What is the Purpose of Dreams?

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“In dreams we enter a world that’s entirely our own. Let them swim in the deepest ocean or glide over the highest cloud.” — J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban

Dreams are the narratives and pictures that our minds conjure while we sleep. The majority of them occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep in which the body experiences a number of physiological changes (i.e., increased heart rate, brain activity, and breathing rate). The stories and images can be humorous, enjoyable, romantic, upsetting, frightful, and even weird. Although we may not remember our dreams (almost 95% of our dreams have been forgotten by the time we wake up), it is believed that we all dream between three and six times each night. Experts estimate that each dream lasts 5 to 20 minutes (Nichols, 2018). Also, studies show that the seven most common dreams involve being chased or attacked, being late, death of a loved one, falling, flying, school, and sex (Schredl et al., 2004). 

Why are Dreams Important?

The following include the importance of dreaming (Jacob, 2022; Walker, 2017):

  • Prevents anxiety and depression

Research has shown that waking someone before entering the REM stage of sleep and denying them the chance to dream can cause depression and anxiety. Dreams may therefore be essential for living a peaceful existence.

  • Expresses repressed feelings and thoughts

When our emotions are conflicting, dreams may help us realize what we want.

  • Improves concentration and coordination

Dreaming helps the brain recharge which can enhance coordination and focus.

  • Enhances memory

Since dreaming has been linked to memory stage, it can strengthen recall ability.  

  • Improves creativity

Since dreaming is the royal road to the unconscious, thoughts become more unrestrained. New ideas and problem-solving strategies may then be generated in dreams. 

  • Dreaming can be therapeutic

Having REM-sleep dreams seems to provide emotional relief the next morning by easing the discomfort of traumatic or emotional situations encountered during the day. Our dreams can provide calmer avenues where distressing memories can be securely processed. 

It is also important to point out that having a “non-REM dream” which occurs in other sleep stages, is typically a symptom of sleep deprivation. So, in that sense at least, depending on when your dreams occurred during the course of the night, you might feel a little tired the following day (Conti, 2019). 

What are the types of dreams? 

The following include the types of dreams(Elmer, 2020):

  • Standard Dream

Though “standard” dreams vary from one individual to another, the majority of dreams are mostly visual; pictures predominate over other sensations like smell or touch. While most people have colored dreams, some only have black and white visions. It is completely typical for dreams to be very weird, and beliefs, experiences, and culture could all have an impact on the theme of dreams.

  • Nightmares

These are the dreams which are frightening or disturbing. The causes may include exposure to scary stories or pictures, eating before sleeping, sleep deprivation, side effects of medications, illnesses or disorders (i.e., fever, nightmare disorder, narcolepsy, and sleep apnea).  Regarding trauma, the specific connection between nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is still vague but they both produce altered neural activity in the same brain areas (Heim, 2009). 

  • Lucid dreaming

This happens when we are aware that we are dreaming. It usually occurs during the REM stage of sleep. Some studies say that 55% of people have lucid dreaming at least once in their lives. With practice, it is possible to control a lucid dream, this can be helpful for those who have nightmares or recurring dreams.  

It must be noted that sleep hallucinations are distinct from dreams and have a more intense sense of reality. You might need a few minutes to distinguish between what is genuine and what isn’t during a sleep hallucination. The causes include use of alcohol or drugs, specific prescription drugs, long-term insomnia, and mental health issues such as anxiety and stress (Brennan, 2021). 

What are 5 Dream Theories?

Here are some of the theories that seek to explain why we dream (Basu, 2022):

  • Sigmund Freud’s wish fulfillment theory

Freud, an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, claimed that in dreams, the unconscious tries to make sense of a situation or alerts us to hidden urges. He explains that dreams are disguised satisfactions of repressed wishes or attempts made by the unconscious to put an end to a struggle. 

  • Threat simulation theory

According to Finnish psychologist, Antti Revonsuo, negative dreams attempt to assist us in practicing safety by helping us rehearse for similar real-life events, recognize threats, and flee the situation faster. 

