I have a recurrent dream. What does it mean?


I don’t know what your particular recurrent dream may signify, but several clinical dream theorists believe that recurrent dreams are related to unresolved life difficulties and that the cessation of a recurring dream indicates that the difficulty has been dealt with successfully. Consistent with these ideas, researchers have shown that the occurrence of recurrent dreams during adulthood is associated with stressors and lowered levels of psychological well-being and that the elimination of a previously recurrent dream is correlated with improved well-being.

I keep hearing that most dreams are really bizarre. Many of the dreams I remember aren’t all that strange though. Why the difference?


Another great question. I think one reason people think most dreams are bizarre is because those are the kinds of dreams we tend to share with others. If you wake up one morning and remember a dream where you were studying for an exam, or were stuck in traffic, or talking to some friends, you’ll likely not go out of your way to tell others. But, if while stuck in traffic a giant eagle grabbed your car in its talons and lifted you high above the city and flew you and your automobile across the sky, and then set you down by building where you work, then you may want to tell someone!

I have nightmares in which I’m not frightened, but really sad or disgusted. Is that common?


Although fear is the most frequently reported emotion in nightmares and bad dreams, almost half of all disturbing dreams contained primary emotions other than fear.  These can include anger, sadness, and frustration. Also, we’ve published several studies showing that nightmares with these kinds of emotions are rated as being just as intense and disturbing as fear-driven nightmares. This is why the American Academy of Sleep Medicine defines nightmares as disturbing mental experiences rather than frightening dreams.

What about themes of falling, being paralyzed and suffocation? Why are they not on your list?


The list above is based on a careful analysis of thousands of dream reports collected prospectively (for example, on daily dream logs) as opposed to asking people about the last nightmare they remember on a questionnaire. Themes of falling or being paralyzed appear infrequently in dream logs, but their high saliency makes them particularly memorable and thus more likely to be recalled in interviews or questionnaires long after their occurrence and many people can remember having one of these nightmares at least once in their lifetime, often many years ago.

I’ve been reading about different companies offering various kinds of technologies for lucid dreaming. Do they work?


In these past few years, there has seen a veritable explosion in the number of companies offering all kinds of substances (drugs, supplements) and devices (headgear, home EEG devices, gadgets delivering low doses of transcranial stimulation) to help people have lucid dreams. Although these products are widely marketed and often accompanied by strong claims about their success rates, little independent research has been conducted on their effectiveness. Moreover, there exist many self-training techniques that may give you better results.

What is a lucid dream?


Another excellent question.  So what exactly is a lucid dream?  Various definitions of the experience have emerged in the literature.  The simplest of these states that lucid dreams are those in which the subject is aware that he or she is dreaming. Other researchers have added a qualifier:  that one has to become perfectly or fully aware that one is dreaming. Exactly what is meant by the terms "perfectly" or "fully" is usually not explicitly stated, but usually involves the ability to consciously exert control over events in the dream scenery.

I sometimes have dreams with sensations of smell, taste or pain. Is this unusual?


Although the overwhelming majority of dream reports contain visual and, to a lesser extent, kinesthetic elements, the presence of other sensory modalities has also been noted in both lab and home dream reports.Over 50% of dream reports contain auditory experiences while explicit references to olfactory, gustatory and pain sensations occur in less than 1% of all dream reports. One study found that women’s dream reports were more likely to contain olfactory or gustatory sensations whereas references to auditory and pain experiences occurred in a higher percentage of men’s dreams.


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