Do dreams really carry meaning? Here's when not to ignore your subconscious

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Amy Lewis
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Do you pay attention to your dreams? According to experts, we’ll all spend the equivalent of around 25 years of our lives asleep, with 2,000 days spent purely lost in our dreams. Even if you rarely remember your dreams in vivid detail, it’s thought we each experience anywhere between three and seven per night, regardless.

So if Freud was right when he penned The Interpretation Of Dreams way back in 1899, arguing that our dreams can reveal insight into our psychological make-up, or an explanation of why we may do the things we do in our waking lives, that’s a whole load of information to be collected – or neglected – over the course of our lives.

But is every dream laced with meaning?

While we’ve likely all had common dreams such as facing an exam without any preparation, or the horror of our teeth falling out, both of which are thought to carry fairly easily interpreted messages, are even our most obscure (or monotonous) dreams trying to tell, or teach, us something?

Dream specialist Melinda Ziemer, co-founder and director of the Dream Research Institute (DRI) and vice president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, would argue yes.

“Every dream, if we spend time with it, offers some form of guidance or insight,” she explains.

But while some dream interpretations can see incredibly detailed guidance and messages pulled from seemingly innocuous visualisations, Ziemer does note that it doesn’t always need to be this complex.

“Think of a dream as a mirror that can reflect back to us our inner mental, psychological, physical or spiritual state,” she says. “Showing us what we need to bring our lives into balance.”

While many studies have sought to demonstrate the correlation between our dreams and well-being, if you’re still hovering on the fringes of scepticism, simply paying attention to the dreams you just can't ignore is a good place to start.

But how to know what’s important and what’s not worth the time? According to Ziemer, if you wake up ‘reacting’ to your dream, that’s one to take special note of.

“Any dream that leaves a strong impression, whether it frightens, confuses, inspires, or heals, urges us to reflect on our actions and to change our lives,” she explains, adding that spending a few moments to ponder and contemplate these dreams can likely leave us with a better understanding of ourselves.

“As with any relationship, we need to spend time with our dreams – consider the feelings they arouse, turn them over in our minds and hearts, listen to them, write them down: then we begin to understand our dreams more clearly,” she explains.

“The inner voice of dreams speaks in signs and symbols. As with any new language, we need to spend time learning the personal idiom of our dreams as well as the universal symbolic language.”

So the next time you wake up punching the pillow, it might be time to wonder whether there's more to deal with than an unaddressed dislike of your bedding...


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Amy Lewis

Amy Lewis is a freelance writer and editor, a lover of strong tea, equally strong eyebrows, a collector of facial oils and a cat meme enthusiast. She covers everything from beauty and fashion to feminism and travel.