what do you dreams say about your mental health
Dreams have long enchanted the interest of experimental psychologists, and theories abound as to why they occur. Some claim that dreams are the harvest of random shots of neurons—nothing more, and nothing less. Others propose dreams are a window into our subconscious, and that they grasp a deep and untouched meaning in our lives. Still, others resist that dreams are an adaptive survival instrument, helping us prepare for the challenges ahead.
But what, if anything, can we learn from our dreams? Are dreams something we should carefully observe and monitor, or are they largely irrelevant to our everyday lives? What are the meaning and the messages that come from our dreams?
New research published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that aspects of a certain type of dream, called a lucid dream, may be associated with psychological well-being (or, at least, the absence of psychopathology). Bibliophiles who have seen the movie Waking Life may know all about lucid dreaming. For those who haven’t heard or know what it is, a lucid dream is defined as a dream state in which the dreamer is aware that he or she is dreaming (but without waking up) and has the capability to at least somewhat control the outcome or direction of the dream. By some evaluations, approximately 50 percent of people have experienced at least one lucid dream in their month routine, and about 20 percent of people are frequent lucid dreamers (defined as having at least one lucid dream per month).
In this research, psychologists at Ben-Gurion University recruited 187 undergraduate students to participate in a sleep diary study. They first measured students on a variety of psychological indicators, including sleep quality and sleep experiences, lucid dreaming, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, stress, depressive symptoms, schizotypy, and dissociation. Then, they asked a subsample of these students to complete a dream diary for a period of two-weeks. Keeping track of the dreams they are having and whether or not they are able to control their actions in the dreams they are having.
What they found is interesting: intense lucid dreamers had, on average, lower levels of psychological distress. Specifically, students who experienced high-intensity lucid dreams—as defined by high ratings on lucid dream confidence, control, length by seconds, and length by scenes—had less depression, anxiety, and stress than low-intensity lucid dreamers. However, there was no dissimilarity in the psychological well-being of high-intensity lucid dreamers related to non-lucid dreamers.
If you are a lucid dreamer, you may be healthier off if you have forceful intense dreams than the common kind. But don’t take these conclusions to mean you should start “inducing” lucid dream states to support your mental health. The researchers found that the use of intentional induction techniques, such as lucid dreaming treatment (LDT), was associated with sleep problems and schizotypy symptoms. So, it’s probably best to leave your dreams alone, but don’t assume there’s anything unnatural about having the exceptional adn occasional intense lucid dream.