Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2019
What are dreams? A dream is the subconscious experience of a sequence of images, sounds, ideas, emotions, or other sensations occurring predominantly during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep when the brain’s activity most resembles that seen in wakefulness. REM sleep makes up approximately 20%-25% of sleep and we typically have 4 or 5 periods of REM sleep during the night with short periods at the beginning of the night and longer periods as the night progresses. Our dreams are made up of things we know, have experienced or can imagine, but what we dream of is limited in certain ways. When we are asleep we are vulnerable and therefore we need to remain vigilant of what is going on in the environment; however our dreams are essentially real therefore sensations in our dreams that compromise our vigilance would be unhelpful. Thus for instance because the sleeper is unable to see or move when asleep, vision and movement do not play a role in providing accurate information about external world. Therefore vision and movement can exist during sleep without compromising vigilance, hence the fact that the overwhelming majority of our dreams are visual. However experiencing things such as touch, smell or sound could compromise vigilance by interfering with signals coming from the external environment, therefore such sensations rarely occur in our dreams. With regards to the emotional content of a dream anxiety is the most common emotion experienced during dreaming. Most of us have a reoccurring ‘stress’ dream that is, usually, about a stressful situation e.g. relating to events at school, being chased, falling, arriving too late, failing an exam, etc. As in their waking state it has been found that men generally have more aggressive feelings in their dreams than women, whilst children's dreams do not contain much aggression until they become teenagers. Sexual dreams occur about 10% of the time although interestingly in the male erections occur in approx. 80% of dreams, so they are not connected with the content of the dream. One final point, we really do not yet understand dreams but we do know that your dreams are personal to you and thus dream interpretation of whatever type is as scientifically valid as astrology.