Interpretation of Dreams: Our dreams have meanings?

Interpretation of dreams. What does it mean to dream about snakes, spiders, rats, teeth falling out, or flying? You may be one of those people who believe that dreams have hidden messages, unconscious desires or premonitions that help us to uncover important issues about our past, present, and future. 

On the Internet, we find a lot of dream dictionaries and information concerning the interpretation of dreams. But can we trust it? Is the interpretation of dreams true? In this article, we will explain the origins of the interpretation of dreams, what happens in our brain during the different phases of a dream, and whether or not we can attribute a specific meaning to a particular dream. Keep reading to find out more!

Interpretation of Dreams
Interpretation of Dreams

Interpretation of Dreams 

Until recently, nothing was known about the dreams. Outside of our will and our consciousness, dreams were an incomprehensible ground for us. The very characteristics of dreams, sometimes so real, so shocking or so bizarre, have always led us to the search for its meaning.

On the Internet we can find many dream dictionaries, pages that “help” you, in a couple of clicks, to find “the explanation” or “meaning” of that dream that disturbs you.

It is not surprising that these pages proliferate, people are interested and very concerned to know the interpretation of dreams. Am I having a subconscious revelation? Intriguing right? People usually comment:

“What does it mean to dream of your ex-partner, to dream about someone dying, to dream about falling or breaking all my teeth, to dream you are pregnant, persecuted or being with snakes, etc?” 

Certainly, some of you have felt identified with some of these dreams. Why are these issues so common? Here’s the explanation:

At night, when we sleep, the logical and censored zones of the brain are less active. Our experiences, thoughts, emotions, and things that we have seen throughout the day are “floating” in our mind.  Our dreams are nothing more than the random result of all of the things mentioned before. We are all human and probably have the same concerns or have experienced the same situations.

Therefore, unfortunately, there is no way anyone can tell you with certainty what your own dreams mean. You are the only one who can try an interpretation of dreams. For example try to decipher if “the serpent” in your dream showed up because these animals are terrifying or the night before you saw a snake program; because you love snakes, or you may not even have a clue why it was in your dreams. It simply appeared as a result of a group of ideas that circulated in your mind that night.

That’s why dream dictionaries don’t work since each dream is completely personal and it is possible that the same dream in another person means something totally different. Therefore, no one can really do an interpretation of dreams other than ourselves.

Some will say, “Well, I don’t dream anything,” “I never remember what I dream.” The truth is that unless there is brain damage, we all dream. What makes us remember them more or less the next day is the emotional burden and the logical structure of these. When we are awake we find it hard to remember boring and meaningless content, the same happens during sleep, incoherent and pointless content is easily forgotten.

The origin of the interpretations of dreams

Since forever, people have tried to give meaning to dream components, closely linked to the divine will. It was believed that through dream God communicated with us or that through these we could predict the future. 

It was in Classical Greece when the interpretation of dreams became popular. It was a technique by which a professional or expert guessed the future of people through the interpretation of dreams symbolism. In classics books like The Odyssey and The Iliad, we can find examples of people who engaged in the interpretation of dreams. 

Sigmund Freud in 1900s was the first to establish a theory dreams and their meanings in his work The Interpretation of Dreams.  According to him, sleep is mind’s way of unleashing our most inner desires and impulses that we have repressed during the day. He said that almost all of these impulses were sexual and he found a great variety of these sexual indicators in his patients’ dreams.

Subsequently, psychoanalysis reinvents what was said about the interpretation of dreams. The therapy would no longer consist in the therapist pairing an element of the dream with an assigned meaning, but instead, the patient would himself make associations. He was to try to remember the dream and dive into his hidden traumas or desires.

Even so, Freud described some elements that are often repeated in dreams and what he thought they symbolized. For example, if a king, a bishop, or the sun appear in a dream, there will be something related to the patient’s father. If on the contrary, in the dream the action of swimming, riding, dancing or going up and down stairs appears, this will have to do with the sexual act.

This interpretation of dreams is not valid since it was what Freud suggested, however, it can’t be generalized to the rest of the population. We can’t be certain of why our mind chooses that dream and many hypotheses are possible therefore an interpretation of dreams is, to say the least, very difficult.

