Dreams and Your Wellbeing: What Does It Mean?

Dreaming about honey means you’re about to be more productive or prosperous. If you dream about your teeth falling out it means you’re worried about money. But does it? Really?

And if not, do our dreams have any meaning? Or are they just a random firing or neurons? And most of all, what do our dreams mean for our mental wellbeing?

Here’s what we know:

1. You won’t have decent dreams unless you get enough sleep. We dream during the “rapid eye movement” or REM stage in sleep, which is the last stage of the sleep cycle. On a typical night, most of us go through four to six cycles of each of these stages of sleep. It usually takes around 90 minutes of sleep before we reach REM sleep and start dreaming.

2. Research shows that dreams are good for our mental health. REM sleep helps with emotional regulation and helps us process our experiences. Studies have found that people whose REM sleep was disturbed had more problems dealing with emotional distress.

REM sleep is essential for our mental function, especially for memory, learning, and creativity. During REM sleep, our neurotransmitters are replenished and our brains are almost as active as when we’re awake.


3. Your dreams can be a useful problem-solving tool. Dr Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist and dream scholar at Harvard Medical School, says dreaming is “our brain thinking in a different biochemical state.”

Dr Barrett says our dreams can indicate our emotional state. Many of us have had a dream about finding ourselves naked or underdressed in a public situation, which can indicate we’re feeling a sense of shame or social disapproval. Or then there’s that “test” dream, where we dream of a big upcoming exam or audition, but something is stopping us from getting there or doing it well.

According to Dr Barrett, this indicates we’re worried about measuring up in some way.


4. Dreaming about scary stuff can be a good thing. A 2019 study found that fear-ridden dreams helped us deal with fear in real life. Participants wrote down their feelings when they woke up, including whether they were afraid. They were then shown emotionally-jarring images. Those who had scary dreams were more likely to respond to emotionally stress in a healthier way.

However, if you’re having ongoing nightmares about something that really happened to you, this could be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and you should talk to your GP or seek support.

35 billion dreams

On average, we each have five dream episodes each night (or, for shift workers, each time we sleep deeply).

Each episode generally goes for 15-40 minutes, which means we each dream for around two hours each night.

With a global population of seven billion, that means we, as humankind, are producing 35 billion dreams every 24 hours.

Interestingly, many of these dreams share common characteristics.

These are the 10 most common dreams. How many have you had?

1.       1. Being chased

2.       2. Exams, tests or auditions (including not being ready, not being able to get there)

3.       3. Flying

4.       4. Driving (including going too fast or out of control)

5.       5. Teeth falling out

6.       6. Can’t find the toilet

7.       7. Being naked in public (particularly at school or work)

8.       8. Falling

9.       9. Seeing someone famous

10.   10. Death.