Interpreting the ‘movies’ we experience during sleep can help us improve our lives while we’re awake.
By Lissa Coffey
Editor’s Note: Savvy mattress retailers want to do everything they can to help their customers sleep better, including offering them sound advice and tips. Feel free to share this great guidance from Better Sleep Council spokeswoman Lissa Coffey with your shoppers (with credit given, of course). The BSC is the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association.
Our dreams can provide some insight into our psyches, helping us solve problems and giving us direction. They are where our subconscious comes out to play. Many of our dreams are simply the result of the brain “downloading” and interpreting all the information we picked up during the day, but they also can offer clues about things for us to examine that we might not be seeing while we are awake. In fact, in ancient Egypt, dreams were recognized as a way to “wake up” to things we need to pay attention to in our daily lives. The ancient Egyptian word for dream is rswt, which means “an awakening.” We often experience emotions in dreams that we need to express in our daily lives: A dream is a kind of dress rehearsal for how we might do that.
We experience our most dramatic dreams during the rapid eye movement period of sleep. Research from Harvard Medical School in Boston found that REM sleep not only helps us to consolidate learning and memories, it prepares the brain to be awake.
Because the brain doesn’t easily hold memories made during sleep, if we want to remember our dreams, it helps to write them down. (It’s interesting that we tend to remember bad dreams more often because they tend to wake us up more abruptly.) To help you recall your dreams, as soon as you wake up—and with as little movement as possible—grab a pen and paper and write down everything you can remember.
Dream interpretation can be fun, even insightful, and it’s interesting because the symbols we encounter in our dreams are not always what they seem to be. Here are some common dream themes you might have experienced—and the possible meanings behind them:
- Taking a test. This common dream theme is related to anxiety: You feel you are being “put to the test” or analyzed in some aspect of your life. This dream could be telling you that you feel unprepared, fear failing, worry you are being judged or have set your goals too high. To better understand this dream, examine what part of your waking life might be causing you anxiety or making you feel inadequate. Remember that test-taking dreams aren’t about the subject of the test itself; they are about the testing process and the feelings you experience during it.
- Being naked in public. In this dream, you are going about your usual business when you suddenly become aware that you are completely naked—or wearing pajamas in public, forgot to put on pants or something similar. How do you feel when you make this discovery? This dream could indicate you are feeling particularly vulnerable or insecure. It could mean you are hiding something you are afraid will be exposed. On the other hand, it could mean you feel a sense of freedom. If no one else in the dream seems to notice your nakedness or odd attire, it probably means you are amplifying a given situation and are more concerned about it than anyone else.
- Losing your teeth. Here, your teeth may fall out, loosen, crumble or become crooked. This dream often occurs when you are in the midst of a transition, perhaps starting a new job or a new relationship. Dreaming of lost teeth also could mean you are having a hard time communicating and need to speak up for yourself or it could mean you are anxious about your appearance, feel powerless or are embarrassed about something. Because of the association with the Tooth Fairy, some say this dream means you soon will come into money.
- Being chased. Humans have a built-in fight-or-flight response to physical threats, so it’s natural to run from an attacker. The attacker in your dream could be a person, animal or monster attempting to harm you. This is another dream that indicates you feel anxiety in your waking life. What are you running from? What is making you afraid? What are you avoiding? Try this the next time you have this dream: Turn around and ask why you are being chased. You also may find meaning in the distance between you and your pursuer. If the person is getting closer, you probably see your problem as quite large. If you can get away easily, then you may feel like you have a handle on things or that the matter will resolve itself.
- Flying. This can be a fun dream because most people find the feeling of being able to fly joyful and exhilarating. Pay attention to how high you are flying, which direction you are traveling and how fast you are going. The higher and faster you fly, the more confident you feel. Flying low is an indication that you are content with your life. If you fly backward, it means you are thinking about your past. If you have any fear while you are flying, it could mean you are afraid of a challenge that you don’t think you are ready or able to meet it. Do you encounter any obstacles during your flight? This means that someone or something is in your way in your waking life. Who or what might be preventing you from moving forward? The flying dream also might be telling you to look at things from a different perspective or be sending a message that you need to take on a new challenge.
Dreaming of a new mattress
Remember that your mattress is the foundation of a good night’s sleep. If you’re tossing and turning or having nightmares about your bed, check it for signs of wear and tear. If you have slept on your mattress for more than five to seven years, it probably needs to be replaced. For more sleep tips and a guide to mattress shopping, visit the Better Sleep Council’s website. Sweet dreams!