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What’s Up withDreams?Why do we dream? And why do we dream what we dream? Get some clues, and share dreamy journeys with friends.Bet you know all about how important good sleep is—how it’s crucial for our brains and bodies to do their best all through the day. Dreaming is important, too. We need dreaming to help us process the day’s new information and emotions.
Most of our best dreaming occurs in the REM stage of our sleep—that’s when we have Rapid Eye Movement as our sleeping body reacts to the activity of our dreams. When people are deprived of REM sleep and their opportunity to dream, they’re more likely to feel anxious and sad. Brain-power can lag during daytime, and dream defi cits may even slow healthy brain development in kids.
Dreams often seem jumbled or impossible—say, you’ve turned into a giant bat or you’re hanging out with Hermione—but there’s a reason for that. Dreams can contain both images true to your life as well as images or events you’ve never experienced; maybe something you fear (snakes, fi re) or would love (riding a unicorn).
During dreams, different areas of your brain process all this “data.” Dream researchers believe that as you enter a deep sleep, your neocortex gets active. That’s the brain part where higher-level thinking, logic, and perception originates. That process sends a signal to your hippocampus, where data of what you did and learned and felt all day is stored, to “upload” that data. The neocortex decides which of this info is useful and should be saved.
Imagine a stream of all this stuff passing by as you sleep. Some stuff ends up in your dreams; some useful info gets stored (good to rehearse how to escape dangerous snakes); and some non-useful stuff gets discarded by brain housecleaning.
Our awesome brain lets us experience the full theater of dreams by releasing a chemical to temporarily paralyze some of our arm and leg muscles. That way we don’t leap off the bed because we think a tiger is chasing us or that we are fl ying. Our limbic system, which during waketime controls our feelings and desires, opens up so we can experience our dreams fully. The brain’s logic center, our prefrontal cortex, steps back to let illogical things happen in dreams.
The best thing about dreams is that each dream’s actions can give us valuable clues about what’s going on in our lives. That lets us revel in our fun dreams or seek some support from trusted adults about troubling dreams. While it’s fun to interpret your dream actions (see next page), what’s most important is to try to remember the emotions you felt during the dream. If you’re having dreams that make you feel anxious or fearful, fi nd quiet time to think about what’s going on in your life.
If you’re having scary dreams, you might even be able to change the outcome to escape the monster or whatever the frightening situation. Dream researchers such as Barbara Condron advise making up a positive ending to a bad dream and rehearsing it. You could draw the outcome you want as well. Tell yourself before going to sleep that your dreams will have the good ending.
And always try to remember your dreams. Many people have conjured all kinds of creativity and inventions during dreams, says dream expert Deirdre Barrett, Harvard psychology professor. “Dreams are just thinking in a different biochemical state,” Barrett says. So do some dream sleuthing to fi nd clues to how you are now. And be ready to capture possible new inventions and insights!
Got Wacky Dreams?We love to share dreams in our online community! Sometimes they’re happy dreams, and sometimes they are straaaaange and scary, and sometimes it's a mix. Ask friends to share dreams for a week—you'll all fi nd it fascinating. Here's a sampling.
I had the best dream of my life! My family went to this store that had food, makeup, and a bunch of other stuff I like. We did a favor for the shopkeeper and she told us to take anything we wanted FOR FREE! I was shoving Oreos, dresses, makeup, candy, and all this stuff in a shopping cart. . . . I was jumping on a giant round trampoline with my sister in a tall orange room with a sun painted on the ceiling—it was really really fun and super bouncy! . . . I was a giant bat. It was really fun to ﬂ y around and it seemed totally normal to be a bat. . . . I saw my great-grandmother Yaya again. She died in 2015, so it was an amazing dream. . . . Hermione from Harry Potter was my big sister, and she was taking a walk with Ron, and I was trying to listen to their conversation while carrying a tricycle over my head. This one is on my favorite dreams list. . . .I was at a sleepover and a headless ostrich with rabies jumped out of a tree and started chasing me and my friends. We all hid in the toilet until the ostrich ran away. . . .
All my paper dolls grew to human size and they were alive and I had to make all the dresses in time for the fashion show. . . . I was at school, but it wasn't a school I'd ever seen before, and I was trying to fi nd my class. Eventually I found it behind a door. . . . A random woman was going to hold me and my dad hostage, but she turned out to be really nice. . . . I dreamed all my teeth fell out. . . . I was babysitting two kids, Oliver and Olivia, and taking them to the Mexican restaurant across the street when Oliver ran off; somehow we ended up at the hospital. I fi nally got them back to the apartment. I woke up all sweaty. . . . I was going to go to this NMG boarding school and was trying to pack an iPhone charger, but it jumped out of my suitcase. . . . My brother (who currently shares a room with me) was trying to get to sleep, but I was walking around the room and blasting music from my speaker. . . . When I was little, I had this gigantic pink glittery stuffed unicorn. My mom sold it at a yard sale when I was away, and I was heartbroken. In my dream, this unicorn came to life and I rode it around my house, and my dad got really mad at me. Listen to Your Dreams!Here are a few explanations from dream experts. • You dream that insects or other annoying things keep bugging you. Maybe you are finding new skills challenging, such as multiplication tables?
• You jump off a roof—and find that you can fly! Congratulations! You've probably aced something you really wanted to do.
• You're on a high place and you fall. Perhaps you're dealing with a situation where you don't feel in control or you don't know what to say or do. Try visualizing flying and not falling next time.
• You're left alone without parents. Maybe you are learning how to be more independent and that's a bit scary. Assure yourself you'll be okay.
• Someone or something is chasing you. Is there something you are fearful of or you are avoiding? Can you think of another solution than avoidance?
• You show up at school in your underwear. You may have felt you did something inappropriate or fear doing that. Social expectations are strong—in warm cultures where people live nearly nude, they dream of wearing the wrong ceremonial clothes!
• You walk into class to find a test about things you haven't studied. You could be taking on something challenging and feeling insecure. That's normal.
• You lose something important and can't find it. Are you losing touch with something you treasure? Maybe it's part of growing older, or maybe you're giving up something you value. Be true to you!