A unifying experience that people can share is that everybody dreams. Even though we dream nightly, there’s so much we don’t yet fully understand about our dreams. What, if anything, do they mean? Can we control them? Should we try to understand them? Why do we dream about what we do? While humans may never know the answers to some of these questions, here are a few surprising things we do know about our nightly escape from reality.
Dreams Can Help You Learn
If you have an important midterm looming the next day, you should consider closing the textbook early and heading off to bed instead of staying up all night. A recent study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School suggest that when the brain dreams, it can help you problem solve and learn new material. Published in Current Biology, the study found that the brain uses dreams to help process, integrate, and understand new information. Not only will dreaming help you process what you’ve just learned, getting extra sleep will also ensure you feel rested and alert the next day.
The Most Common Dream? A Cheating Spouse
If dreams about a partner’s infidelity have left you feeling a little uneasy the next morning, don’t worry, your not alone. A survey of over 5,000 people found that dreams of a cheating mate were by far the most commonly occurring dreams people experienced, often on a recurring basis. While the basis for this type of dream rarely has actual merit, researchers suspect it speaks to the universal fear of being abandoned or wronged.
You Can Have Multiple Dreams Nightly
While you might only remember bits and pieces of what you dreamt the next day, what you recall isn’t coming from just one dream, but rather dozens of them. Your dream cycle restarts throughout the night every 90 minutes, and the longer you sleep, the longer your dreams become. During the early dream cycles, you might have dreams that last for five minutes. However, by the end of the night, your dreams can last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Researchers estimate that people experience over 100,000 dreams during their lifetime.
Even Bizarre Dreams Have Meaning
That dream of you showing to up work dressed as your college mascot only to see your boss juggling flaming pineapples and your mother teaching coworkers kung fu might seem like a series of random event, but experts say every dream has meaning. A dream’s meaning can relate to unconscious need to understand something about ourselves. Instead of just dismissing a dream as weird, try to figure out how the dream made you feel, as that’s the most important part. The flaming pineapples and beaver costume may just turn out to be distractions that allow you to come to terms with an aspect of how you feel towards your mother.
You Can Control Dreams
Another recent survey found that lucid dreaming, or controlling what you dream, might actually be possible. Of the 3,000 people surveyed, nearly 65 percent reported knowing when they were dreaming while in a dream, and 34 percent stated they could occasionally control what happened in the dream.
While this isn’t a skill that everybody innately has, it can be learned. Sleep experts often use these techniques to help individuals suffering from recurrent nightmares. By prompting yourself to remember that a dream is only a dream, you can become self aware while dreaming, and steer yourself away from the events in a nightmare that cause you to lose sleep.