Being late for an exam, going naked, losing your teeth … Why do so many people dream the same thing?
You have not been to class for years, but you’re on the bus on the way to an exam. You arrive late and the bus has changed its route without warning. You get him to stop and you get off to run to the faculty, even though you go barefoot. In fact, you go naked. When you arrive, you are not able to find the class and also your classmates do not know what exam you are talking about.
It is usual to dream that we are late for an exam or an important test. With variations, this dream is almost universal, just like dreaming that we are naked, that our teeth fall or that we fall. Why are so many people who have ever dreamed the same even though it is not usual to go out without pants?
The dream of the examination and the simulation of threats
We know little dreams, he told Verne Dr. Francisco Javier Puertas, member of the board of the Spanish Society of Sleep (SES) and the unit responsible for sleep Hospital of Liège (Belgium). But we do know that sleeping and dreaming “have an important role in the regulation of emotions and in the consolidation of memory”.
One of the most accepted hypotheses considers dreams as “an adaptive mechanism. They make it easier for our brain to manage emotions and help us cope with new situations. “
According to this “theory of simulation of threatening situations”, when we dream, we rehearse situations and scenarios. If we are worried about work, for example, maybe we dream of a situation in which everything goes wrong to try and anticipate our reactions. Will the alarm sound? Will we be ready on time? Will we know how to find the site? Will we be able to express our ideas? Doors also relates the daydreams in which we go without clothes or in underwear with the imposter syndrome, that is, the irrational fear that someone will identify our achievements as undeserved and the result of chance.
“We face fears and worries,” explains Andrea Murru, psychiatrist at the Sleep Unit of the Hospital Clínic in Barcelona. That is why it is common for these dreams to appear in times of stress.
My teeth are falling out!
You do not have to go to class to have dreams that respond to the theory of threat simulation. “Centuries ago someone could dream that he was late for a real audience,” explains Murru, who recalls that Western societies are becoming more homogeneous and that is why “we are increasingly sharing more images”.
Beyond the content, “there is a basis that is the emotional experience that the dream entails.” The psychiatrist compares dreams with reading Shakespeare: the setting may change, “but the great conflicts are always the same.”
Murru also points out that many of these scenarios are not recent, as in the case of dreaming that our teeth fall out. “These archetypal dreams are present in all cultures – says Puertas – because they project our ancestral fears”.
They chase me!
6% of adults have a nightmare per month and between 1% and 2% suffer “frequent nightmares”, which can happen every week , according to data collected by Alice Robb in her book Why We Dream (Why we dream?) . “The most common scenario of a nightmare is that of the pursuit, followed by the attack.”
As the journalist writes in her book , the most common emotions while dreaming are “fear, impotence, anxiety and guilt”. This fact reinforces the aforementioned theory of simulation of threats: we prepare ourselves for difficult scenarios.
Fall and wake up
To dream that one flies or falls has another explanation, notes Puertas. In the transition between sleep and wakefulness, oneiric experiences can be overlapped. That is, we are not awake or asleep at all and there are images and sensations of dreams. In these moments sometimes the tactile sensation of being supported on a mattress is lost and our brain interprets that we are falling. Or that we are flying.
It is not the only case in which physiology can influence the content of sleep: Murru explains that being thirsty can lead to dreaming of the desert or a fire, for example. “The body is incorporating information while we sleep.”
And, of course, that is why sometimes we dream that we are looking for a bathroom.
Dreams and creativity
Robert Louis Stevenson dreamed of the transformation of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde and Mendeleyev dreamed of organizing his periodic table after having made the mistake of spending three days working without hardly sleeping . It is not uncommon that many artists and scientists have found the solution to a problem after a few hours of sleep, remembers Dr. Francisco Javier Puertas, member of the board of directors of the Spanish Sleep Society , because while we sleep, our brain trains to face different problems.
It is not about any mystical method: when we sleep and dream, we associate ideas. As Matthew Walker recalls in Why We Sleep, our brain is more active during the REM phase of sleep (when we dream) than when we are awake. During this phase the visual, motor, emotional and autobiographical regions are activated, but those of rational thought are deactivated. Alice Robb explains in Why We Dream that this helps us to consider ideas “that we would otherwise reject” and thus face “emotional truths that we would resist in another situation”.