Sigmund Freud, in his pioneering work The Interpretation of Dreams (1900, tr. 1913), was one of the first to emphasize dreams as keys to the unconscious. He distinguished the manifest content of dreams—the dream as it is recalled by the individual—from the latent content or the meaning of the dream, which Freud saw in terms of wish fulfillment. C. G. Jung held that dreams function to reveal the unconscious mind, anticipate future events, and give expression to neglected areas of the dreamer's personality. Another theory, which PET scan studies appear to support, suggests that dreams are a result of electrical energy that stimulates memories located in various regions of the brain.
See J. A. Hobson, The Dreaming Brain (1988); M.-L. von Franz, Dreams (1991).
Dreams are the images, sounds, thoughts and feelings experienced while sleeping, particularly strongly associated with rapid eye movement sleep. The contents and biological purposes of dreams are not fully understood, though they have been a topic of speculation and interest throughout recorded history. The scientific study of dreams is known as oneirology.
The word "dream" may also be used synonymously with "aspiration".
There is no universally agreed biological definition of dreaming. General observation shows that dreams are strongly associated with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, during which an electroencephalogram shows brain activity to be most like wakefulness. Participant-nonremembered dreams during non-REM sleep are normally more mundane in comparison. During a typical lifespan, a human spends a total of about six years dreaming (which is about 2 hours each night). It is unknown where in the brain dreams originate, if there is a single origin for dreams or if multiple portions of the brain are involved, or what the purpose of dreaming is for the body or mind. It has been hypothesized that dreams are the result of naturally occurring dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in the brain.
During REM sleep, the release of certain neurotransmitters is completely suppressed. As a result, motor neurons are not stimulated, a condition known as REM atonia. This prevents dreams from resulting in dangerous movements of the body.
Studies show that various species of mammals and birds experience REM during sleep.
In 1953 Eugene Aserinsky discovered REM sleep while working in the surgery of his PhD advisor. Aserinsky noticed that the sleepers' eyes fluttered beneath their closed eyelids, later using a polygraph machine to record their brain waves during these periods. In one session he awakened a subject who was wailing and crying out during REM and confirmed his suspicion that dreaming was occurring. In 1953 Aserinsky and his advisor published the ground-breaking study in Science.
Hobson and McCarley's 1976 research suggested that the signals interpreted as dreams originated in the brain stem during REM sleep. However, research by Mark Solms suggests that dreams are generated in the forebrain, and that REM sleep and dreaming are not directly related. While working in the neurosurgery department at hospitals in Johannesburg and London, Solms had access to patients with various brain injuries. He began to question patients about their dreams and confirmed that patients with damage to the parietal lobe stopped dreaming; this finding was in line with Hobson's 1977 theory. However, Solms did not encounter cases of loss of dreaming with patients having brain stem damage. This observation forced him to question Hobson's prevailing theory which marked the brain stem as the source of the signals interpreted as dreams. Solms viewed the idea of dreaming as a function of many complex brain structures as validating Freudian dream theory, an idea that drew criticism from Hobson. Unhappy about Hobson's attempts at discrediting him, Solms, along with partner Edward Nadar, undertook a series of traumatic-injury impact studies using several different species of primates, particularly howler monkeys, in order to more fully understand the role brain damage plays in dream pathology. Solms' experiments proved inconclusive, however, as the high mortality rate associated with using an hydraulic impact pin to artificially produce brain damage in test subjects meant that his final candidate pool was too small to satisfy the requirements of the scientific method.
A 2001 study showed evidence that illogical locations, characters, and dream flow may help the brain strengthen the linking and consolidation of semantic memories. These conditions may occur because, during REM sleep, the flow of information between the hippocampus and neocortex is reduced. Increasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol late in sleep (often during REM sleep) cause this decreased communication. One stage of memory consolidation is the linking of distant but related memories. Payne and Nadel hypothesize that these memories are then consolidated into a smooth narrative, similar to a process that happens when memories are created under stress.
