Q: What is dreaming?
A: Dreaming, like sleep, is hard to define and some scientists prefer to use the term “sleep mentation,” which means all the perceptions, emotions, and thoughts experienced during sleep (or its processes). Dreaming occurs mostly during REM sleep but can also occur in NREM sleep.
Q: Why do we dream?
A: The purpose of dreaming is currently unknown. Physiological theories give it no real importance, while psychoanalytic theories hold the opposite view. What is known is that certain medications can intensify dreams or lead to nightmares, and that mood is affected by the type of dream or the sleep disturbance it causes. Dreaming is also believed by some to consolidate memory.
Q: What is the difference between REM and NREM dreams?
A: REM dreams generally tend to be bizarre, vivid, and emotional, and are usually better recalled than NREM dreams, which are considered to be more thoughtlike, although not much may be remembered of them. Dream reports are more common from both of these states of sleep the later in the night a person is awakened.
Q: I don’t dream– is this normal?
A: Everybody dreams unless there has been significant damage to the brain. Some people are just better at remembering their dreams than others.
Q: What is lucid dreaming?
A: Lucid dreaming is the conscious perception of one’s dream, sometimes enabling direct control over the content of the dreams. They are not nightmares. Some psychiatrists use the technique of lucid dreaming in therapy.
Q: What are nightmares?
A: We’ve all had nightmares. They are very common in both adults and children. Nightmares are emotionally disturbing and extremely frightening dreams involving threats to survival, security, or self-esteem. People who have constant nightmares (dream anxiety disorder) may have a genetic basis for this disturbance, but usually there are underlying personality factors and psychological issues. Drugs and alcohol can also affect nightmare frequency and severity.
Q: Are there any differences between a child’s dreams and an adult’s dreams?
A: Children’s dreams differ from adult dreams. Children dream more about animals and family members, and less often about “themselves.” Children also have fewer negative emotions in dreams. Studies show that girls have more characters in their dreams, and more domestic situations, than boys. In adolescence, dream content becomes similar to that of adults.
Q: Do dreams have any meaning?
A: Studies show that it is impossible to generalize about individual dreams. This means that the dreams you dream have meaning only for you and are specific to your life. Studies of dream diaries kept by people over many years show that symbols in dreams represent an integration of individual life experiences into the dreams. Some dreams, such as being chased or attacked, are common, but only reflect an emotional state known to us all as anxiety.
Q: Where can I find out more about dreams and dreaming?
A: Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler were the first to bring the unconscious to our attention in modern times, and their works are a good place to start if you’re interested in the psychological aspects of dreaming. Bookshops and “new age” shops stock “dream dictionaries,” and you can always turn to more scientific studies as well.
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