Dream Series: Part II – Studies of brain activity suggest that most people over the age of 10 years dream between four and six times each night. Some of those people can remember parts of a dream, while others remember very little.
Dreams are an enduring source of mystery for scientists and psychological doctors. It is often said that five minutes after a dream, people have forgotten 50 percent of its content, and that increases to 90 percent another five minutes later. Everyone dreams, although we may not remember our dreams.
Relationships: Some have hypothesized that one cluster of typical dreams, including being an object in danger, falling, or being chased, is related to interpersonal conflicts.
Sexual concepts: Another cluster that includes flying, sexual experiences, being nude, finding money, and eating delicious food is associated with libidinal and sexual motivations.
Fear of embarrassment: A third group, containing dreams that involve failing an examination, arriving too late, losing teeth, and being inappropriately dressed, is associated with social concerns and a fear of embarrassment.
In neuroimaging studies of brain activity during REM sleep, scientists found that the distribution of brain activity might also be linked to specific dream features. Several bizarre features of normal dreams have similarities with well-known neuropsychological syndromes that occur after brain damage, such as delusional misidentifications for faces and places.
Dreams and The Senses
Dreams were evaluated in people experiencing different types of headache. Results showed people with migraine had increased frequency of dreams involving taste and smell. This may suggest that the role of some cerebral structures, such as amygdala and hypothalamus, are involved in migraine mechanisms as well as in the biology of sleep and dreaming.
Music in dreams is rarely studied in scientific literature. However, in a study of 35 professional musicians and 30 non-musicians, the musicians experienced twice as many dreams featuring music, when compared with non-musicians. Musical dream frequency was related to the age of commencement of musical instruction but not to the daily load of musical activity. Nearly half of the recalled music was non-standard, suggesting that original music can be created in dreams.
It has been shown that realistic, localized painful sensations can be experienced in dreams, either through direct incorporation or from memories of pain. However, the frequency of pain dreams in healthy subjects is low. In one study, 28 non-ventilated burn victims were interviewed for five consecutive mornings during their first week of hospitalization.
- Thirty-nine percent of people reported pain dreams.
- Of those experiencing pain dreams, 30 percent of their total dreams were pain-related.
- Patients with pain dreams showed evidence of reduced sleep, more nightmares, higher intake of anxiolytic medication, and higher scores on the Impact of Event Scale.
- Patients with pain dreams also had a tendency to report more intense pain during therapeutic procedures.
More than half did not report pain dreams. However, these results could suggest that pain dreams occur at a greater frequency in populations currently experiencing pain than in normal volunteers.
One study has linked EEG activity to conscious awareness in dreams. The study found that current stimulation in the lower gamma band during REM sleep influences on-going brain activity and induces self-reflective awareness in dreams.
Recent research has demonstrated parallels between styles of romantic attachment and general dream content. Assessment results from 61 student participants in committed dating relationships of six months duration or longer revealed a significant association between relationship-specific attachment security and the degree to which dreams about romantic partners followed. The findings illuminate our understanding of mental representations with regards to specific attachment figures.
Death in Dreams
Researchers compared the dream content of different groups of people in a psychiatric facility. Participants in one group had been admitted after attempting to take their own lives. Their dreams of this group were compared with those of three control groups in the facility who had experienced:
- depression and thoughts about suicide
- depression without thinking about suicide
- carrying out a violent act without suicide
Those who had considered or attempted suicide or carried out violence had were more likely to have dreams with content relating to death and destructive violence. One factor affecting this was the severity of an individual’s depression.
Two Sides of the Brain
The right and left hemispheres of the brain seem to contribute in different ways to a dream formation. Researchers of one study concluded that the left hemisphere seems to provide dream origin while the right hemisphere provides dream vividness and affective activation level. A study of adolescents aged 10 to 17 years found that those who were left-handed were more likely to experience lucid dreams and to remember dreams within other dreams.
Studies of brain activity suggest that most people over the age of 10 years dream between four and six times each night, but some people rarely remember dreaming. It is often said that five minutes after a dream, people have forgotten 50 percent of its content, increasing to 90 percent another five minutes later.
Most dreams are entirely forgotten by the time someone wakes up, but it is not known precisely why dreams are so hard to remember. Steps that may help improve dream recall, include:
- waking up naturally and not with an alarm
- focusing on the dream as much as possible upon waking
- writing down as much about the dream as possible upon waking
- making recording dreams a routine
WHO REMEMBERS THEIR DREAMS?
