Dreaming Dreaming

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    You are tossing and turning, until you finally start to drift off into a light sleep. All of a sudden you are surrounded by mountains and realize you are dangling on the edge of a cliff. With one sudden move, you fall.

    While you aren't actually falling, your legs jerk. You're awake once again, and you feel anxious, stressed, and a bit overwhelmed by your dream.

    • What is dreaming?
    • When do we dream?
    • What are the three main theories of dreaming?
    • How are dreams analyzed?

    The Definition of Dreaming

    Dreams are short visions we have while we are asleep. These can include visual and auditory hallucinations and sensations in our minds. Some dreams may seem more realistic than others, based on a variety of factors. Once we are asleep, our bodies go in and out of something called REM sleep.

    REM sleep is also known as rapid eye movement sleep, which is the stage of sleep that most often includes dreams.

    When we first drift off into our dreamlike state, and throughout the night, our eyes bounce around until they eventually stop when we enter the non-REM sleep state. This pattern of sleep allows our brains to create short-term memories of our dreams even when they don't make sense (Horton, 2020). Our dreams can consist of prior experiences, desires, or feelings that we may or may not often acknowledge in our day-to-day life.

    Dreaming Boy sleeping moon StudySmarterBoy dreaming, pixabay.com

    The Psychology of Dreams

    Dreams have been studied by many researchers, scientists, psychologists, and philosophers throughout history. There is no scientific evidence to determine how accurate any theory is when considering dreaming. However, many theories have been introduced by well-known psychologists to provide reasoning and insight as to why we dream.

    There are three major theories of dreaming.

    Sigmund Freud's Theory of Dreaming

    Sigmund Freud believed that dreaming was directly related to our subconscious desires. Freud often believed that our behaviors were influenced by our sexual desires; this was also the case in his dream theory. He stated that we often dream because of our repressed wants and desires that live in the subconscious mind.

    Subconscious: The part of the mind that we are not aware of in our everyday life. The subconscious stores memories and beliefs which are also a part of the long-term memory.

    Subconscious Desires: Desires that we are sometimes aware, of but cannot control. These desires can be repressed, but they continue to live on in our subconscious minds, according to Freud.

    You might be thinking, "I don't dream of engaging in sexual acts. How does this apply to me?" Freud's theory is a little more complex than that. Imagine you are having a dream of going through a time machine portal. The interpretation here is that the portal is actually a vagina. While this may seem a little strange, the repressed motive here might be the interest in having sex with a woman.

    Carl Jung's Theory of Dreaming

    Carl Jung believed that dreams were directly related to our life experiences. Instead of our dreams being separate from our conscious, he believed that dreams were a way that our conscious and subconscious met.

    Conscious: The part of the mind that we are constantly aware of. We use it to think about things.

    Colton had a dream last night that he was in his workplace, but he looked in the mirror and recognized he was a kid again. This would be an example of the conscious and subconscious working together to bring past and present experiences into the dream.

    A Modern Theory of Dreaming

    There are a few modern-day theories of dreaming. Some say that dreams are a reflection of our memory. Others have concluded that our brain bounces signals around based on our daily stressors, and life in general.

    Stressor: An event, person, place, or situation that puts stress in your life.

    Different Types of Dreams in Psychology

    Did you know that there are multiple types of dreams? The most popular kinds of dreams include nightmares, lucid dreams, recurring dreams, normal dreams, and daydreams. These types of dreams can be influenced by the conscious and unconscious mind (Macduffie & Mashour, 2010).


    Nightmares are scary dreams that can begin at a very young age. Usually, they leave behind an uneasy feeling that stays even after you wake up. Nightmares can be more common or likely if you are under high amounts of stress. Stressors that could influence or trigger this type of dream can include traumatic events, accidents, or the loss of a loved one.

    Suzie is 5 years old, and recently watched a movie that had a monster living under the bed. Suzie was scared before going to sleep. Her parents made sure to look underneath her bed to help her sleep better, and even left the door to her bedroom cracked. Suzie believed that she was safe and fell asleep; as soon as she entered REM sleep, though, she had a dream that a monster was trying to grab her. Suzie woke up frightened and screaming for her parents due to her nightmare.

    Lucid Dreams

    Lucid dreaming is the most vivid form of dreaming that has been identified so far. Have you ever fallen asleep, dreamt of something super real, and woken up swearing you were there? You may have been lucid dreaming. Often when we lucid dream, we feel as if we might have contributed to the outcome of our dream. All five senses usually contribute to lucid dreaming.

    Patty fell asleep and began dreaming of a carnival, her favorite place to go as a teenager to spend time with her friends. Patty was sitting next to her best friend Ted, and began feeling the pure excitement she remembered from her teen years. Patty could smell the sweet funnel cakes and cotton candy as the gentle breeze was blowing through her hair. Patty was aware and made the decision to go on another ride with her friend Ted after they grabbed a bite to eat. Patty woke up and could not believe that she was able to relive that moment so vividly, but it turns out that she was just lucid dreaming.

