Why do we dream?
This is a real mystery. On the one hand, theorist William Domhoff states that "the best evidence for now is that dreams have no physiological or psychological function." On the other hand, theorists since Sigmund Freud have been suggesting possible purposes of dreaming: maintaining sleep, coping with psychological stress, preserving psychological and physical health, spurring us toward spiritual enlightenment, integrating new information and skills with stored memories, etc. This much is clear: our bodies seem to insist upon a certain quota of REM time, and REM sleep is apparently linked to important functions such as learning and memory. However, since the relationship between REM and dreams is not perfect, we cannot say that REM functions are necessarily DREAM functions. It was once believed that sleep/dream deprivation caused hallucinations and insanity. However, any such symptoms are extremely temporary, and it is difficult to separate the effects of sleep deprivation from the effects of dream deprivation.Some theorists point out interesting similarities between dreams and symptoms of such disorders as schizophrenia and delirium tremens, but to date, there is no solid evidence to support such a relationship. Perhaps someday we will discover why we dream. Today, we cannot answer this question.
Do health conditions effect dreams?
Dreams have always enjoyed a special relationship with the area of physical health. In ancient Greece, sick people slept in special temples designed to incubate diagnostic or curative dreams. Later, famous psychic dreamers such as Edgar Cayce suggested a link between dreams and information about our physical health. Some scientists suppose that, during sleep, we may have greater access to information about the state of our bodies, which may be incorporated into our dreams. (For example, germs loose in the body may be represented as insects or other pests running loose in our house. Or a high fever may be depicted as a fire raging out of control.) When we are awake, there are hundreds of external stimuli competing for our attention. While we sleep, on the other hand, we may shut out the external stimuli in favor of internal ones. Maybe this allows us to pick up on very subtle signs of bodily infection or distress.
Do people really have psychic dreams?
This question is open to debate. While reports of such dreams are amazingly common (2 out of 3 people surveyed by researchers David Ryback and Letitia Sweitzer claimed to have personally experienced a psychic dream), many of these are probably "false positives." For instance, let's say that you dream of a tornado one night, and then awaken to hear news reports of a destructive tornado that touched down the previous evening. Chances are, you are likely to feel a bit spooked by this correlation between your dreams and outer, waking reality. Was it just a coincidence, or was your dream "psychic"?Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself before deciding that your dream came true:
Were there tornado warnings on the weather before I went to bed, which might have triggered my dream?
Could I have subconsciously incorporated external noises I heard while I was asleep (such as wind, tornado sirens, etc.) into my dream?
Have I ever dreamed of a tornado before? (Perhaps tornados are a common theme for you. If so, the odds dictated that sooner or later your dreams were bound to coincide with an actual tornado, by mere chance.)
Were there any unique details of the dream which identified the tornado in my dream as the specific tornado that actually touched down?
On any given night, hundreds or even thousands of people may dream of tornados, airplane crashes, earthquakes, floods,etc. Scientists would be very surprised indeed if no one ever dreamed of these disasters on nights when they actually occurred. Simply put, the laws of probability would predict a fairly large number of these coincidences. On the other hand, there are many compelling examples of dreams whose details match those of actual events so closely that it would be hard to attribute it to chance alone.And there are some very interesting studies of dream telepathy, which suggest a weak (and highly individual) psychic effect. These studies are difficult to refute from any methodological standpoint.
Is there a possibility that a dream may be able to
Unfortunately, I am not aware of any way to separate or identify psychic dreams until after the fact. If you feel that you frequently experience psychic dreams, you may be able to identify some personal patterns if you pay close enough attention.Documenting your dreams, and telling them to other people before the event takes place in reality, can lend credibility to assertions of psychic dreaming ability.
Do drugs and alcohol affect our dreams?
It is a fact that many substances affect dream recall. Laboratory studies suggest that depressants such as alcohol, marijuana, sleeping pills, and sedatives tend to reduce REM sleep and therefore reduce dream recall. (Some people report the opposite. This is probably due to an effect called REM
rebound. For more information about REM rebound, see number 2 above)Some drugs, such as certain anti-depressants, greatly increase dream recall. Some people enjoy these strong, vivid dreams; to others, they may be upsetting or disturbing. People should discuss such drug side-effects with their doctors.Some people say that products such as Ginko, Choline, B vitamins, and/or Zinc may increase dream recall. Others have no success at all with such products. In any case, a word of caution is certainly advised - some substances may be toxic when ingested in large enough quantities.Certain foods, such as milk and turkey, contain a substance which may increase drowsiness. Lastly, it is probably a good idea to follow the common wisdom, to avoid heavy and/or spicy meals near bedtime. When our bodies are very busy with digestion, it may negatively affect our dreams.