Dreams can range from being mildly satisfying to vastly frantic. Everyone, including animals, dreams, but why? And why do we almost always forgot those dreams? Below, we have shed light on some of these queries.
The scientific study of dreams is called oneirology, and it is different from dream interpretation, that is, the analysis of what dreams mean. In oneirology, researchers strive to unravel the basic chemistry and mechanism behind dreaming. It is often that scientists make use of neurological research methods to produce relevant findings.
Dreams have been a subject of scientific, religious and philosophical interest for long but its purpose remains a mystery. According to Sigmund Freud, dreams are unconscious desires and motivations, which are often related to our repressed memories (The Interpretation of Dreams). Below, we have compiled some of the most interesting facts about dreams.
Some Quick Facts
21. We usually dream in the REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep phase, during which our brain activity is high corresponding to that of during wakefulness.
20. While dreams may also occur during non-REM sleep phase, they are generally less memorable than REM sleep dreams.
19. According to resarchers at Stanford University, we can only dream about people whose faces we have seen in waking life. Though our brain is capable of creating a whole new person, his or her facial features would be based on the ones we have already seen.
18. While stress is usually associated with sleeping problems such as insomnia and hyperarousal, it can also trigger frequent anxiety dreams that are, sometimes, more disturbing than nightmares.
John Henry Fuseli’s ‘The Nightmare’
17. About 10%-50% of children aged between 3-6 years experience nightmares.
16. Do you believe in precognition? Even though there is no scientific evidence, many believe that dreams or visions can give insights into the future.
15. On average, a person above 10 years of age dream at least three times a night. A dream can last from a few seconds to 30 minutes.
14. It is a common knowledge that blind people (by birth or otherwise) can dream, but do you that they can visualize images in their dreams? A study suggests so.
13. Studies suggest that animals dream too. These dreams are usually associated with their waking hour activities.
12. Though with insufficient and inconsistent direct evidence, few studies indicate that late-night eating habits can trigger frequent nightmares.
11. Women are more likely to have scary dreams than men.
10. A multinational study, conducted in the United States, South Korea, and India, found out that a vast majority of people believe that content represents one’s desire and beliefs.
9. Dreams Can Help In Problem Solving
In a study conducted at Boston’s Israel Deaconess Medical Center in 2010, researchers asked about a hundred participants to navigate through a 3-D maze. Before the final session, however, the participants were asked to take a one-and-a-half-hour break.
During the break, some were instructed to read books while others were encouraged to take a nap. Interestingly, those who dozed off having a dream about the maze performed way better in the task compared to those who didn’t.
8. During Dreams, Our Body is Completely Paralyzed
The involuntary muscles in our body become paralyzed when we dream and thus prevent us from physically acting out. During the REM sleep, motor neurons in our body become partially inactive (due to hyperpolarization). This state is known as REM atonia.
REM atonia is perfectly normal, in fact, its absence can lead to REM behavior disorder in which a person acts in their dream(s). This is however different from sleepwalking, which occurs during slow-wave sleep.
A person suffering from REM behavior disorder | Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
7. They Can be In Black & White
While a majority of people say they dream in color, there is a small portion of the public who claims otherwise. A study conducted in 2008 at the University of Dundee suggested that people who watched monochromatic television in their childhood can have black and white dreams.
Interestingly, similar researches conducted in the first half of the 20th century indicated that before the ’50s, most people had black and white dreams. The trend changed rather drastically from the ’60s and a possible reason for this change could be the rise in popularity of color television sets.
6. There is Such Thing As Common Dreams
In dreams, if you think that you’re are the only one being chased, failing an exam, flying or falling, then you couldn’t be more wrong. Although dreams are based mostly on our personal anxiety and experiences, there are certain dream themes that are universally reported.
In 2008, a study conducted on about 450 participants revealed many such common dreams. For example, people often dream about being chased, flying or falling. Other common dreams that most of us experience our the inability to find the restroom, or worse, failing an exam.
5. Negative Dreams Are Fairly Common
Negative dreams are common, in fact, one usually experiences negative dreams more often than positive ones. American psychologist, Calvin S. Hall compiled over 50,000 accounts of dreams from people of all age groups.
He believed that dreams are basically visual representations of our thoughts. In other, “dreams reflect one’s unconscious self-conception”. Hall’s empirical work shows how anxiety, anger, abandonment, and fear dominate other emotions in dreams.
4. It is Possible to Control Dreams
Studies have been done to harness an effective technique for inducing lucid dreams, in which the dreamer is aware of the fact that he/she is in a dream despite being asleep, but so far most of them have been ineffective.
However, in 2017, a research team led by Dr. Denholm Aspy of the University of Adelaide explored new lucid dream induction techniques. The participants who utilized all mentioned techniques in a combination reported a 17 percent chance of having lucid dreams.
3. Men and Women Dream Differently
Decades of studies and researches have established that gender is an important factor to consider in the study of dreams, especially when it comes to its contents. Quantitative research was done by Calvin S. Hall also supports this assessment.
While men are more likely to have dreams about cars, weapons, and acts of violence, women report a higher incidence of having clothes and relationships in their dreams. On average, women tend to recall details of their dreams more frequently (as well as share and record them) than men.
Researchers believe that the reason behind this phenomenon could either be biological or social. It is also possible that a combination of these two factors is the right answer.
2. Most of Our Dreams Are Difficult To Remember
Have you ever wonder why you can’t remember your dreams most of the time? A study published in Journal Neuron has tried to answer your question.
Not every region of our brain ceases to operate immediately after we fall asleep and one of the last regions to shut down is the hippocampus. Sitting underneath the cerebral cortex, the hippocampus is an important component of the brain that moves short term memory to long term memory.
If the hippocampus is one of the last to fall asleep, it could also be one of the last to wake up. So, when we wake up with memory in our short term memory, our brain simply cannot retain that memory for long because the hippocampus is still inactive.
Our brain takes about two minutes to engage in its memory-encoding duties after waking up.
1. Dreams Can Influence People’s Behavior and Judgement
According to the American Psychological Association, dreams can change people’s behavior. In a study published by the APA, researchers surveyed 182 commuters at Boston Train Station.
Respondents were asked to imagine a few possible scenarios that had happened the night before their supposed planned flight. A government warning of a possible terrorist attack; a dream about a plane crash; intentionally thinking about a plane crash; or a real plane crash.
It turned out that dreaming about a plane crash is more likely to affect their plans then a government warning and conscious thought.