Have you ever sat down somewhere someday and wondered why human dreams, and what exactly are dreams meant for? Well, there has been a lot of saying of course, and one of the most famous explanation is the one claimed by the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.
“The dream is the (distinguished) fulfilment of a (suppressed, repressed) wish,” said Freud3.
Some other theories regarding dreams stated that dreams are not from past, unresolved desires, but is in fact, a warning about our future, and one should be careful with the messages conveyed in dreams to prevent tragedy.
Nowadays, studies have shown that dreaming occurs during a state called rapid-eye movement (i.e., REM sleep), in which most, if not all the mammals experienced. Besides, many researchers have identified that dreaming actually mediates memory consolidation and mood regulation in people.
Nevertheless, while the questions of “why human dreams” and “what exactly are dreams meant for” are still open to debate until this day, researchers have discovered or at least suggested some interesting facts about dreaming.
#1 Everyone dreams.
Researchers found out that people spend an average of 6 years (52560 hours!) dreaming during their lifetime2. In usual cases, people can dream for one hour to two hours per night, with each dream lasting for five to twenty minutes on average. Having said that, we can have several dreams (some said four to seven dreams) in one night6!
#2 You forget most of your dreams.
Just like we mentioned above, everyone dreams occasionally, but why do some people claim that they have never had a dream or not remember having a dream where in fact they do? Well, it is because we forget almost 90% to 95% of the dreams soon after waking up2. Most of the time, only a fraction of our dreams is remembered, and most of the details vanish quickly within 10 minutes after waking up.
It is evidenced that some areas of the prefrontal cortex (involved in working memory) are inactive during REM sleep, therefore information processing and memory storage are not supported for changes in a deep sleep4.
#3 Animals probably dream too.
Have you ever seen a sleeping cat? Sometimes, sleeping cats raise their heads, twitch their paws, or even arch their backs during their sleep, as if they are watching and reacting to certain images during deep sleep (REM), even though they may not be the real “dreams” that we know of5.
Although the purpose of dreaming remains a mystery in human history, some animals, however, do experience REM sleep, and it is very likely and reasonable that animals have something similar to “dreams” during these REM sleeps that we (humans) are familiar with, because the involuntary movements of animals during sleep (i.e., twitching, low noises etc.) are believed to be the signs of dreaming5. Specifically, all mammals (including humans of course) have REM sleep, with some birds and reptiles also do, whereby insects and fish don’t7.
#4 Not everybody dreams in colour.
Research has suggested that 12% of sighted people have reported having a dream exclusively in black and white4. While studies before the 1950s suggest that the majority of dreams are in black and white, the statistics have changed greatly starting from the 1960s4. As time passes by, the number of coloured dreams is positively correlated with the years. In fact, research has stated that this correlation may be the result of the elimination of black and white television and the switch to coloured-image television.
Today, with only 4.4% of the dreams reported to be in black and white among the under-25-age-group, many dreamers have recalled their dreams to be in soft pastel colour, where it is an almost neutral, soft and desaturated colour6.
#5 It is possible to control your dreams.
Have you ever been aware that you are dreaming during your sleep? Sometimes, you can direct and control the content of the dream, as if you are playing a game. This phenomenon is termed as lucid dreams, where it is believed to be a combination of both REM sleep and conscious state. In other words, a person who is said to be in lucid dreaming, has exhibited some or all of the following corollaries1:
#6 Negative emotions in dreams are common.
According to an experiment conducted by Hall over 40 years, research has suggested that the most common emotion that people experienced in their dreams is anxiety, followed by other negative emotions, i.e., sadness, fear and anger, in general, compared to positive emotions2;4.
#7 You are paralyzed when you're dreaming.
Do you ever have the experience of “having a demon in your room”? That is, whether you are still in a sleeping state or have already woken up, but you find yourself “locked” on the bed, and no matter how hard you try, you are unable to move or speak for a few seconds to several minutes.
This phenomenon is called sleep paralysis, where 8% to 50% of the people only experience it once or twice during their whole life, and in few cases, some may be a recurrent episode4. REM sleep is characterized by paralysis, where you will experience a temporary inability to move or speak4. Even though the experience may be terrifying, those who suffered are to be reassured that sleep paralysis is common and generally not serious, unless the circumstance has greatly influenced your daily lives2.
After all, the theory behind it is as simple as you can guess: Motor neurons are not yet stimulated and thus our body cannot move2.
Barrett, D. (1992). Just how lucid are lucid dreams? Dreaming, 2(4), 221-228. doi: 10.1037/h0094362
Cherry, K. (2019). 10 interesting facts about dreams. Verywell Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/facts-about-dreams-2795938
Freud, S. (1920). Dream Psychology: Psychoanalysis for Beginners. NY: Mondial.
Hurst, K. (2020). Why do we dream? 13 interesting facts about dreams. Law of Attraction. Retrieved from https://www.thelawofattraction.com/interesting-facts-about-dreams/
Langley, L. (2015). Do animals dream? National Geographic. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/09/150905-animals-sleep-science-dreaming-cats-brains/
Lina, D. (2016). 15 interesting facts about dreams. Bored Panda. Retrieved from https://www.boredpanda.com/15-interesting-facts-about-dreams-dreaming/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic
Miller, K. (2012). FYI: Do animals dream? Popular Science. Retrieved from https://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-01/do-animals-dream/
Psychology Today. (2020). Dreaming. Nightmares, REM. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/basics/dreaming
Be❦Live In Psychology is a mental health clinic at Ecosky, Jalan Kuching, Kuala Lumpur. Our services consist of therapy, assessment and training. WhatsApp us at +6018 – 206 7313 to make an appointment.
I am Teng Wen. I am currently an undergraduate student at HELP University, pursuing a major in Psychology. During my studies, I have found the elements of psychology fascinating, particularly in the field of research, counselling and clinical psychology. As I believe that “what is essential is invisible to the eye”, thus I see that time and value are two important pieces that truly help people to explore their inner self and then connect with each other emotionally.