Once upon a dream

As she flew through the dark night, senior Haley Hernandez was a superhero. She did not slow down as the wind blew against her, but the downside for Hernandez was the disappointment she faced when she woke up from her dream. 

There are many theories for why people dream about flying, said Patrick McNamara, associate professor of the Neurology Department at the Boston University School of Medicine.

A common theory is that people dream about flying because during rapid eye movement sleep, also known as REM sleep, the brain tries to simulate movement, McNamara said. 

During REM sleep, the body is paralyzed, so the body’s attempt at moving can be reflected in a dream about flying, McNamara said. 

According to Eitan Schechtman, professor of neuroscience at the University of California, Irvine, there are only theories for what dreams mean because there is no clear, scientific explanation. 

Dreaming generally occurs four to five times a night in roughly 90-minute intervals and usually lasts between five to 20 minutes. 

During sleep, the brain tries to process information similarly to when it is awake, clinical psychologist Matthew Merced said.

“Because we’re asleep, there’s no verbal mediation,” said Merced. “So the brain is using nonverbal, symbolic and figurative thought processes to visually represent thoughts, feelings, people, events, places and objects.”

According to Schectman, there is evidence that dreams are connected to creativity.

“There’s multiple situations where some people credit their creative ideas with dreams,” said Schectman. “The table of elements came in a dream. The song ‘Yesterday’ by Paul McCartney came to him in a dream.”

Dreams can also be impacted by the location and culture of the dreamer.

“The sort of stuff we all dream about tends to be about the people we care about and the things we’re worried about,” McNamara said. 

Dreaming can help process emotions, consolidate memories and simulate threats. Dreams can also point to solutions for problems someone may face while awake. 

“If you’ve got some really important emotional concern that you’re dealing with, sometimes the dreams can produce potential solutions to those concerns,” said McNamara. “[To] treat the dream properly, don’t over interpret it [and] just be open to its suggestions. They can be quite helpful in solving emotional issues that you’re going through.”

If people are experiencing a lot of stress or are very anxious, they are more likely to have the type of dreams where they show up to exams without a pencil or come unprepared, McNamara said.

According to Hernandez, her dreams often reflect her anxieties in real life. 

“Let’s say I have a big test coming up, I would have a dream of actually taking that test,” said Hernandez. “I’m mostly dreaming about things I worry about.”

Recording dreams can be helpful to track recurring subjects. 

“A dream is just another way to access our own psychology,” said Merced. “And if something’s going on in our lives, it’s going to come out in our dreams, and it might help us process those issues.”