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Facts About Dreaming

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Dreams can be entertaining, disturbing, or downright bizarre. We all dream -- even if we don't remember it the next day. But why do we dream? And what do dreams mean, anyway?

WebMD takes a look at what makes us dream and helps unravel the mysteries behind dreams.

Recommended Related to Sleep Disorders

When Nightmares Won't Go Away

Yael Levy recalls having chronic nightmares as far back as elementary school, when she was living in Israel. The grandchild of Holocaust survivors, she says her dreams were filled with images of suffering and death. In one recurrent nightmare, Levy was trapped in a concentration camp, facing death. In another, she was drowning in deep water. At their worst, the nightmares occurred on an almost weekly basis, leaving her jittery and desperately fatigued. "I would wake up so terrified that I was afraid...

Read the When Nightmares Won't Go Away article > >

What Are Dreams?

Dreams are basically stories and images our mind creates while we sleep. Dreams can be vivid. They can make you feel happy, sad, or scared. And they may seem confusing or perfectly rational.

Dreams can occur anytime during sleep. But most vivid dreams occur during deep, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when the brain is most active. Some experts say we dream at least four to six times per night.

Why Do We Dream?

There are many theories about why we dream, but no one knows for sure. Some researchers say dreams have no purpose or meaning and are nonsensical activities of the sleeping brain. Others say dreams are necessary for mental, emotional, and physical health.

Studies have shown the importance of dreams to our health and well-being. In one study, researchers woke subjects just as they were drifting off into REM sleep. They found that those who were not allowed to dream experienced:

Many experts say that dreams exist to:

  • Help solve problems in our lives
  • Incorporate memories
  • Process emotions

If you go to bed with a troubling thought, you may wake with a solution, or at least feel better about the situation.

Sigmund Freud believed dreams are a window into our subconscious. He believed they reveal a person's:

  • Unconscious desires
  • Thoughts
  • Motivations

Freud thought dreams were a way for people to satisfy urges and desires that were unacceptable to society.

Perhaps there is merit with all these theories. Some dreams may help our brains process our thoughts and the events of the day. Others may just be the result of normal brain activity and mean very little, if anything. Researchers are still trying to figure out exactly why we dream.

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