    Recurring Dreams

    Dreaming of something happening over and over might be a good or bad thing. Someone could have a recurring nightmare or night terror, which is something that plays over and over again when they fall asleep. Other times, recurring dreams might be positive and delightful.

    Andy's stress has been building up over the last month. He recently lost his job and began falling short on his bills. Every time Andy falls asleep he dreams of being chased by someone with a chainsaw and wakes up in a panic. Andy is having reoccurring nightmares due to the recent stress he has been facing.

    Normal Dreams

    Normal dreaming is pretty self-explanatory. We might have a normal dream and not remember it, but that is because we statistically forget most of our dreams before we even wake up. Normal dreams are less intense than lucid dreams.

    Jacob falls asleep and dreams of taking a test, but then walks through the door and ends up on the basketball court. Jacob plays basketball until he turns around and realizes he is in his living room. Jacob wakes up and doesn't remember much of his dream and ends up forgetting it by the end of the day.


    Who knew that daydreaming is a real thing? Daydreaming while we are awake is still considered a type of dream because parts of our brains go inactive for small moments. Daydreaming can be beneficial in reducing stress and enhancing one's mental health and creativity.

    Aliah sits in class and zones out as the teacher is going over a slideshow. She begins thinking of creative ways to expand on her small business idea. She then starts to imagine her future and what she can do after school. The bell rings and she snaps out of it, realizing she has been daydreaming during class.

    Dream Analysis in Psychology

    To analyze our dreams, we must know our thought patterns. It is very helpful to keep a dream journal close to your bed if you want to explore your dreams. If you do not write down the dream as soon as you wake up, you will most likely forget what happened.

    Dream Analysis: Taking the symbols from dreams and finding the inner or hidden meaning behind them.

    Dream Journal: A diary and record of dreams.

    Harold dreams of his childhood very often. He does not understand why the same dream patterns are a part of his nighttime routine, but he wants to begin analyzing his dream state. Harold uses a journal that he keeps next to his bedside to write down his dreams, so he can then go back and dig deeper into why he might be dreaming of the same thing, over and over.

    Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you would like to begin a dream journal:
    • Keep the journal and pen very close to where you sleep.
    • Write down as much of the dream as you can remember, even if only one thing stands out.
    • Write how you feel about the dream, or what emotions it brought up.
    • Consider what type of dream it is.
    • Compare the dream to past and current experiences or issues.
    • Consider hidden meanings throughout the dream.
    • Research any symbolism that might come up, to further analyze them.

    Psychological Facts about Dreaming

    Below are some psychological facts about dreaming!

    • Dreams were often considered signs from holy entities.

    • Dreaming usually only lasts for a few seconds.

    • Some animals are capable of experiencing the same dream-like states that humans do.

    • Some dreams are in black and white.

    • We forget the majority of our dreams.

    • Dreaming can create a warped sense of reality and influence our perception of memories.

    • There are common dreaming patterns that have been recognized among humans. Some are death, falling, running, seeing a deceased loved one, being naked, or facing a fear.

    Dreaming - Key takeaways

    • We only dream during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
    • Dreams are a representation of the conscious and unconscious mind.
    • Dream analysis can give us an idea of patterns, unresolved issues, or stressors in our lives.
    • The five most common types of dreams are nightmares, lucid dreams, recurring dreams, normal dreams, and daydreaming.
    • The three theories of dreaming include Freud's theory, Jung's theory, and modern-day theory.


    1. Horton, C. (2020), "Key concepts in dream research." Frontiers. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2020.00259
    2. Macduffie, K. Mashour, G. (2010). Dreams and the temporality of consciousness. University of Illinois Press.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Dreaming

    What does it mean when you dream about someone?

    Dreaming of someone could represent a repressed desire according to Freud. However, in Carl Jung's theory, this might just be our subconscious pushing memories into the conscious part of the brain.

    What do dreams mean in psychology?

    Dreams can mean different things based on the theory being examined. Currently, the root cause of dreams is unknown. 

    Is dreaming conscious or unconscious?

    Dreaming can be a combination of our conscious and unconscious working together. 

    Is it possible to be conscious while dreaming?

    It is believed that we can be partially conscious when we are lucid dreaming. Being conscious or aware in lucid dreams allows us to have control over decisions we make in the dream.

    What are the three theories of dreaming?

    The three theories of dreaming are Sigmund Freud's theory, Carl Jung's theory, and the modern theory of dreaming.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Dreaming can create false memories. True or false?

    What theorist stated that dreams were a part of our subconscious desires?

    Which theorist states that dreams were a combination of our conscious and unconscious, thus creating a balance in our minds?


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