Beijing time on February 12, you wake up in the middle of the night, the heart beats faster, and after a while you realize that you did not just wear a bath towel rushed out to attend a job interview. Depending on the different dream dictionaries you look at, you may find that your dreams reveal anxiety about work, some sense of shame or embarrassment, and may even consider yourself a severely suppressed psychopath.
Given all these possibilities, can dreams really reveal our deepest secrets?
Dreams can provide useful insights into our lives, but whether you learn from Hollywood movies or favorite novels, there is no research that suggests that dreams can reveal our inner life.
“There’s really no research to support this idea,” said Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist and dream researcher at Harvard Medical School. “Dreams are not symbolic. She points out that neither the dictionary nor the dreamer can tell you what dreams really mean.
For a long time, humans have tried to find meaning in dreams. The ancient Mesopotamias and the ancient Egyptians saw dreams as a message from God. The ancient Greeks and Romans used them to predict the future. But the belief that the symbols of dreams hide the true secrets of our hearts actually originated in the 19th century by the psychologist Sigmund Freud. Dreams, he argues, are a kind of fulfillment that reveals our deeply suppressed desires.
Since Freud, the science of dreams has made new progress, and a more ordinary reality than Freud’s theory has been proposed. Dreams are not mysterious, nor are they illusory. In fact, dreaming is closer to what you think during the day than you think. But that doesn’t mean dreams are meaningless. Research shows that when dreaming, we are actually dealing with interests, memories, and worries that usually occupy our brains during the day.
“We have wishful thinking, we think about threats and fears, and we think about social life and the people we love,” Barrett said.
Dream researcher William Domhoff of the University of California, Santa Cruz. In a paper published in the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practices, William Domhoff explains that dreams have psychological implications and are an extension of our thoughts and worries when we wake up. Studies have shown that dreams are more of a true portrayal of our daily lives than a psychedelic action movie. Unless, sometimes something very strange does happen in a dream.
On the other hand, while dreams are closer to the thoughts of waking than we think, our brains work very differently in the way we sleep than when we wake up.
“Our minds work in a very different biochemical state, ” Barrett says. This means that during sleep, the chemical mixture in the brain changes. Some parts of our brain become very inactive, others become more active. For example, the secondary visual cortex is the part of our brain that forms images and becomes more active in our sleep, helping to produce vivid images that we “see”. At the same time, the prefrontal cortex, which usually filters our thoughts, is suppressed.
Some psychologists believe that dreams can be a valuable tool. Karl Stukenberg, a psychologist and psychoanalyst at Xavier University in the United States, questioned whether dreams had real symbolic significance or were repressed, but he used the method of demeaning them for both students and patients. “The more symbolic part of the mind, and the logical part, creates a dialogue, ” he says.
Barrett points out that we don’t explain the formula for dreams. Dreams aren’t Easter eggs waiting to be discovered, but they do provide a reference for how to deal with sleep. At least Freud was right at this point,” he said, suggesting that dreams are meaningful. Through dreams, we may be able to learn more about ourselves,” Barrett said.
Why can’t we always remember dreams?
A 2011 study found that when we fall asleep, not all brain regions go to sleep at the same time. The researchers found that the hippocampus is the last part of the brain to go to sleep, a structure that is essential for the conversion of short-term memories into long-term memories. If the hippocampus finally goes to sleep, it may also be the last to wake up, so when you wake up, the hippocampus is not yet fully awake, so you cannot retain the memory of the dream.
When we fall asleep, the two neurotransmitters associated with memory preservation, acetylcholine and norepinephrine, decrease significantly, which may lead to our poor ability to encode new memories while we sleep. When we get into fast eye movement sleep, there are some vivid dreams, and when the acetylcholine index returns to the level of sobriety, norepinephrine remains at a low level. Some researchers believe that changes in neurotransmitters may be the main reason we forget about dreams.
There are also differences between different dreams. The researchers believe that more vivid, emotional, and more coherent dreams are easier to remember, possibly because they trigger more awakenings and make the organizational narratives of dreams easier to store. Waking up in the middle of the night is usually accompanied by dream memories. When you get up in the morning, you can try to think about fragmented dream memories, close your eyes and remember them over and over again, perhaps allowing the hippocampus to capture and preserve them.