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Whether you’re flying through the sky, falling from a twelve-story building or having a romantic relationship with your neighbour, dreams are a window into a world without constraints. The barriers in our everyday life don’t exist. Some parts of our dream world appear realistic, but others are tokens of our imagination. And this begs to question: Do our dreams have meaning? For researchers, this has long been a point of contention.
People tend to get more concerned with their dreams than necessary. It’s relatively normal to have some sexual dreams about someone other than your monogamous partner. People may also have dreams where they’ve murdered someone, but that doesn’t mean they’re violent people in real life.
Dreams can give us a different perspective on threats and problems that we encounter in our everyday life. What we dream at night can allow us to think in a more “flexible” way and find new solutions to the issues that pervade our days.
Dreaming is just thinking but in a different brain state. Defining its purpose depends on what you’re dreaming about.
We agonize about many of the same things when we’re sleeping as when we’re awake, like relationships, work issues, hopes and fears, she says. Dreams are different, but the content is often the same.
Visual areas of the brain are much more active during dream states as are emotional centres. While linear logic and language areas are damped down.
Dreaming also prepares us for social interactions. Positive and neutral dreams may help hone our social cognition and perception. We are very rarely alone in our dream world, so these dreams help us to rehearse social interaction.
It wouldn’t make sense for dreams not to have meaning because they’ve stayed throughout our evolutionary history.
Animals also dream and it’s unlikely that it’s for no reason. Other experts contend that the breadth of dreaming is so wide that defining its purpose and meaning is like defining the purpose of waking thought.
Dreams give us a different idea of how to do things because they help us to think outside of the box and they can solve problems that involve going against conventional wisdom.
But dreams help us to think differently because the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with habits and learned behaviours, is less active when we’re dreaming.
You may find dreams automatically concerning when they’re terrifying. Things like post-traumatic nightmares — more intense nightmares that may replay actual traumatic events and are particularly violent — should concern you. But in most cases, they already do because we wake up petrified.
Dreams are casting a pretty loose net of associations to things that may be metaphorically a part of ourselves, but aren’t closely tied into any actions that we may take in real life.
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