Decoding Our Dreams

dreaming boy floating above bed

“I dreamt that I was begging my friend not to go fight with rebels in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. When I woke up I checked the atlas, and I was right. Antananarivo is the capital of Madagascar! I didn’t know that I knew that.” As this dreamer’s story illustrates, our brains don’t shut down when we sleep. Instead, they give us dreams—dreams that are weird and wonderful, scary and surreal. For all their mystery, though, research continues to show that dreaming is very important to human well-being.

Early research revealed that when we dream our eyes move rapidly side-to-side beneath our eyelids (called rapid eye movement, or REM sleep) and our bodies are practically paralyzed. Now researchers have found that we also dream during non-REM sleep. The dreams that occur during the two types of sleep differ in quality. Non-REM dreams tend to be positive and pleasant. They also help us process information. For example, during non-REM sleep a test subject who had played a skiing simulation game while awake dreamt of placing his feet into deep boot prints in the snow. He later performed better on the game. In contrast, dreams during REM sleep are more disturbing. In fact, people diagnosed with depression often go straight to REM sleep, bypassing the non-REM part of the sleep cycle.

Dreaming can also enhance our creative side. Many scientific and technical innovations have been credited to dreams. We can even train ourselves to dream about a topic that has us stumped. Chances are good that dreaming can provide insights to the puzzle. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you should rely on your dreams to solve that knotty geometry proof!

Image credit: HMH

Related Links

  • What Are Dreams?
    Watch the video “What Are Dreams?” or print out the transcript for this NOVA program.
    (Source: PBS; accessed August 1, 2011)
  • The Science of Dreams
    This Canadian site has a useful FAQ section.
    (Source: Dream and Nightmare Laboratory, Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal; accessed August 1, 2011)
  • International Association for the Study of Dreams
    This international organization promotes “awareness and appreciation of dreams” and is dedicated to investigation “into the nature, function, and significance of dreaming”; check out the About Dreams tab for links to many related topics.
    (Source: International Association for the Study of Dreams; accessed August 1, 2011)



  1. Demarlo says:

    Way to go on this essay, hpeeld a ton.

  2. Dana says:

    My comment feels the need not to show up. i said interesting.

  3. Ksoukrasmy038 says:

    This is so interesting! I mean, im glad that we have dreams, plus its kinda like TV in your head!

  4. KaelonniS says:


  5. megan says:

    this article made me so happy bcuz i love dreams and i realize that when i dream about kittens it means that i am going 2 solve my geometry proof 🙂

  6. bianca says:


  7. Briana says:


    • Venceslau says:

      Dear Alex,You my friend are AMAZING. And I so so so neeedd to see this today. SO neeedd to see it. Because I do always need to believe in my dream, even when those around me don’t seem to believe in it as much as I do. :)Thanks again,Lexi 🙂

  8. beatles says:

    helped me so that is y i see a day ahead!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. BRITNEY says:


  10. Me says:

    That was a really cool article.

  11. Me says:

    I once had a really weird dream that there was a gorilla chasing me and then we went into my old gymnastics place and then I gave him a hot wheels car and then he started hugging and kissing me. Then the next day we got married. We had 4 human babies and 2 gorilla babies then he ate 1 of the human babies. Some pretty weird stuff!!!!!!!!!!

  12. PopRo says:

    Once I had dream that I was suffocating in outer space. Moral of story: Always clean your nose b4 sleeping.

  13. bustosm p5 says:

    i never remember my dreams =__=

  14. ALondrEa aka says:

    this was very interesting .. i loved it alot . great information.. yay 🙂

  15. y u need my name (- ^ -) says:

    yup and apparently dreams are just hallucinations and as u closer to sleep ur mind plays tricks on u

    • Muhamad says:

      It seems that having a dream takes on a defierfnt and deeper aspect as we get older. Lyn, I can’t say I have specific dreams either, but thanks for making me feel less bothered about it. As to having a parallel universe, Ray, I think that is a great idea. I’m going to start working on dreams I can drift into and relax . whether of simple things like a gorgeous meal, practical things like a white beach and bright sunshine, or lots of campervanning holidays!

  16. steve says:

    I dreamed once that there was a river on my backyard and one day I saw a car floating by so I pulled it out of the water. The image in my dream of the car was so vivid I looked up the car the next day. I found it was a bmw 135is coup. I’ve never seen the car before but my dream replicated it right down to the style and color of speedometer.

  17. Anonymous says:

    this is the CIA and you are all under arrest!

    • alan says:


    • Spanex says:

      This picture cteaurps the true essence of Venice. You can almost smell the city, feel the warmth, history and tradition.I am returning on Friday for a week visit – alone, and this picture is a great reminder as to why my soul feels at home when my feet land on the first bridge!

  18. will gorman says:

    I think that this interesting