Why do we have dreams and what do they mean? These questions have for centuries been the subject of a debate that has recently become the center of a heated controversy. In one camp we have a number of prominent scientists who argue that we dream for physiological reasons alone and that dreams are essentially mental nonsense devoid of psychological meaning:A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The idea that dreams are nothing more than “meaningless biology” sounds absurd and rather blasphemous to the opposing camp, a coalition of Freudians and other dream workers committed to the view that we dream for psychological reasons and that dreams always contain important information about the self or some aspects of one’s life which can be extracted hy various methods of interpretation. This camp takes its credo from the Talmudic aphorism that “and uninterpreted dream is like an unopened letter.” There is also a third camp occupying tltL middle ground, that believes both of the extreme positions on the function and meaning of dreams to be partly right and partly wrong. Its proponents argue that dreams may have both physiological and psychological determinants, and therefore can be either meaningful or meaningless, varying greatly in terms of psychological significance.
Interpretation Of Dreams RevisitedIf we are to understand Freud’s view of the dream, we need to consider his concept of the dreamer’s brain. We know today that the nervous system contains two types of nerve cells (excitatory and inhibitory). Both types discharge and transmit electrochemical impulses to other neurons. Both do this spontaneously, without any kind of outside stimuli, as well as when they themselves receive excitatory impulses from other cells. However, one critical difference between these two types of neurons is that one type, called “excitatory” transmits impulses to other neurons which causes increased nervous activity or “excitation” in them. The other type of neurons is called “inhibitory,” because they send messages to other neurons that cause decreased activity or “inhibition.
” The human brain is constructed of an unimaginably complex network of intricate interconnections between billions of each type of neurons. Generally, the inhibitory neurons play a more important role in the higher functions of thc brain.What is a nightmare?A nightmare is a very distressing dream which usually forces at least partial awakening. The dreamer may feel any number of disturbing emotions in a nightmare, such as anger, guilt, sadness or depression, but the most common feelings are fear and anxiety.
Nightmare themes may vary widely from person to person and from time to time for any one person. Probably the most common theme is being chased. Adults are commonly chased by an unknown male figure whereas children are commonly chased by an animal or some fantasy figure.Who has nightmares?Just about everyone has them at one time or another.
The majority of children have nightmares between the ages of three or four and seven or eight. These nightmares appear to be a part of normal development, and do not generally signal unusual problems. Nightmares are less common in adults, though studies have shown that they too may have nightmares from time to time. About 5-10% have nightmares once a month or more frequently.What causes nightmares?There are a number of possibilities. Some nightmares can be caused by certain drugs or medications, or by rapid withdrawal from them, or by physical conditions such as illness and fever.
The nightmares of early childhood likely reflect the struggle to learn to deal with normal childhood fears and problems. Many people experience nightmares after they have suffered a traumatic event, such as surgery, the loss of a loved one, an assault or a severe accident. The nightmares of combat veterans fall into this category.
The content of these nightmares is typically directly related to the traumatic event and the nightmares often occur over and over. Other people experience nightmares when they are undergoing stress in their waking lives, such as difficulty or change on the job or with a loved one, moving, pregnancy, financial concerns, etc. Finally, some people experience frequent nightmares that seem unrelated to their waking lives. These people tend to be more creative, sensitive, trusting and emotional than average.What can be done about nightmares?It really depends on the source of the nightmare. To rule out drugs, medications or illness as a cause, discussion with a physician is recommended. It is useful to encourage young children to discuss their nightmares with their parents or other adults, but they generally do not need treatment.
If a child is suffering from recurrent or very disturbing nightmares, the aid of a therapist may be required. The therapist may have the child draw the nightmare, talk with the frightening characters, or fantasize changes in the nightmare, in order help the child feel safer and less frightened.The nightmares which repeat a traumatic event reflect a normal psychic healing process, and will diminish in frequency and intensity if recovery is progressing. If after several weeks no change is noted, consultation with a therapist is advisable.night terrorsNight terrors are something quite different.
Nightmares tend to occur after several hours of sleep, screaming or moving about is very uncommon, the dream is usually elaborate and intense, and the dreamer realizes soon after wakening that he or she has had a dream. Night terrors, on the other hand, occur during the first hour or two of sleep, loud screaming and thrashing about are common, the sleeper is hard to awaken and usually remembers no more than an overwhelming feeling or a single scene, if anything. Nightmares and night terrors arise from different physiological stages of sleep. Children who have night terrors also may have a tendency to sleepwalk and/or urinate in bed. The causes of night terrors are not well understood. Children usually stop having them by puberty.
They may be associated with stress in adults. A consultation with a physician may be useful if the night terrors are frequent or especially disturbing.How To Remember Your DreamsGetting plenty of sleep is the first step to good dream recall. If you are rested it will be easier to focus on your goal of recalling dreams, and you won’t mind so much taking the time during the night to record your dreams. Another benefit of getting plenty of sleep is that dream periods get longer and closer together as the night proceeds.
The first dream of the night is the shortest, perhaps 10 minutes in length, while after 8 hours of sleep, dream periods can be 45 minutes to an hour long. We all dream every night, about one dream period every 90 minutes. People who say they never dream simply never remember their dreams. You may have more than one dream during a REM (dream) period, separated by short arousals that are most often forgotten.
It is generally accepted among sleep researchers that dreams are not recalled unless the sleeper awakens directly from the dream, rather than after going on to other stages of sleep.It can be useful while you are developing your dream recall to keep a complete dream journal. Keep the journal handy by your bed and record every dream you remember, no matter how fragmentary. Start by writing down all your dreams, not just the complete, coherent, or interesting ones–even if all you remember is a face or a room, write it down.
When you awaken in the night and recall what you were dreaming, record the dream right away. If you don’t, in the morning you may find you remember nothing about the dream, and you will certainly have forgotten many interesting details. We seem to have built-in dream erasers in our minds, which make dream expenences more difficult to recall than waking ones.
So, whenever you remember a dream, write it down. If you don’t feel like writing out a long dream story at 3 AM, note down key points of the plot. Also write down the precise content of any dialogue from the dream, because words will almost inevitably be forgotten in a very short time.