
Why Do We Dream?
Before we get into the meaning of dreams and what hidden messages might be in your dreams, let’s discuss why we dream.
Have you ever regretted waking up from a dream, or tried to fall back asleep quickly in order to pick up where you left off? Now and then, we can dream up a life better than the one we’re living when we’re awake.
Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, recognized the importance of our subconscious. Freud believed our dreams offered a look into the most misunderstood part of our mind. In his book The Interpretation of Dreams, he sought to explain the reasons behind why we dream. Freud theorized that our dreams represented the desires and fears of our unconscious mind. He believed that by studying and trying to interpret dreams, we could uncover our deepest wishes, better understand our unconscious minds and, thus, ourselves.
Freud’s successor, Carl Jung, also believed that dreams held significance to our waking life. But unlike Freud, Jung speculated that our dreams were the mind’s attempt to relay important messages to the dreamer.
These men were revolutionary thinkers of their time, but the study of psychoanalysis has evolved significantly since then.
So, what does modern science have to say about why we dream?
There are several schools of thought, one being the Emotional Regulation Dream Theory. This theory posits that the purpose of dreaming is to convert the events of the day from our short-term memory to our long-term memory.
Scientists may even be able to see where dreams occur. A recent study has pointed to the right inferior lingual gyrus, an area associated with visual processing as well as emotional and visual memories, as a possible ‘starting point’ for dream creation.
Further, it’s been found that strange, disturbing or otherwise emotionally intense dreams are linked to both the amygdala (the area that processes emotions) and the hippocampus (responsible for storing long-term memories), lending credit to the Emotional Regulation Dream Theory.
Very basically, a dream is your brain’s way of processing events that stood out, without your emotional reactivity.
The Meaning of Dreams: What Do Our Dreams Actually Mean?
Do dreams really carry any significance? It depends on which school of thought you adhere to. The Activation-Synthesis Hypothesis states that our dreams are nothing more than random impulses that our brains fire off while we’re sleeping, and we create the story of our dreams when we wake up in order to make sense of them.
Humans need to make sense of the world around us, and that’s not limited to what goes on outside our heads. If dreaming wasn’t significant to us, dreams wouldn’t have held our attention for thousands of years, nor would there be entire institutions devoted to studying them.
Oneirocritics (scientists who study dreams) sort dreams into categories. Let’s break down 3 of the most common dreams:
1. Nightmares. Nightmares are dreams that induce fear during the dream and sometimes upon waking. They are generally brought on by stressors that can include poor health, trauma or sleep disturbance conditions.
2. Prophetic dreams. A dream that seems to ‘come true’ days or weeks later. While some believe their dreams really do give them glimpses of the future, it’s also possible that prophetic dreams are simply our brain’s way of preparing us for the most likely scenario. Shagoon Maurya, counselling psychologist, psychotherapist and founder of ursafespace.com, explains the theory of subconscious connections: “Many times you dream about something that you often think about. Say, you think about your partner a lot and later dreamt about breaking up with them, and you actually broke up with them. Although it’ll be easy to just credit the dream, however, it was your brain that created these links from your feelings from the conscious mind and projected them to you.”
3. Recurring dreams. A dream that occurs over and over again, either in the same night or across many sleep sessions. It’s been suggested that recurring dreams are often the result of unresolved issues or internalized fears. Recurring themes, scenes or faces in a dream might be nudging you in a certain direction.
For example, if you’re frequently dreaming about someone you’ve not seen in a while, your subconscious may be trying to tell you that you miss that person more than you thought.
What is Dream Journaling, and Should You Keep a Dream Journal?
Dream journaling is recording what we can remember of our dreams as well as any thoughts, feelings or emotions that accompany our memory of the dream upon waking.
It’s best to record what you remember of your dream as soon as you wake up. If you wake up in the middle of the night, it might be worth writing down your dream before you go back to sleep, as analyzing your dreams can help you learn a lot about yourself.
Christina Steinorth-Powell, licensed psychotherapist and author of Cue Cards for Men: A Man‘s Guide to Love and Life, advises keeping a journal near the bed and writing down your dream immediately after waking up when “the memory will be freshest in your mind”.
Some people are more visual and find it easier to draw pictures of the scene instead of writing.
Ask yourself how you were feeling in the dream. Were you scared? Anxious? Happy? How do you feel now? Are there any emotions lingering after an extremely vivid dream? Record this too, along with your ‘sleep data’ (how long you slept, how rested you feel, etc.).
The point is to have a running log of your dreams that you can use to look for any patterns or recurrences, while learning about yourself through your subconscious.
The Benefits of Keeping a Dream Journal
What are the benefits of keeping a dream journal? There are dozens of benefits, and you’d be surprised how much you can learn about yourself through your dreams. Shagoon Maurya, an Australia-based Psychotherapist, explains: “Keeping a dream journal has many benefits. Your dream journal can fuel creativity, inspire you to make certain choices, process your emotions and confront your problems.”
Below are some further details of the many benefits of keeping a dream journal:
1. Your dream journal can inspire you to take action. If you notice that you’ve been having recurring dreams, ask yourself if there’s anything you’ve been avoiding or running away from. Your subconscious might be trying to nudge you in a certain direction or towards confronting a situation you’ve been avoiding. It’s possible your dreams are trying to tell you something.
2. Reading your dream journal can fuel creativity. The unique nature of dreams can be a source of inspiration for many creative projects such as songwriting, painting or creative writing. Read through your dream journal to get your creative juices flowing. Some of the best fictions were based on dreams.
3. Recording a dream journal helps you recognize patterns emerging. Once you notice a pattern, you can begin to look into what those patterns might signify. For example, do the majority of your dreams take place in the past, present or future? Is your sleep disturbed when you have an unusually vivid dream? Asking yourself these questions can help you gain clarity into what your dreams are saying.
4. Reduce stress. As Shagoon Maurya puts it, “[Dreams let you] rehearse and deal with stressful situations. Sometimes we get nightmares. These nightmares elicit stressful mental states. However, analyzing these can give us insights [into] the dark parts of our psyche. By getting these dreams out on paper, we also force ourselves to look at it objectively and then confront the problem (if any).”
5. Aid in lucid dreaming. A lucid dream is a dream in which the sleeper knows they are dreaming and has some degree of control over the dream. Some people have even reported being able to completely control the direction of a dream. Lucid dreamers say that keeping a dream journal is a great way to teach their sleeping self to recognize the signs of dreaming.
6. A dream journal helps you remember amazing ideas. Have you ever had an ‘Aha!’ moment upon waking? It’s frustrating to have an answer to a nagging problem reveal itself in a dream, only to have it slip away like a Polaroid developing in reverse. Journaling about your dreams will help you hold on and come back to the brilliant ideas in your subconscious. The more you journal, the better your recollection will be.
7. Get to know yourself better. With consistency and practice, over time your dream journal will be a story about your life written by your subconscious. This valuable insight will help you in understanding your triggers, anxieties, fears and hopes. When you know yourself well, life is a lot easier to navigate.
Reading your dream journal can help you get a sense of the truths that lie within your subconscious. You’ll learn what your truest intentions are and what your deepest desires are. This can help you make important life decisions. It’s worth keeping a journal by your bedside and giving it a try.
Have you had any dreams that later came true, or dreams that guided you in some way? Let us know in the comments!