Interpretation of Dreams and the Brain

The first thing we need to clarify when speaking about dreams is sleep. What happens in our brain during sleep? Dreams are the most universal human experiences and constitute a set of brain processes that happen while we sleep.

During sleep, cerebral cortex activity decreases, especially the prefrontal cortex. This is the outermost part of the brain that is responsible for organizing motor behavior, making decisions and expressing our personality. That is why dreams take such strange forms because the logical brain is off.

At the same time, areas that relate to the content of our dreams (visual, motor, linguistic, etc.) are activated. Sensitivity to stimuli in the environment, especially in deeper sleep phases, is reduced. For example, if a dog barks in the distance we will not hear it. On the other hand, vegetative functions are maintained, which is automatic and unconscious and allows us to continue performing the vital functions (cardiac, respiratory, digestive, etc.)

Interpretation of Dreams- Cat
Interpretation of Dreams- Cat

Interpretation of Dreams: Types and Phases of Sleep

We have two types of sleep: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and Non-REM sleep. This last one predominates in the first part of the night and then later REM sleep appears, that is in charge of the physical repair of the body. A “Non-REM-REM cycle” lasts about 90 minutes, followed by small awakenings that most of the time we are not aware of.

Non-REM sleep

Non-REM sleep has 4 phases. The first two are light sleep and the last two deeper sleep. In these phases, our minds review what we have done during the day, our worries and desires, which can then be seen reflected in dreams

As the dream goes deeper we are disconnecting our senses from reality, we are no longer perceiving the stimuli from the outside and our muscle tone or tension is diminishing. It is in the fourth phase of non-REM sleep in which our body begins to repair in a remarkable way, both physically and mentally. It decreases blood flow, body temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate. It is the fourth phase in which dreams may appear, but these are static (images, thoughts, emotions, etc.) and sleep disorders such as night terrors or somnambulism may appear.

REM Sleep

In REM sleep eye movements are very rapid, heart rate and breathing are variable and may include penis erections or vaginal secretions.

In this phase is when narrative dreams are produced, which we often remember later. Muscle tone is non-existent and sensorial isolation increased, this is why we are incapable of representing what we are dreaming. So if we try to wake up in this phase it is likely to be extra difficult.

The brain activity that has been recorded in this phase is similar to when we are awake. It is at this stage that sleep paralysis might appear. It is a transient, innocuous but annoying disorder. Sleep is structured differently depending on the animal species and age. When we are children we spend more than half the time that we sleep in REM phase and as we age this phase reduces to 15%. This suggests that REM sleep has to do with the consolidation of learning and the creation of neural connections.

Several researchers suggest that REM sleep can have two functions: to consolidate the learning generated during the day and to discard useless connections or learning. This might be the reason our dreams are so strange and unreal.

Sleep is vital. Lack of sleep causes visual and auditory hallucinations, attention problems, memory. A prolonged lack of sleep can lead to death. That is why it is very important to have very good sleep habits, routines and sleep around 6 to 8 hours.  Also, keep in mind that sleeping hours can’t be compensated later, therefore try to avoid the “I’ll sleep later for more hours”.

Interpretation of Dreams- Baby
Interpretation of Dreams

Interpretation of Dreams is a myth

The dreams we have each night are the result of experiences during the day and fairly random associations of facts and objects. They are very personal making it difficult or impossible to generalize interpretation of dreams. In a dream, what seems to be very important may not be, and the other way around.

Sleep disorders, such as insomnia, night terrors, nightmares or any other disorder such as acute stress, microsleep, and psychological distress can lead to terrible dreams. However, even having a big heavy dinner can also lead to nightmares.   According to some types of psychological orientations, the dream material can be very rich and interesting to work in the psychologist’s office. However, scientifically there is no evidence of a direct relationship between a dream object and a possible meaning. So there’s no need to worry about what we dream about.

According to some types of psychological orientations, dream interpretation can be very rich and interesting to talk and work throughout therapy. However, scientifically there is no evidence of a direct relationship between a dream object and a possible meaning. So there’s no need to worry about what we dream about.

Watch the next video on why we dream by Ted Talk lecturer Amy Adkins. We hope you enjoyed the article and feel free to leave a comment below! 🙂

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar..

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