Dreaming is a universal human experience. From happy dreams about past events to nightmares about events unknown, we all dream. Though scientists have put a great deal of study into dreams, our sleeping thoughts are still largely an enigma, a mystery. For how much we would like to know, we know very little. But the facts we do know about dreams are fascinating – from differences in what men and women dream about to the ability to control our dreams to how our dreams are affected by what happens around us. (Just like the film Inception; well, maybe not exactly like, but close enough.) Dive with us into the deepest part of our sleeping selves in this list of 25 dream facts which might help you sleep better.
We're all scared of cheaters
The most common dream we all experience is of a cheating spouse or lover. Rooted in the universal fear of being left alone, dreaming about a partner’s infidelity can happen many times and often not even be related to concerns of or the reality of an affair.
We get sexually aroused while dreaming
All humans become aroused during sleep, especially during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. It is common for adolescent boys to have “nocturnal emissions”, and women can experience similar changes with their genitals becoming “engorged and lubricated”.
Our dreams include more flying
The amount of people who dream they are flying has increased from 1956 to 2000. Researchers believe we now dream more of flying because the advent of airplanes has us flying more.
Insecure people dream more
The dreams of insecure people differ from those of people who are more secure. Insecure people report dreaming more often and more intensely where strong emotions are brought to the forefront.
Moving after waking up stops the dream
To stay in a dream for an extra few minutes after waking up, stay in the same position you were in while asleep. If you move or stretch, your body activates your muscles and turns off the dream. (It would follow that to get rid of a nightmare, you should flail your limbs everywhere!)
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Dreaming makes you a better problem solver
When we dream, our brains encode information from short-term to long-term memory. If you’re having trouble remembering things, take a nap or make sure you’re getting plenty of rest for your body. (We all need different amounts.)
We get progressively worse at remembering dreams
Our dream recall starts to decrease as soon as we reach adulthood. Both how well we remember our dreams and how intense our dreams are decrease with age – continuing as we get older. (It even befalls men faster than it does women.)
We can dream while awake
Separate from daydreaming, wakeful dreaming is using our imagination to bring up a recent dream. After bringing up the dream, let it play out, noting what happens. Wakeful dreaming can be used for relaxation and to process a complicated dream.
Our wakeful thoughts influence our dreams
What we think about before falling asleep can have a significant role in our dream content. If we actively focus on something, it will likely come up, but if we let our minds wander before bed, they will likely bring up things which are bothering us, both while falling asleep and during our dreams.
Dreaming makes you smarter
While we dream, our brains are hard at work solving problems and working out solutions. Thus, especially if you’re studying for a big exam, you may be better off going to bed a bit earlier to cement the information you’ve been studying rather than pulling an all-nighter.
We dream about recent events
We often dream about events which have happened in the past week of our lives. This is due to the dream-lag effect. The part of our brains responsible for emotions, learning, and memory – the hippocampus – transfers information from short-term memory to long-term memory to consolidate it for future use. The transfer can take up to a week, which is why events from the previous week are most common.
Pregnant women dream differently
Since we dream about what’s happening in our lives, it should come as no surprise that pregnant women dream more often of pregnancy and childbirth. What is interesting is that dreaming of childbirth is more common in later parts of the third trimester than the earlier and, strangely, pregnant women experience more morbid dreams.
Recurring dreams happen for a reason
If you keep experiencing the same dream or nightmare – pay attention! Our brains use dreams as a way to process what’s happening in the real world. If a dream keeps coming up, it likely refers to an unresolved problem in your waking life that needs to be addressed. Put this dream fact to use the next time you notice a recurring dream.
Our dreams have different lengths
Dreaming happens during our REM sleep (the final, deepest level of sleep) which increases the longer we sleep. Our first dream is short – about 5 minutes – whereas the last can be up to an hour long. That’s why the dreams you remember before waking up seem to have such a long and complicated storyline.
We can choose what we learn from our dreams
Though most people believe dreams unfold independent of their control, we can train ourselves to navigate our own dreams. By practicing to be mindful of what is happening in our dreams and planning the night before to attend to our dreams, we can have greater control while dreaming, even to the point of choosing what happens in them. Test out this dream fact tonight!
We create music in our dreams
A study of musicians and non-musicians examined the presence of music in dreams – what it uncovered was fascinating. The study found that how often we dream of music doesn’t have to do with how much musical-related activities we perform each day but rather when we started learning music. Half of the music participants reported was unknown to them – proving we can create new music while dreaming!
Television affects our dreams
Yes, what we see on television affects our dreams, but also whether we grew up watching television in color or black and white affects what colors we dream in. A recent study found 80% of participants less than 30 years old dreamed in color compared to 20% of over-60’s.
Men and women dream about different things
Who we dream about varies based on our gender. Though women dream about men and women about equally, men highly favor other men, dreaming about them twice as often as about women.
Our brains erase our dreams after we have them
Like clearing out our computer hard drives, our brains wipe our memory of the dreams we experience – unless we wake up during them. Though we dream all night, we only remember dreams when we’re woken up part-way through (and most of us forget those, too, unless we really focus on remembering).
What happens around us while sleeping affects our dreams
External stimuli – what’s happening around our limp bodies as we sleep and dream – can effect the emotions we feel while dreaming. A study investigated the use of smells as external stimuli with participants reporting more positive dreams when surrounded by the smell of roses but more negative dreams when the smell was of rotten eggs.
Impairments don't exist in our dreams
In studies of deaf and paraplegic participants, it has been found that, for most people, neither group’s impairment factors into their dreams. For instance, 80% of deaf participants spoke and heard in their dreams and 14 out of 15 paraplegic participants reported moving around and being physically active.
Insomniacs remember more of their dreams
People who suffer from insomnia are actually better at remembering the dreams. The contents of an insomniac’s dream often represent the stress of being unable to sleep properly.
Spicy food helps us remember dreams
For the same reason we remember dreams more when we wake up during them, eating spicy food can lead to higher dream recall as we’re more likely to wake up during sleep after eating spicy foods.
Dream therapy can help people with PTSD
As our #11 dream fact showed, we can control our dreams to some extent. For people suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), medical professionals are using dream control as therapy. Similar to the spinning top from the film Inception, patients with PTSD made bracelets and wore them to sleep; if they didn’t see the bracelet, they knew they were dreaming and would try to change the dream’s course.
Suppressing ideas before bed leads them to show up in dreams
Studies have found that consciously suppressing an idea before falling asleep will lead it to appear more often in your dreams. Some have also shown that thought suppression can lead to more symptoms associated with mental disorders, but we might just take the chance of suppressing thoughts of Eva Longoria or Channing Tatum before bed to see what happens. For science, of course.