People dream for an average of six years during their lives.
Six years absorbed in wondrous, thrilling, frightening and sometimes utterly incomprehensible scenarios.
Even though we spend so much of our lives in them, dreams are particularly tricky to study, given that, in order to ask someone about their dream, you have to wake them up.
So, while experts are still divided on what our dreams mean, research has given us some very eye-opening information about them.
Here are a few fun facts about the stories we tell ourselves while we sleep.
Your brain is very active during dreams
During sleep, the mind and body relax. After all, the primary reason we sleep is to recover from the stress of the day, to repair muscle damage and to freshen up for the next day’s demands.
You may think it’s logical that the brain ‘switches off’ to recover, however, sleep studies, where electrical activity in the brain is measured, provide solid data documenting brain activity during the night.
We experience a lot in a typical day and when we’re awake our brains are so busy taking in everything we see, feel and hear that it actually has little time to process, categorise and store this information. When you’re asleep, your brain finally has time to make sense of it all.
Men and women dream differently
Never mind how the other half lives, studies suggest there are significant differences in how the other half sleeps. Women seem to be far better at remembering their dreams, but, unfortunately, experience nightmares more frequently and at a higher intensity.
Women tend to have slightly longer dreams that feature more characters. When it comes to the characters that typically appear in dreams, men dream about other men twice as often as they do about women, while women tend to dream about both sexes equally.
Male dreams tend to be slightly more mundane, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, more easily forgotten.
People can control their dreams (a bit)
A lucid dream is a dream in which the sleeper is aware that they are dreaming, and sometimes said sleeper can consciously insert things into their dreams. It’s thought to be a combination state of both consciousness and REM sleep, during which you can often direct or control the dream content.
A 2017 study dug a little deeper, and suggested that a series of real world techniques could help people control their subsequent slumber.
The research said that three simple strategies – waking up for a set period in the night, imagining yourself within a lucid dream, and taking note of your environment during the day – saw 17 per cent of people experience a lucid dream over the course of one week.
Early research from the University of Adelaide suggests that taking vitamin B6 may be able to make dreams more vivid, colourful, emotional and bizarre. Other B vitamins may also help people to remember their dreams or have lucid dreams.
Approximately half of all people can remember experiencing at least one instance of lucid dreaming, and some individuals are able to have lucid dreams quite frequently.
About 12 per cent of people dream in black and white
Although almost everyone sees in colour (a tiny minority are wholly colour blind), a small but significant portion of the world’s sleepers dream in old-fashioned monochrome. No-one knows why for sure, but one study linked the phenomenon to older people growing up with black and white televisions and media.
Of the people who dream in colour, apparently soft pastel colours are experienced more often than other shades.
The most common dream-related questions tend to follow the format “does ‘x’ dream?” and the answer is almost always yes. Human foetuses could start dreaming in the womb (even before exhibiting REM sleep), while any dog owner that’s seen their pet air-sprinting while snoozing can tell you Fido definitely dreams.
Blind people still dream visually after losing their sight (though research suggests this fades over time), while those born blind have similarly vivid dreams with other senses like hearing and smell.
We still don’t know why we dream
A holy grail for researchers, along with the equally baffling ‘why do we yawn?’, the question of how and why we dream has eluded scientists for centuries. The many, many theories claim variously that dreams consolidate memories in the brain, act as proxies for difficult real life problems, train the mind to respond to danger, or act as an aid to waking creativity.
One, none, or all of these suggestions may be true to differing degrees. The jury is still out.
Do you typically remember your dreams? Have you ever experienced recurring dream or nightmares?
– With PA
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