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Dreams Really Do Have Meaning, New Study Reveals


Dreams unlock a world of imagery revealing your deepest fears, hidden secrets and outrageous fantasies, transferring them from the conscious to the unconscious world. 


Your dreams may make you view the world in a more positive light.

These subjective images usually occur during the REM stage of your sleep cycle, the time of sleep where the most intense dreaming takes place.

A new study released now shows that REM sleep has a powerful connection to your ability to process emotions in people’s faces. The results of the study confirm that when you’ve gotten plenty of rest you’re apt to be more in tune to positive emotions, which could add to your longevity.

A Good Night’s Sleep Attracts a Positive Read of Emotions

Since we deal with people on various social levels on a daily basis, it is beneficial to have the ability to accurately read facial expressions.

In a Yahoo News article, Matthew Walker, director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California Berkeley gave the following analogy:

“If you’re walking through the jungle and you’re tired, it might benefit you more to be hypersensitive to negative things … The idea is that with little mental energy to spare, you’re emotionally more attuned to things that are likely to be the most threatening in the immediate moment. Inversely, when you’re well rested, you may be more sensitive to positive emotions, which could benefit long-term survival.”

Another researcher describes the important role of REM sleep as a “nocturnal soothing balm.” When you reach the dream state, otherwise known as REM sleep, your brain goes through a process of reviewing the course of the day’s events and then extracting any negative feelings from your memory bank. 

On the contrary, if you’re unable to reach the REM stage, you’re not able to let go of these negative emotions and instead remain in a perpetual state of anxiety.

REM Sleep and Dreams 

REM sleep usually occurs within 90 minutes after you fall asleep, with the first part of it lasting 10 minutes, then increasing in duration. Once in the REM stages of sleep, your heart rate and respiration quicken, your eyes move back and forth in horizontal movements under the lids and the most vivid dreaming begins to take place.

Benefits of Getting Your REM’s

  • Boosts alertness

  • Allows your brain to store more information into long-term memory

  • Brain replenishes neurotransmitters that organize neural networks critical to remembering, learning and problem-solving

  • Helps your brain process and sift through emotions, memories and stress

  • Elevates your mood throughout the day

The theories on why we dream and the meaning of dreams range from the simplistic such as activation synthesis theory (meaningless random brain activity) to the more complex such as the interpretations of psychologist Sigmund Freud, who saw dreams as containing deep symbolism and the revelation of true intent and emotions of human beings. 

Regardless of why we dream, dreams can be analyzed and be useful tools for self-discovery and problem-solving. There are some frequently occurring themes in dreams that have similar meanings. You’ll find that you’ve probably experienced one of these dreams on more than one occasion.

9 Common Dream Themes and Their Meanings

  • Falling: Feelings of insecurity, loss of control in an area in your life, feeling threatened by someone or a situation

  • Someone is chasing you: Trying to escape your fears

  • You wake up in the morning and your teeth have fallen out: Feeling anxious, doubting your self-image, inability to get a handle on things

  • Naked in a public place: Feeling vulnerable, exposed or an urge to be noticed

  • Ocean: Represents the unconscious and emotional energy

  • Train: Feeling powerful and free

  • Island: Seeking isolation from others, feelings of loneliness and peacefulness or needing to gain independence

  • Flying: Exceeding expectations, quest for freedom and outpouring of creativity

  • Discovering a new room in your house: Uncovering a new aspect or trait about yourself you didn’t know existed

Getting to Know Your Internal Body Clock

In order to get a more restful night’s sleep it’s important to know your sleep cycle. Everyone has their own internal body clock that gives off cues such as sensitivity to light and time of day for when it’s time to go to bed and time to wake up and start our day. This is what makes having a consistent bedtime routine a crucial component to a good night’s sleep.


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The 5 Stages of Sleep

Stage 1: Your mind starts to drift off, muscles begin to relax and your eyes move slowly under your eyelids. This stage usually lasts five or 10 minutes and is the time where you can be easily awakened.

Stage 2: Your body reaches a light sleep and experiences slight biological changes such as the slowing of the heart rate and decrease of body temperature.  The eye movement stops completely in this stage.

Stage 3 and 4: You fall into a deep sleep in which you are difficult to awaken. Blood flow to the brain decreases and instead travels to the muscles restoring physical activity. Your immune system increases during this stage.

Stage 5: You lapse into REM sleep and the highest point of active dreaming. During REM the body experiences an increase in the heart rate and blood pressure and rapid and shallow breathing.

Fall Asleep and Stay Asleep for Your Health

When you don’t get the sleep your body needs, you could be faced with mild to serious consequences ranging from daytime drowsiness, trouble concentrating, and bouts of irritability to an increased risk of falls and accidents and lower productivity.

According to a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 40 million Americans suffer from a variety of 70 different sleep disorders and 60 percent of adults reported problems sleeping a few days out of the week. 

The key to a good night’s sleep? Finding out how to combat sleep disorders and establishing a bedtime ritual.

Here are some tips to getting sound sleep and feeling refreshed in the morning:

  • Avoid watching TV, particularly the news and subjects of distressing nature right before going to bed. Also, limit heavy discussions with your partner just before turning out the lights.

  • Limit your drink fluid intake after 8 p.m. to limit trips to the bathroom overnight.

  • Make sure your bedroom is dark and the temperature isn’t above 75 degrees or below 54 degrees.

  • Resist the temptation to nap during the day. If you do, limit the nap to 25 minutes.

  • Avoid smoking near bedtime and caffeine at least four to six hours before bedtime.

  • Since alcohol is a depressant, it should be avoided before you go to bed as the withdrawal symptoms from it may induce nightmares and result in a restless sleep.

  • Stay away from heavy meals before bedtime -- instead, have a light snack like crackers.

  • Exercise in the morning or afternoon (and not in the evening close to bedtime), particularly if you are normally stimulated by exercise.

  • Keep your pets out of the bed. Allergies or feelings of the animals shifting around in your bed could awaken you throughout the night.

  • Maintain a regular sleep/wake schedule and stick to it.

  • Try sleep relaxation CDs such as the Sleep Easy CD. This excellent CD will help you reach the REM stage of sleep and train your body to:

  • Fall asleep faster

  • Wake up less throughout the night

  • Fall back to sleep faster when awakened during the night

  • Feel more rested the next morning

Recommended Reading

Dreamwork: The 5 Important Lessons of Dreams & How to Learn Them

Sleep Problems on the Rise Due to Economy: How to Get Your Sleep Back


Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences March 2009; 168-97

Yahoo News June 16, 2009

American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology Volume 35, No. 7 July/August 2004

American Psychological Association: Sleep


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