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Do our dreams have meaning?

Why do we dream? Do our dreams have meaning? Does what we think about or do affect our dreams?

MINNEAPOLIS - Why do we dream? Do our dreams have meaning? Does what we think about or do affect our dreams?

We asked Dr. Kaz Nelson, a Psychiatrist with the University of Minnesota Medical School, all about our dreams.

Cory Hepola, KARE 11 (CH): "Why do we dream?"

Dr. Kaz Nelson, U of M (DKN): "Well, we don't really know why people dream or what's the purpose of a dream. Some people believe that dreams actually have a purpose; that they help you process emotions or come up with conclusions or solve problems while you sleep overnight. Other people believe it's just automatic brain activity that happens during sleep without any purpose or meaning."

CH: "Does everybody dream?"

DKN: "Everybody dreams whether they remember it or not."

CH: "Sometimes I dream and I think - this was so impactful I'm never going to forget it and then, literally, like 15 seconds later I can't remember it. Why does that happen?"

DKN: "Some people believe that when you dream other parts of the brain that help process and file memories are actually shut off because perhaps the brain doesn't want to store dream memories in the same way that it would want to store dreams while you're waking."

CH: "Do dreams have meaning?"

DKN: "We haven't gotten to the point where scientists or medicine really understands the meaning of dreams, and there's a lot of arguments actually. Do dreams have meaning? Or are they simply just a byproduct of brain activity overnight that's completely meaningless? One thing we do want to make sure to emphasize is that sometimes people can have upsetting things happen during a dream, something they do that they're ashamed of or would never do during the day, and we like to encourage people not to take too much of that or have them feel too much shame. Sometimes the brain just does what it does and it may not have particular meaning or say something about you."

CH: "What about dying? Can you die in your dream? Because I swear that I died once in my dream. But, then, right when I was going towards the light, there was a flash, and boom it woke me up."

DKN: "You might not be the only one who's had that experience. Typically, we say people don't die in their dreams, but how can we actually know that. We rely on people's individual experience to tell us."

CH: "Are there things that happen throughout the day that can affect our dreams or influence our dreams?"

DKN: "Absolutely. Maybe you ate a spicy burrito or something like that, and as your body breaks down that food, there's nutrients and food being absorbed into your body. Well, that can impact your brain and what your brain experiences, too, and so things you eat, activities you do, your level of stress all go into your dream makeup."

CH: "Ok, this is odd because sometimes I feel like my mind is controlling a particular dream. Is that real, can that happen?"

DKN: "Yes, absolutely. There is an idea, it's called lucid dreaming where you might be in the middle of a dream, but then have this sense like you can actually control the outcome."

CH: "What is this about reoccurring dreams? Are they real?"

DKN: "Reoccurring dreams are very common, and sometimes people might be in different circumstances in a dream but have a common thread or a common behavior that they're doing. And, that is likely just the brain and its kind of natural patterns processing information, processing emotions in a similar way. Some people can actually have some very frightening reoccurring nightmares where they're being chased or they're being threatened or surprised in some way that's upsetting or painful. And, if that's the case it does make sense to reach out for mental healthcare because we do actually have some strategies for treating and addressing nightmares that can be quite helpful."

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