9 Things You Didn't Know About Dreams
By Sarah Jio
Discover what your nighttime visions mean,
how you can control them and more
Everyone dreams—every single night—and yet we tend to know so little about our dreams. Where do they come from? What do they mean? Can we control them and should we try to interpret them? We spoke to the dream experts to bring you nine surprising facts about dreams. Read before snoozing.
1. Dreaming can help you learn.
If you’re studying for a test or trying to learn a new task, you might consider taking a nap or heading to bed early rather than hovering over a textbook an hour longer. Here’s why: When the brain dreams, it helps you learn and solve problems, say researchers at Harvard Medical School. In a study that appeared in a recent issue of Current Biology, researchers report that dreams are the brain’s way of processing, integrating and understanding new information. To improve the quality of your sleep—and your brain’s ability to learn—avoid noise in the bedroom, such as the TV, which may negatively impact the length and quality of dreams.
2. Just like men, women can have orgasms during dreams.
Did you think only men experience this phenomenon? Not true, says Barbara Bartlik, MD, a psychiatrist and sex therapist in New York. Warning, further reading may produce blushing: “Women have orgasms during their sleep, just as men do,” she says. “These orgasms often accompany erotic dreams, but they also may occur during dreams of a nonerotic nature.” When women dream, she says, it’s not uncommon for their genitals to become engorged and lubricated. “This occurs during REM sleep, which happens several times during the night,” she says. A similar thing happens to men. “Men get erections during REM sleep, whether or not the man is having an erotic dream.”
3. The most common dream? Your spouse is cheating.
If you’ve ever woken up in a cold sweat after dreaming about your husband’s extramarital escapade with your best friend, you’re not alone, says Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, a dream expert, author and media personality. “The most commonly reported dream is the one where your mate is cheating,” she says. Loewenberg conducted a survey of more than 5,000 people, and found that the infidelity dream is the nightmare that haunts most people—sometimes on a recurring basis. It rarely has anything to do with an actual affair, she explains, but rather the common and universal fear of being wronged or left alone.
4. You can have several—even a dozen—dreams in one night.
It’s not just one dream per night, but rather dozens of them, say experts—you just may not remember them all. “We dream every 90 minutes throughout the night, with each cycle of dreaming being longer than the previous,” explains Loewenberg. “The first dream of the night is about 5 minutes long and the last dream you have before awakening can be 45 minutes to an hour long.” It is estimated that most people have more than 100,000 dreams in a lifetime.