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Why We Dream

By: Wendy Jacob - Updated: 22 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Dreams And Dreaming Nightmares Alcohol

Whether we are aware of it or not we all dream. Some people have vivid recall of their dreams, while others can barely remember ever having a dream.

Dreams happen during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep. In this sleep state the mind is active and the muscles deeply relaxed. While the mind is actively creating dream imagery, the eyes move beneath the eyelids and the rest of the body is still...

Dreaming usually occurs during the last half of the night. If the dream causes the sleeper to wake, or they are woken up, they are often able to recall events and images from their dream. Dreams usually contain vivid images or scenes which are unrelated to the day's events. They are part of the sleep process and most people find them pleasant and unthreatening. Dreams that are disturbing and traumatic, causing the dreamer distress and anxiety happen in the same sleep state and are known as Nightmares.

Although dreamers can wake and recall their dreams, the loss of muscle tone means they are unable to move and participate in their dreams. This is a defence mechanism that prevents dreamers from causing harm or interference to themselves, or others. Dreams can be vivid, insightful and contain realistic images or they may contain visions of events past and present. The scope is endless and they can appear fanciful or extremely real to the dreamer.

Dream Explanations

Through the ages, there have been many explanations for why we dream. Most early cultures believed that dreams came from an outside source - messages from the gods, or the spirits. Sigmund Freud related the content of dreams to the individual's unconscious mind and early influences. Carl Jung looked at the similarity of dreams and the 'collective unconscious'. This interest continues today with psychologists, therapists and dream interpreters seeking to unravel the complexity of the unconscious mind.

There are, on average, six periods of dreaming, during each night's sleep. Although some people recall their dreams and others deny they dream at all - dreaming is a normal part of sleep. It is no longer considered to be related to emotional upset or any psychological problem, although there is some evidence that anxiety can encourage dreaming. This may be the result of the dreamer being easily aroused and interpreting their dream as connected to their conscious feelings. Nightmares and recurrent dreams may also have content that can be connected to other 'real' events.

Some people believe that dreams are the unconscious mind speaking to the conscious mind. Alternatively, unresolved issues from the conscious mind are revisited during dreams.

Alcohol and Drugs

Dreaming is part of REM sleep. A good quality sleep will include Deep Sleep and REM sleep. The natural pattern of sleep can be disturbed by medication and alcohol. Withdrawal from sleeping pills and alcohol consumption may cause more dreaming during REM sleep.

Dream Interpretation

There is much interest in interpreting dreams. Dream Workshops explore the significance of dreams, and therapists are interested in exploring the effects of dreaming on the mind. As we learn more about how the mind works and the importance of sleep, we are increasingly fascinated by our dreams and the unconscious mind.

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