There are factors that can potentially influence who remembers their dreams, how much of the dream remains intact, and how vivid it is.
Age: Over time, a person is likely to experience changes in sleep timing, structure, and electroencephalographic (EEG) activity. Evidence suggests that dream recall progressively decreases from the beginning of adulthood, but not in older age. Dream also become less intense. This evolution occurs faster in men than women, with gender differences in the content of dreams.
Gender: A study of dreams experienced by 108 males and 110 females found no differences between the amount of aggression, friendliness, sexuality, male characters, weapons, or clothes that feature in the content. However, the dreams of females featured a higher number of family members, babies, children, and indoor settings than those of males.
Disorders: Dream recall is heightened in patients with insomnia, and their dreams reflect the stress associated with their condition. The dreams of people with narcolepsy may a more bizarre and negative tone.
DREAM RECALL and WELL-BEING
One study looked at whether dream recall and dream content would reflect the social relationships of the person who is dreaming. College student volunteers were assessed on measures of attachment, dream recall, dream content, and other psychological measures.
Participants who were classified as “high” on an “insecure attachment” scale were significantly more likely to:
- report a dream
- dream frequently
- experience intense images that contextualize strong emotions in their dreams
Dream recall was lowest for the “avoidant” subjects and highest for the “pre-occupied” subjects.
Everyone dreams, although we may not remember our dreams. At different times of life or during different experiences, our dreams might change.
A study investigating anxiety dreams in 103 children aged 9 to 11 years observed the following:
- Females more often had dreams containing anxiety than males, although they could not remember their dreams as often.
- Girls dreamed more often than boys about the loss of another person, falling, socially disturbing situations, small or aggressive animals, family members, and other female people they may or may not recognize.
Studies comparing the dreams of pregnant and non-pregnant women showed that:
- Infant and child representations were less specific in women who were not pregnant. Among those who were pregnant, these images were more likely in the late third trimester than in the early third trimester.
- During pregnancy, dreams were more likely to include the themes of pregnancy, childbirth, and fetuses.
- Childbirth content was higher in the late third trimester than early in the trimester.
- The group who were pregnant had more morbid elements in their dreams than those who were not.
Those that give care to family or people who have long-term illnesses often have dreams related to that individual. A study following the dreams of adults that worked for at least a year with individuals at United States hospice centers noted:
- Patients tended to be clearly present in the dreams of caregivers, and the dreams were typically realistic.
- In the dream, the caregiver typically interacted with the patient in their usual capacity but was also typically frustrated by the inability to help as fully as desired.
It is widely believed that oppressive dreams are frequent in people going through a time of bereavement. A study analyzing dream quality, as well as the linking of oppressive dreams in bereavement, discovered that oppressive dreams:
- were more frequent in the first year of bereavement
- were more likely in those experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression
In another study of 278 people experiencing bereavement:
- Fifty-eight percent reported dreams of their deceased loved ones, with varying levels of frequency.
- Most participants had dreams that were either pleasant or both pleasant and disturbing, and few reported purely disturbing dreams.
- Prevalent themes included pleasant past memories or experiences, the deceased being free of illness, memories of the deceased’s illness or time of death, the deceased in the afterlife appearing comfortable and at peace, and the deceased person communicating a message.
- Sixty percent felt that their dreams impacted upon their bereavement process.
DOES EVERYONE DREAM IN COLOR
Researchers discovered in a study that:
- About 80 percent of participants younger than 30 years old dreamed in color.
- At 60 years old, 20 percent said they dreamed in color.
The number of people aged in their 20s, 30s and 40s dreaming in color increased through 1993 to 2009. Researchers speculated that color television might play a role in the generational difference. Another study using questionnaires and dream diaries also found older adults had more black and white dreams than the younger participants. Older people reported that both their color dreams and black and white dreams were equally vivid. However, younger participants said that their black and white dreams were of poorer quality.
CAN DREAMS PREDICT THE FUTURE
Some dreams may seem to predict future events. Some researchers claim to have evidence that this is possible, but there is not enough evidence to prove it. Most often, this seems to be due to coincidence, a false memory, or the unconscious mind connecting together known information.
Dreams may help people learn more about their feelings, beliefs, and values. Images and symbols that appear in dreams will have meanings and connections that are specific to each person. People looking to make sense of their dreams should think about what each part of the dreams mean to them as an individual.