  • Carl Jung’s direct mental expressions

Jung, a Swiss psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, believed that dreams can be a language of the unconscious and that they can compensate for an imbalance or anticipate the future. He also proposed that our universal archetypes can be shown in our dreams. 

  • Activation-synthesis theory

Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley, two Harvard professors, proposed the idea that the brain automatically reacts in an effort to make sense of stimuli. This idea holds that dreams have no inherent significance and are merely a byproduct of the brain’s regular functions.

  • Information processing theory

Dreams assist us in organizing memories and experiences; they are a side effect of the brain’s neuronal activity as memories are solidified during sleep. Key memories get stronger while less significant ones go. According to research, people accomplish complex jobs better when they dream about them.

What are the Common Dreams That Should Not be Ignored? 

The following includes the dreams that should be paid attention to (Ortiz, 2022; Black, 2021): 

  • Being Chased 

According to experts, running from someone or something in a dream indicates that you have been avoiding them in real life. It can also imply that you have been holding back on expressing your feelings.

  • Your Home

If you dream of a damaged house, which represents your inner life, it may signify that you are not taking proper care of yourself. On the other hand, having dreams about making renovations to your home or finding additional areas inside can indicate that something in your waking life is going well.

  • Car Accident 

Many people think that dreaming about a vehicular accident signifies helplessness in dealing with a problem or an impending action of potentially damaging consequences. Your unconscious is alerting you to your concern about letting go of control.

  • Death 

There are several possible explanations why you dream of others or even of your own self passing away. It can imply that you are helping someone else but that he is not aware of the sacrifices you have made on his behalf. If you live an unhealthy lifestyle, this may serve as a wake-up call to make changes. 

  • Falling or Missing Teeth 

Almost everyone has dreamed about losing or missing teeth. After having a dream, you could find yourself checking your teeth in the morning to make sure they are all still there. Those who have this dream frequently worry about not being attractive. It may be a sign of a lack of self-confidence.

  • Falling 

Have you ever dreamed that you are tumbling from a cliff, a skyscraper, or an airplane? You are not alone; this happens frequently to people who are stressed out about their jobs, their finances, their marriages, or the possibility of losing something vital to them.

  • Recurrent Dream

It is important to pay attention to recurrent dreams or are those that are quite similar to one another. Your dreaming mind is trying to get your attention and is utilizing the power of repetition to convey a message that is crucial for your personal development. The same dream may keep happening to you until you fully comprehend the meaning it is trying to convey.


  • Dreams are the narratives and pictures that our minds conjure while we sleep. 
  • The importance of dreaming includes prevention of anxiety and depression, expression of repressed feelings and thoughts, improvement of memory, coordination, concentration, and creativity, and therapeutic effects.
  • The types of dreams include standard, nightmares, and lucid. 
  • Dream theories include Freud’s wish fulfillment theory, threat simulation, Jung’s direct mental expressions, activation-synthesis theory, and information processing theory. 
  • Experts recommend that the dream contents which should not be ignored include being chased, falling, car accidents, missing or falling teeth, death, home, and recurrent themes. 

Author: Gene Balinggan

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References :

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+ Black, K. (2021). Here are 8 dreams that should not be ignored. Opera News. https://gh.opera.news/gh/en/religion/8ea083c866272748a926455f37086398

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+ Nichols, H. (2018). What does it mean when we dream? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/284378#_noHeaderPrefixedContent

+ Ortiz, B. (2022). 7 common dream meanings you should never ignore. The Good Men Project. https://goodmenproject.com/everyday-life-2/7-common-dream-meanings-you-should-never-ignore/

+ Schredl M, Ciric P, Götz S, Wittmann L. Typical dreams: stability and gender differences. J Psychol. 2004;138(6):485-94. doi:10.3200/JRLP.138.6.485-494

+ Walker, M. (2017). Why your brain needs to dream. Greater Good Magazine. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_your_brain_needs_to_dream


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