There are many hypotheses about the function of dreams, including:
A number of thinkers have commented on the similarities between the phenomenology of dreams and that of psychosis. Features common to the two states include thought disorder, flattened or inappropriate affect (emotion), and hallucination. Among philosophers, Kant, for example, wrote that ‘the lunatic is a wakeful dreamer’. Schopenhauer said: ‘A dream is a short-lasting psychosis, and a psychosis is a long-lasting dream.’In the field of psychoanalysis, Freud wrote: ‘A dream then, is a psychosis’,and Jung: ‘Let the dreamer walk about and act like one awakened and we have the clinical picture of dementia praecox.’
McCreery has sought to explain these similarities by reference to the fact, documented by Oswald, that sleep can supervene as a reaction to extreme stress and hyper-arousal. McCreery adduces evidence that psychotics are people with a tendency to hyper-arousal, and suggests that this renders them prone to what Oswald calls ‘microsleeps’ during waking life. He points in particular to the paradoxical finding of Stevens and Darbyshire that patients suffering from catatonia can be roused from their seeming stupor by the administration of sedatives rather than stimulants.
Dreams have a long history both as a subject of conjecture and as a source of inspiration. Throughout their history, people have sought meaning in dreams or divination through dreams. They have been described physiologically as a response to neural processes during sleep, psychologically as reflections of the subconscious, and spiritually as messages from God or predictions of the future. Many cultures practiced dream incubation, with the intention of cultivating dreams that were prophetic or contained messages from the divine.
Judaism has a traditional ceremony called hatovat chalom – literally meaning making the dream a good one. Through this rite disturbing dreams can be transformed to give a positive interpretation by a rabbi or a rabbinic court.
Personal experiences from the last day or week are frequently incorporated into dreams.
While the content of most dreams is dreamt only once, many people experience recurring dreams—that is, the same dream narrative is experienced over different occasions of sleep. Up to 70% of females and 65% of males report recurrent dreams.
There is evidence that certain medical conditions (normally only neurological conditions) can impact dreams. For instance, people with synesthesia have never reported black-and-white dreaming, and often have a difficult time imagining the idea of dreaming in only black and white.
Therapy for recurring nightmares (often associated with posttraumatic stress disorder) can include imagining alternative scenarios that could begin at each step of the dream.
Dreams were historically used for healing (as in the asclepieions found in the ancient Greek temples of Asclepius) as well as for guidance or divine inspiration. Some Native American tribes used vision quests as a rite of passage, fasting and praying until an anticipated guiding dream was received, to be shared with the rest of the tribe upon their return.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung identified dreams as an interaction between the unconscious and the conscious. They also assert together that the unconscious is the dominant force of the dream, and in dreams it conveys its own mental activity to the perceptive faculty. While Freud felt that there was an active censorship against the unconscious even during sleep, Jung argued that the dream's bizarre quality is an efficient language, comparable to poetry and uniquely capable of revealing the underlying meaning.
Fritz Perls presented his theory of dreams as part of the holistic nature of Gestalt therapy. Dreams are seen as projections of parts of the self that have been ignored, rejected, or suppressed. Jung argued that one could consider every person in the dream to represent an aspect of the dreamer, which he called the subjective approach to dreams. Perls expanded this point of view to say that even inanimate objects in the dream may represent aspects of the dreamer. The dreamer may therefore be asked to imagine being an object in the dream and to describe it, in order to bring into awareness the characteristics of the object that correspond with the dreamer's personality.
"Oneironaut" is a term sometimes used for those who explore the world of dreams. For example, dream researcher Stephen LaBerge uses the term. It is often associated with lucid dreaming in particular.
The recall of dreams is extremely unreliable, though it is a skill that can be trained. Dreams can usually be recalled if a person is awakened while dreaming. Women tend to have more frequent dream recall than men. Dreams that are difficult to recall may be characterized by relatively little affect, and factors such as salience, arousal, and interference play a role in dream recall. A dream journal can be used to assist dream recall, for psychotherapy or entertainment purposes. Ingesting large amounts of magnesium can help to make dreams more vivid, and therefore easier to recall.
The term "dream incorporation" is also used in research examining the degree to which preceding daytime events become elements of dreams. Recent studies suggest that events in the day immediately preceding, and those about a week before, have the most influence .