For other uses, see Dream (disambiguation).

Dreaming is the subjective experience of imaginary images, sounds/voices, words, thoughts or sensations during sleep, usually involuntarily. The scientific discipline of dream research is oneirology. Dreaming is associated with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a lighter form of sleep that occurs during the later portion of the sleep cycle, characterized by rapid horizontal eye movements, stimulation of the pons, increased respiratory and heart rate, and temporary paralysis of the body. It can also occur in other phases of sleep, though this is less common. Hypnogogia, which occurs spontaneously during the approach to deep sleep, is thought to be related to dreaming.

Dreams are full of imagery. This imagery ranges from the normal to the surreal; in fact, dreams often provoke artistic and other forms of inspiration. Forms of dream include the frightening or upsetting nightmare and erotic dreams with sexual images and nocturnal emission.

Most scientists believe that dreams occur in all humans with about equal frequency per amount of sleep. Therefore, if individuals feel that they did not dream or that they only had one dream in any given night, it is because their memory of the dream has faded. This "memory erasure" aspect of the dream state is mostly found when a person naturally awakes via a smooth transition from REM sleep through delta sleep to the awake state. If a person is awoken directly from REM sleep (e.g. by an alarm clock), they are much more likely to remember the dream from that REM cycle (although it is most likely that not all dreams will be remembered because they occur in REM cycles, which are interrupted by periods of delta sleep which in turn have a tendency to cause the memory of previous dreams to fade).

True dreaming has only been positively confirmed in Humans, but many believe that dreaming occurs in other animals as well. Animals certainly undergo REM sleep, but their subjective experience is difficult to determine. The animal with the longest average periods of REM sleep is the armadillo. It would appear that mammals are the only, or at least most frequent, dreamers in nature, which is perhaps related to their sleep patterns.


Neurology of dreams

There are two competing stories as to the neurological cause of the dreaming experience. The state of REM sleep is known to be produced by a brain region known as the pons. The activation-synthesis theory, (developed by Hobson and McCarley), states that the brain tries to interpret random impulses from the pons as sensory input, producing the vivid hallucinations we know as dreams. Sensory-based input interpretation is in turn based on past experience. Perhaps this is the reason why our dreams contain many characters and scenes from our regular lives. For some people, there are dreams that recur again and again over many years, sometimes with new additions derived from new experiences during waking life. However, research by Mark Solms seems to suggest that dreams are generated in the forebrain, and that REM sleep and dreaming are two different brain systems. The debate between these two theories is ongoing.

Supernatural interpretation of dreams

Oneiromancy is the art of divination by interpreting dreams.

Psychodynamic interpretation of dreams

In his book, "The Interpretation of Dreams", Sigmund Freud determined that dream content was unconcious "wish fulfilment". These desires came from the "id", the childlike portion of the unconcious, and as such often contained material that would be unacceptable to the ego. For this reason, dreams were often disguised, and only by understanding the symbolism of the dream can you discover the true meaning. Freud used dream interpretation often to treat his patients, and called dreams "The royal road to the unconcious". Critics would point out that this hypothesis cannot explain nightmares, though many case studies, such as the "Ratman", show this method to be successful.


The idea of Archetypes was first coined by Carl Jung, who believed in a "collective unconscious", an unconcious layer that was common to all humanity. Archetypes are recurring themes and images that we all have. In his own words, they are "mythological motifs". One example is the old man, who represents wisdom. One is the shadow, that represents all that we fear and dislike about ourselves. Others include:

  • The "hero",
  • The "trickster",
  • The "great mother",
  • The "anima",
  • The "animus",
  • The "omnipotent",
  • The "Divine couple",
  • The "child",

and more. These are universal themes, ideas that we all relate to, and thus they crop up commonly in dreams. They can also be found in religion and mythology. For example, the norse god Loki is an example of "the trickster". Often the Earth is seen as "Mother Earth" or "Mother Nature". Archetypes even penetrate contempory film and stories. Wise old men feature prominently in the martial arts genre of films, and Bugs Bunny could easily be another example of the trickster. These Archetypes appear mostly in our "grand" dreams, which are dreams that are longer or more epic than usual. These dreams will stay in the memory for longer periods of time.

More theories

There are hundreds of theories that attempt to explain dreaming. Aside from Freud's psychodynamic explanation and the activation-synthesis theory (both described above), another theory is Francis Crick and G. Mitchinson's "Reverse learning theory", adumbrated on in their piece 'The function of dream sleep'. The basic hypothesis of this view is that the brain sorts through the day's information and uses dreams to rid the mind of unwanted information. 'Parasitic' memories result from the vast and various amounts of information we consume that we our memory is the recipient of. Delusions, and other disturbances are expelled through dreaming. As a consequences, Crick & Mitchinson stated that 'we dream to forget', and reverse learning disburses information through dreaming, and revitalises the dreamer by making certain memories more significant, since there is no more existing erroneous or anomalous information to check through. This theory predicts that lack of REM sleep would lead to hallucinations, and interestingly, case studies such as that of Peter Tripp seem to concur with this view. This also explains why we find it hard to recall our dreams. However, it also predicts that dream recall will lead to dysfunction, and there is much empirical evidence to suggest that this is not so.

Cartwright's "Problem Solving Theory" simply states that we are sorting out information that is useful for our immediate survival. As such, our dreams should be able to give us useful insights into how to solve problems. In this theory, a recurring dream is an example of an unsolved problem. Some people will actively ask for a dream regarding a particular problem before they fall asleep.

Lucid dreaming

Main article: Lucid dreaming

Lucid dreaming researchers often define lucid dreaming as simply "being aware in a dream that one is dreaming". Many others define a lucid dream as a dream in which the dreamer has full awareness that the situation he is in is a construct of his mind, and thus can analyse the situation logically and react accordingly. Such full awareness adds numerous extra abilities to the dreamer. The dreamer usually has control of the direction of the dream and can thus explore the dream world. This control is particularly helpful during nightmares, when the dream self can turn round and face the attacker to confront or destroy it. When lucid, the dreamer usually has direct control of the dream environment, and hence can do things impossible in real life, such as making new objects appear, polymorphing, or flying. Lucid dreams can occur spontaneously, especially during youth, but for lucid dreams to occur more frequently, dedication and practice is almost always necessary.

Lucid dreams can be categorized into Dream-Initiated Lucid Dreams (DILDs) and Wake-Initiated Lucid Dreams (WILDs). DILDs start as non-lucid dreams, but at some point in the dream the dreamer realizes they are dreaming. In a WILD, conscious logic and reasoning is preserved while the dreamer transitions from waking to dreaming, and the dreamer is lucid from the beginning of the dream. These uses of "WILD" and "DILD" have mostly fallen into disuse (or rather they mostly never came into use), though "WILD" is often used to refer to any technique in general that happens to induce a wake-initiated lucid dream, by moving directly from conscious wakefulness to conscious dreaming.

Lucid dreamers are those who practice lucid dreaming frequently for personal or spiritual gain. They usually induce lucid dreams through the use of one of many induction techniques. A common technique, known as MILD (Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams) and developed by Stephen LaBerge, consists of remembering to recognize that they are dreaming the next time they have a dream.

Books on Dreams


  • Crick, F. & Mitchinson, G. (1983) The function of dream sleep. Nature 304, 111-114.

See also

External links


de:Traum fr:Rve he:חלום it:Sogno ja:夢 nl:Droom pt:Sonho fi:Uni sv:Drm da:Drm


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