The Wonders of Dreams

By Katelynn Pranger

You feel a quickening sense of horror as you find yourself in the middle of the woods, wearing your pajamas, and discovering that someone is chasing you. You glance behind you and see what looks like a tall and horrifying creature chasing you through the woods. You try to run but your feet are heavy, and it feels like you’re trying to walk through gelatin that’s setting rapidly when you suddenly jolt awake, only to find that you’re safely in your bedroom with nothing to fear.

Has this ever happened to you? Well, it sure has happened to me, and I have always wondered how our brains “create” these dreams or, in this case, nightmares and even what they may mean in our lives. Dreams have always been so odd to me; some can be happy while others are sad and some are just terrifying. So, I’ve decided that I want to learn how we have dreams and what they mean.

Our dreams and nightmares come from the memories that are stored in our brains. Our hippocampus, where our memories are stored, is active while dreaming while other parts of the brain such as the hypothalamus, the command center of our brain, are asleep. During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the brain’s cortex sends signals throughout our body so, while we don’t move while we sleep, we move in our dreams. We are able to “see” these dreams because of the neurons that are firing in the primary visual cortex and the brain is trying to make sense of all the information that is in our brains.

Dreams can sometimes mean things too, depending on who you talk to. Some experts believe that dreams do have meaning while others don’t. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung had their theories about dreams. Freud believed in the “manifest dream,” which is pulled from your everyday life experiences, and the a “latent dream,” which signifies unconscious wishes. Jung focused on the overall patterns and symbolism of dreams. Many other theorists believe that dreams are pulled from our everyday lives and/or are the brain’s way of thinking while asleep.

Those who don’t believe that dreams have a meaning still believe that they serve an important purpose. There are theories that dreams are simply emotional regulation where you can resolve your feelings while you sleep. Other theories, such as the activation-synthesis theory, claim that dreams are random thoughts that are projected into sleep just as a normal activity of the brain, and the continual-activation theory states that, because our brains don’t shut down while we sleep, they perform other processes like transferring our memories from short-term to long-term.

I am a firm believer in that dreams do mean things, even if the dream doesn’t make sense at all I’m sure that there is something you can pull out of it. There are some common themes in dreams and what they mean. Dreams about falling and being chased are the most common dreams. When one dreams about falling could symbolize a fear in life such as failing in something. When one dreams about being chased means that you could be hiding from your emotions and/or thinking about a past trauma or experience. These two are the most common, but there are several more and many books cover dreams and their meanings as well.

The brain is truly amazing and there’s still so much more that can be discovered. Dreams can be a pleasant recollection of your memories, but nightmares can be much more frightening. So, if you ever have a nightmare, you can try to look at what’s going on in your life and try to relieve the stressor, so they don’t follow you over into your dreams.