top of page

Dreams, a door to the unconscious?

Perhaps it is a question that everyone would like to see answered:

“What do our dreams mean?”

Why do we enter a fantasy world at night?

Dreams can be scary or comforting. In them, fantastic, illogical, impossible things can happen. Most dreams are completely forgotten and that is why some people say they do not dream - which turns out not to be true.


The sleep cycle is a set of phases that start from the moment the person falls asleep and become deeper and deeper, until the body goes into REM sleep.

Normally, REM sleep is the most difficult to achieve, but it is at this stage that the body can really relax and at which the rate of brain renewal is highest. Most people follow a pattern of sleep phases that starts with lighter sleep and becomes deeper.

After being in the REM phase, the body returns to a phase of light sleep again. This cycle is repeated throughout the night, but the time in REM sleep increases with each cycle.


We dream on average only one to two hours a night. This happens during REM sleep.

REM is an acronym for rapid eye movement, which is a so-called phase of sleep because in it the eyes move quickly. In this phase the most vivid dreams occur.

In researches, it has been found that if people are awakened immediately after a sleep episode with rapid eye movements (REM) they can remember dreams with good precision. This reveals that, during sleep, we are conscious, although we do not always remember the experience.

The study of brain waves also demonstrates that we are very active in the REM sleep phase. In fact, during a dream, brain activity is similar to that of waking hours.


Many people speak of different types of dreams: some more lucid, others more vague, nightmares, and dreams that leave us comforted. But, surprisingly, there are a series of dreams that are common to many people even in different cultures, for example, the dream of flying, of being suddenly naked, of being chased, of responding to a test or exam and not being able to remember anything, the dream of having teeth falling out or falling out of buildings that are too high or down the bottom of dark wells.

That startle - called hypnagogic spasm - that many of us feel when we are about to fall asleep is something different, so we are not in a deep phase of REM sleep. The theories below try to explain it (without scientific proof):

- As we fall asleep, our nervous system gradually reduces its activity – as the rhythms of breathing and heartbeat slow down, the body temperature drops and the tone of the muscles changes.

- Due to a misinterpretation of the brain that muscle relaxation is a sign that we are truly falling and thus it sends signals to muscles to become more tense and protect us from falling.


Inevitably, there are several proposals for interpreting dreams. Does the dream of the teeth indicate that we are concerned with our physical attractiveness? Or does it mean money? Do we internally want the magical tooth fairy to appear and give us large amounts of money for the teeth?


Freud, father of Psychoanalytic Theory, stated that dreams arise from internal conflicts between unconscious desires and social/moral prohibitions against their expression in actions. Thus, all dreams would represent unfulfilled desires whose content is disguised by symbols. Freud claimed that dreams were "the real road to the unconscious".

What Freud did was to interpret the symbols included in dreams and create a meaningful narrative that revealed these supposed desires.

But of course, all the interpretations proposed by Freud are strongly criticized, even for having based his whole theory on those few dreams (which are less than 10%) that were remembered by patients. And based on his book, different therapists had very different interpretations.

Furthermore, dreams seem to have very similar content in different times and cultures – regardless of whether they are very repressive or liberal cultures, and times – which would directly influence people's internal conflicts and desires.


In more recent years, researchers have come up with explanations for dreaming that do not involve conflicts or unconscious desires.

The findings indicate that in the REM phase of sleep:

- active neuron circuits in the brain simulate rapid eye movements

- the cerebral cortex is very active

- there is muscle paralysis

- we see images

The eyes move in a similar way as they would move if the person was actually experiencing what he is seeing in his dreams. The images often contain memories of the episodes that have occurred recently in the person's life or that the person has been thinking about lately. This will happen because the circuits are more active by their recent use.


Do dreams provide insights into our unconscious?

Dreams often express what is most important in a person's life and not any underlying concept of satisfying desires.

The Mental Health Clinic Isabel Henriques wishes you an excellent week ;)

16 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page