They range from the mundane to the terrifying and are said to reveal some of our deepest fears and most secret fantasies. But what are dreams and what do they mean?
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What are dreams?
Exactly what dreams are and why we have them is a subject that has been studied and debated throughout history and there is evidence that humans attempted to interpret their dreams some 5,000 years ago.
It is thought that we all dream, though some remember their dreams more often or more clearly than others. Opinion is divided as to why our sleep is filled with often seemingly random images, emotions and sensations.
Sigmund Freud believed that dreams reflect deep-seated desires and their meanings were therefore of some significance. His student Carl Jung held similar beliefs but suggested that dreams contained messages of which we should take note - he believed that recurring dreams, for example, were evidence that the dreamer had failed to confront these messages.
Others believe that dreams are simply the brain's way of processing the day's thoughts and experiences.
When do we dream?
We dream most frequently during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This stage of the cycle is when we are most deeply asleep and those that wake during this period are more likely to remember their dreams.
During REM sleep it is common for the body to temporarily paralyse the muscles. Some people wake terrified to find they are unable to move but this 'sleep paralysis' is just the body's way of preventing us acting out our dreams.
What do dreams mean?
Just as there are widely varying theories as to what dreams are, dream interpretation is open to a great deal of speculation.
However, many agree on a number of commonly occurring dreams.
Many people experience dreams of falling and it is thought these common experiences may indicate a degree of insecurity or anxiety about a real-life situation - a loss of control at work, home or in a relationship, or a feeling of being overwhelmed.
Typically these dreams occur during the first stage of sleep and many find they are woken by muscle spasms known as myclonic jerks.
Another commonly reported dream is that of being naked in an inappropriate situation - at work, school, walking down the street etc.
The sudden realisation and embarrassment that ensues implies you are feeling vulnerable or inferior and may indicate anxieties relating to a new relationship or challenge, emotions that you have kept hidden. If, however, the other people in your dream remain oblivious to your nudity, it suggests those worries are unfounded.
Dreams in which we are chased by an attacker or monster can feel very real and very frightening. Some believe these dreams are a reaction to stress in our waking lives and it is widely believed that it signifies a tendency to run away from an issue instead of confronting it.
For instance, the 'attacker' may represent an aspect of your own personality or emotion that you subconsciously fear may threaten your relationships or career.
Teeth falling out
Dreaming that your teeth are falling out is often thought to reflect anxiety about your appearance. Previous research has found that menopausal women frequently have this dream, suggesting that the loss of teeth represents a fear of getting older and losing your looks.
However, it may simply signify a general feeling of uncertainty, self-consciousness or helplessness.
Not all dreams leave us in a cold sweat. Many dreamers report a fabulous feeling of floating or flying and these are usually a pleasant experience for the dreamer.
Flying dreams may even be lucid (where the dreamer is aware that it is not real) but are nonetheless vivid. They often represent liberation, freedom or the feeling that the dreamer can achieve anything.
However, if your flight path is filled with obstacles, it may indicate real-life barriers that stand in the way of your goal.
Do you believe dreams have some significance in waking life? Let us know below...