Why do we dream? What are the reasons for all the images and emotions that fill our sleeping—and sometimes waking—minds? The truth is that in spite of years of research and centuries of fascination with our dreams, no one really knows. We know that everyone dreams, and that when we dream our eyes move rapidly beneath our eyelids (known as REM sleep). We know that REM sleep happens approximately every 90 minutes and that we may be in this dream state for as long as 45 minutes.
Yet, most of us have difficulty remembering our dreams. Even when we have a dream that feels particularly vivid and memorable, as soon as we wake, the images, events, and feelings begin to fade. And why would we want to remember them anyway? I know that most of my dreams—those I do remember—are nonsensical and sometimes nightmarish. Aren’t they better off left in the realm of sleep? What benefit is there to remembering and considering our dreams?
Although there is a long history of dream interpretation, some scientists debate the value of recording and/or interpreting dreams, maintaining that they are nothing more than a kind of subconscious garbage dump of images. But many people believe that dream images spring from our subconscious self and that they have meanings which, when studied, can reveal useful information about us and may even help us solve problems.
What do you think?
This week’s journaling prompts help you explore your attitudes and beliefs about dreams, as well as record and discover their meaning.
- Perform a word association with the word dreams. When you’re done listing words, review the list briefly and write about any connections, images, or feelings associated with the words. What do you notice about yourself?
- Complete the following sentence: The purpose of dreaming is … Defend your answer.
- Do you tend to remember your dreams? If so, how would you describe the kinds of dreams you have most often? If not, how do you feel about not remembering them? Do you wish you could? Why or why not?
- What has been your experience with trying to record and/or interpret your dreams? Have you ever kept a dream journal? If so, was/is it beneficial in any way?
- Freewrite for ten minutes about how life dreams (dreams about future achievements) are and are not related to sleep dreams.
- Describe a recurring dream, or images that have appeared in more than one dream. What relationships are there between your life circumstances or emotional situations and these dream images?
- If you could change one thing about your dreams, what would it be and why?
If you would like to learn how to use journal writing to explore your dreams, I offer here some guidelines and ideas.
Keeping a Dream Journal
- Keep a pen and notebook (and a small flashlight if you share your bed) on your night table.
- As you’re lying in bed awaiting sleep, picture yourself waking up and writing your dreams.
- When you wake from a dream write it down immediately. Stay in bed and turn on only low light, such as your flashlight or nightlight. If you can write while lying down, so much the better!
- Write down whatever sensory details, including colors, sounds, and scents you recall. Include emotions: Excitement? Fear? Confusion? Exhilaration?
- Title your dream. This will help you uncover dream patterns. For example, I have given my dreams such titles as, “The Lion,” “The Crazy Journey,” and “The Mermaid.”
- Leave a blank page adjacent to your dream description for later reflection.
Discovering Your Dream’s Meanings
Later, review your dream description and consider the following prompts:
- Write down anything that comes to you as your read about your dream, including additional details, thoughts, reactions, or associations.
- Are any of the images or dream events connected with anything in your real life? If so, what?
- Does the dream seem to have an obvious message or meaning? What other meanings might the dream have?
- What details seem most significant? Write word/image associations for those details. For example, if there was a lot of green in your dream, you might write associated words such as growth, planting, calm, earth, rain, and lawn (or another set entirely). What emotions are associated with your word list?
- Another technique uses the idea that everything in our dreams represents some aspect of ourselves. Thinking about a particular character or aspect of a dream, complete the following sentence: I am ______ and I . . .. For example, “I am green and I …” Or, “I am a white house and I …”
- Freewrite for ten minutes about the dream, and notice what bubbles up.
There’s no doubt that dreams are mysterious and fascinating windows into our subconscious minds—and rich resources for self-discovery through journaling. I invite you to try some of these prompts and dream journaling techniques, then share your experiences by leaving a comment below.
Image Credit: Alexandria LaNier
If you’re interested in exploring this topic further, I recommend the International Association of the Study of Dreams website, which offers factual and research-based articles on dreaming, as well as links to dream art exhibitions.