I used to do a lot of research on dreams; hell, I even used to do a workshop on dream interpretation when I owned my store. Dreams occur for a few reasons:
- Playtime for your brain. Those are the fun ones. After cleaning up cat vomit, cooking meals, running errands and separating fighting siblings all day, your brain decides to give you a vacation. We're talking, dreams where you are Ryan Reynolds' personal assistant and he falls madly in love with you. Or, most recently, where hubby has dreads and is going on and on about how a Chocolate Chip Cookie Monster is coming to attack us. You wake up from those with an amazing feeling, or laughing your ass off.
- To recap your day. While this stems from #1, it's slightly different. Dreams that fall under the category above are just plain fun, fantasy and having you waking up thinking, 'What did I smoke/drink/snort/pop last night to make me dream that?' Then there are the dreams that seem pretty normal, people and places are the same as in real life, situations are the same, and there's no real message or deep meaning to them. They are just simply your brain's way of processing the events of the day.
- To help you solve a problem. Research has shown that, if something is overloading your brain during the day, and you just can't seem to figure it out, sleeping helps. During that state of rest, the brain is able to function easier and process through all of the information it's storing. So, you wake up with the answer to that situation that's been driving you crazy. Using the phrase, 'Let me sleep on it' to someone or something that needs an answer from you, is not an excuse; it's a valid way to have you make a clear decision.
- To give you a message. Whether it's something that you are keeping stored deep down and refuse to acknowledge or something you just don't want to deal with, dreams will make sure it continues to pop up until you deal with it; it's one of the body's coping mechanisms. This is the main idea behind reoccurring dreams- they happen because there's some message or idea that you refuse to get or accept. And, unfortunately, they will continue to occur until you break the dream down, get the message it's giving you, and accept it. Maybe it's some fear you are holding, some situation that you won't let go of. Whatever it is, it's best, no matter how painful, to face the dream head on, and get rid of it forever.
- To show you something. Many people have prophetic dreams. Sometimes, things happen in real life exactly as they happened in a dream. Other times, the dream may play out in a fun way, but the events of the dream end up occurring in real life. From personal experience, these type of dreams have a certain feel to them. I know when I've woken up from a dream that's telling me something that's going to happen, or something that has happened but I don't know about it. Those are the ones that have pissed off people around me. I'll ask them something after having one of these dreams, and I've gotten back, 'How the hell did you know that?' The answer 'I dreamed it', while crazy as hell sounding, is now acceptable to people who really know me. And, like I said, it pisses them off sometimes.
- To torture you. Okay, so not really, but sometimes it feels that way, huh? Nightmares are unresolved issues that you have yet to deal with (this goes back to #4 above). The more terrifying the nightmare, the more unresolved the issue, or the more deep-seated the fear. And everyone has their definitions of a nightmare. Maybe, for you, it's strictly monsters, ghosts, vampires- things you'd find in a horror movies, that constitutes a nightmare for you. For others it's dying, the death of a loved one, some natural disaster, things like that. And, for others, it's possibly your brain replaying a situation or including people that you'd just rather not ever dream about, that makes it a nightmare. As much as you probably don't want to dive too deeply into these dreams, it's best if you do. Break it down, analyze it, figure out why you dreamed it, so it won't occur again, or get even scarier in the future.
I will add here, for informational purposes, about REM Rebound, which a lot of people don't know about. Whether or not you remember your dreams, you most likely had them during the night. Extreme exhaustion or stress, and external influences such as alcohol and drugs, can keep you from dreaming. When the brain goes long enough without getting the proper sleep needed for REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement, or the dreaming stage), you will go through REM Rebound. You can blame those crazy ass dreams about unicorns farting out rainbows, or a 7 foot tall cupcake that's destroying your town, on REM Rebound. Your brain needs REM sleep, and when it doesn't get it, it retaliates on a grand scale. It usually makes for a very interesting nighttime ride, where you do wonder if someone slipped you some PCP before bed.
So, I get a lot of people asking me how to remember their dreams. Training the brain, that's how. A dream is most fresh right upon waking. (If you've been woken up in the middle of a dream, even better- that's when the memory can recall most of the dream.) So, keep a notebook on your bedside table, and when you wake up, immediately grab it and start writing. The more movement, the more you engage in your day or external factors, the more of the dream you will lose. So it's best to remain in bed, and jot down as much as you can about the dream, even if it's just key words, as soon as you wake up. The more you recall, the more the brain will hang onto those images, and piece together the dream. Then you can take it from there in analyzing it. Write down everything, too; colors, emotions, smells, people, events- nothing goes unnoticed in dream interpretation. The more you do this, the more it builds the part of the brain necessary for dream recall and memorization. The more you build this part of the brain, the easier it becomes to remember your dreams, and with efficiency too. No more, 'Yeah, I was in a house... no, wait. It was a library. And this wolf came.... I don't remember what happened next, but I was in a field...' You'll be able to recall sequences, details, and more, once you start training your brain to do so.
Time to come full circle, back to my morning nightmare. I know why I had it. Those that know a little about me know that I up and left a very different life 2000 miles behind me. I chose, very stupidly I might add, to just not deal with the thoughts of that life and what I left behind. I chose to completely focus on my future, the life I was beginning here. What that did was leave a lot of unanswered questions, a lot of things I never fully processed, and a lot of things to repress. I attempted, at one point, to have those questions answered, to find closure in my decision, but it didn't happen. So, I had to work with what I was given, and close the door myself, manually, without the full closure needed to have it happen naturally. Because of that, my brain decides to pop up situations or people every now and then, to remind me that I never received my closure. This is my definition of a 'nightmare'. I can handle dreams about being chased by a swamp monster, or having zombies tear my flesh apart, but please, Brain, not what I chose to leave behind. And moreso than that, please refrain from showing me things I didn't want to deal with while I was there, either. It was my decision to block it out; let me find peace in that...
... And have more dreams about Ryan Reynolds. Or Bradley Cooper. Haven't dreamed about him, yet. Yeah, that'll make up for the nightmare you put me through this morning, Brain. If we can't reach some sort of compromise on this, I won't hesitate to cause you to have a lack of REM sleep. Then you'll be forced, via REM Rebound, to make me dream about having a tea party with Zombie Kitty and an Ewok, or, climbing Mount Everest only to find that the top is made of cheesecake and brownies, and Care Bears live there, sitting around playing Call of Duty, eating sushi and snorting lines of pixie sticks to get high. I'll fight fire with fire, Brain, I'll do it......