Why do we dream at night?
Why doesn’t our mind rest when we’re sleeping?
While you’re awake, it’s not so easy to figure out what’s happening in your subconscious because your conscious mind actively engages you with the world around you while your subconscious keeps on working behind the scenes.
This is why the subconscious mind has to use emotions to communicate with your conscious mind.
However, when you’re asleep, the conscious mind takes the back seat and your subconscious mind becomes active, communicating to your conscious mind its thoughts, not as emotions, but in the form of dream-imagery. (see Conscious and the subconscious mind)
So we can say that the main purpose of dreams is to let us know what’s going on in our subconscious mind. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, called dreams ‘the royal road to the unconscious’.
Just like emotions, dreams act as a means of communication between the conscious and the subconscious mind.
The reason why many experts maintain that dreams have no purpose or meaning or adaptive function is that dreams can’t be studied objectively.
Just as high blood pressure of an angry person cannot tell you what made him angry, an EEG of brain waves of a sleeping person cannot tell you what he’s dreaming about.
1) Dreams as a mirror of your current life
In the majority of cases, dreams let you know what your subconscious mind thinks about your current life situation.
In other words, they reflect the emotions that you may be currently experiencing in your life. If you’re worried, anxious and afraid then these are the very emotions that you’ll usually experience in your dreams.
On the other hand, if you’re happy with your current life, then this is what will usually manifest in your dreams.
For example, if you frequently see nightmares, then it might mean that your subconscious is trying to tell you that something’s not right in your life right now or there’s an important issue that you’ve been avoiding thus far.
On the contrary, seeing dreams that give you a positive feeling, like dreaming that you’re flying, can mean your subconscious is happy with the way things are right now in your life.
2) Dreams as wish-fulfillments
Many dreams are simply wish-fulfillments. If there was something that you wanted to do during the day or a few days back but couldn’t, then most probably you’ll do it in your dream.
For example, if you were trying to fix your computer but were unable to do so in your waking hours, you might see a dream in which you successfully fix it.
Similarly, if you wanted to have a conversation with someone during the day, but circumstances prevented you from doing it, then you might have that conversation in your dream.
3) Expression of suppressed emotions
Dreams can be a way your mind uses to release your suppressed emotions. ‘Suppressed emotions’ sounds like rocket science but it isn’t.
The emotions that were triggered in you during the day, the ones you didn’t allow expression but wittingly buried deep in your mind, are called suppressed emotions.
The thing is, emotions cannot be suppressed, they have to leak out in one way or the other. If you don’t release your suppressed emotions during the day in any way, then the mind uses dreams as a last resort to get rid of them.
Let’s say your boss yelled at you for a petty reason because he was in a bad mood and not because you did something wrong. At this point, the emotion of anger gets triggered in you but you don’t express it because it could possibly endanger your job.
You’ll probably go home and yell at your children to release this anger.
But what if the children were too cute to look at and so you didn’t want to get mad at them?
Then you might decide to dump the anger on your spouse.
But what if your spouse was treating you very nicely and you believed it would be very unbecoming of you to be mad at them?
The anger inside you remains unexpressed and that night you might dream that you are arguing with your boss, finally releasing the pent-up anger out of your system.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur. Feel free to contact me if you have a query.