Understanding Our Dreams: What Is Your Brain Trying to Tell You?

kid flying in the sky on a suitcase - what do our dreams mean?

A large part of the human experience is getting lost in imagination and letting our creativity flourish. A common way that humans experience their creativity is in their dreams. In fact, every individual dreams, and spends an average of six years of their life dreaming. So what are dreams? What makes them feel so real that we actually believe we’ve experienced them even after waking up? Are our dreams just visions we create in our minds? Or could it be our unconscious mind trying to reach out to us?

What are Dreams, Why Do We Have Them and What Do They Mean?

Dreams take place during the rapid eye movement (REM) cycle of our sleep. During REM, the brain cuts off signals to the spinal cord, leaving the dreamer immobile. The brain of the dreamer, however, becomes hyperactive, allowing us to experience cinematic scenarios. Like our imagination, dreams are mental imagery created from images, thoughts, sounds, voices, and emotions we have experienced, most often from recent events. However, while we have conscious control over our imagination, dreams are created by our unconscious minds.

Dreams are such an ordinary happening that we often overlook them, not giving much thought to what we experienced or felt upon waking. But many sleep experts and researchers believe dreams are the subconscious mind’s way of communicating with our conscious mind. Many speculate that dreaming is like having an ”internal therapist.” That is, our brain takes all the information it has absorbed throughout the day, analyzes it and reflects it through the content of our dreams. This is why it is believed that dreams are a crucial step in emotional coping, stress relief, self-awareness and conflict resolution. Our dreams can teach us more about ourselves in minutes than a whole day spent in conscious reality.

How Do We Analyze Our Dreams?

dream catcher in the sun - what do our dreams mean?

No two people are the same. Therefore, no two people will have the same dream or the same experience. There are a lot of strange things that your mind can think up, and a lot of times the scenarios and situations don’t make sense. However, they do become easier to understand once you focus on the content and emotional impact.

  • Write them down. Upon waking, we only remember roughly five percent of our dreams, and even less so as we gain full consciousness. It is recommended that you write your dreams down after waking. It encourages better dream recollection and allows you to recover as many of the details of your dream as possible.
  • Consider the associations. Think about the images in your dream: the location, the objects, the weather/atmosphere. Do you associate any of these with a certain part of your life?
  • Who was in your dream? Think of the people in your dream. How did they treat you and what impact did they have on your emotions? Interestingly, the people in our dreams may be symbols of our own If you have a really intimate dream with an individual you are not close with, that may be your unconscious trying to communicate with you. Think about who you’re dreaming about and why you may be dreaming about them.
  • Focus on objects. Were there any symbols or objects in your dream from earlier that day? Dreaming is the brain’s way of analyzing the information we absorb during the day. It is not uncommon to dream about events that took place on the same day. Consider how the event made you feel in reality and then compare it to the emotions felt in your dreams.
  • Are your dreams recurring or similar in content? If so, you can assume your brain is trying to tell you something. Recurring dreams indicate unresolved conflicts in an individual’s life. However, these dreams can be difficult to decipher because their content is often a symbolization of the real conflicts in our lives.

Understanding Your Recurring Dreams

Recurring dreams are not only some of the most common forms of dreams, but they are also some of the most unforgettable and emotionally impactful. Common themes include falling, being attacked or chased, being naked, losing teeth, failing a test, or missing or arriving late to an event. Recurrent dreams are usually a result of stressors in an individual’s life. Not all are bad, however. Some will have a recurring dream of a wonderful experience.

According to psychologist Ian Wallace, these are the most common recurring dreams and what they might mean:

  • Being Chased: You have an issue you would like to confront but do not know how to go about confronting
  • Naked in Public: You may be feeling vulnerable or exposed in your waking life. Wallace suggests opening up to others and connecting through our talents.
  • Unprepared for an Exam: This could be missing it entirely or a feeling of inevitable failure. We may be too critical when examining our performance in waking life.
  • Teeth Falling Out: As teeth are a sign of power, losing your teeth could translate to a loss of confidence or feelings of helpless in waking life.
  • Flying: You may have just recently released a tremendous burden from your life. Wallace says that flight is a common theme of individuals who have just made a “weighty decision or risen above the limitations of a heavy responsibility.”
  • Falling: You are holding onto a particular situation too tightly. Wallace suggests that sometimes we just have to let things fall into place the way they were intended to.
  • Missing an Event or Arriving Late: You are scared you are losing the opportunity to experience fulfillment in your waking life. This dream may persist until you focus on something that will use your time efficiently.

While everyone dreams, no one shares the same dream experience. The emotional impact our dreams have on us may be the best way of identifying problems, successes, concerns, fears, and wishes that we have in our waking lives. Analyze your dreams and learn more about yourself and what your unconscious mind desires.

About the Author

Josh Miles is a St. Petersburg/Tampa based writer who studied Business Management and Marketing at the University of South Florida. He believes that time spent with good friends and a connection with nature are keys to a healthy and happy life. In his free time, you will find him exercising, listening to music, or playing video games with friends.
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