What your dreams actually mean, according to science

Posted at 5:50 PM, Sep 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-18 17:50:02-04

Everyone dreams when sleeping even if you don’t remember any of it when you wake-up.  But why do we dream and do they mean anything? 

There are of course different theories out there as scientists, psychologists and neurologists try to answer these questions. Let’s take a look at some research.  

Scientists in Germany worked with lab mice and found the neocortex in the brain fires during sleep.  The neocortex is responsible for making decisions and it’s where we do our deep thinking.  It decides what gets discarded and what gets stored in long-term memory. 

The theory goes that during this data dump process, bits of info is drawn into nighttime dreams, creating the often bizarre and incomplete storylines we wake up remembering.

Another study in Boston found dreaming could help with memory and problem-solving. Participants who navigated a three-dimensional maze and took a nap right afterwards had a ten-fold improvement when they maneuvered the maze again. But only if they dreamed of the maze while napping.  

Other theories of dreams range the gamut from emotional regulation, threat simulation to repressed conflicts or desires.

Whether or not they provide insights to our innermost wishes or real-life problems, if you want to try and make sense of your dreams, here are my prescriptions:

  1. Keep a journal and write down your dreams upon waking. This is the first step to analyzing them.
  2. Keep track of how the dreams made you feel.  They could help you process painful or confusing emotions linked to real life experiences.
  3. If you have recurrent dreams, it could be a reflection of something you need to address in real-life.  If you can’t figure it out, ask your doctor for advice. 
  4. Stay away from dream dictionaries or interpretation aids.  The meaning behind your dreams are unique. You and only you can decode and decide what your dreams may mean.

Whether you believe dreams offer intuitive wisdom or are just your brain’s way of sorting and clearing the mind -  as abstract as they can be at times, they can still have positive effects on your life if you reflect and examine them.  But try not to judge too much, because not every dream has a hidden meaning.