Types of Dreams
Dreaming can be an extraordinarily far-reaching and unwieldy topic. There’s so much we don’t know for sure about the subject, and so many facets that only educated speculation has been able to penetrate. With this in mind, and in order to focus our discussion of dreams, we will begin by categorizing dreams into three different general types: normal dreams, lucid dreams, and nightmares.
Daydreams refers to a level of consciousness somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, a mild detachment from immediate surroundings often referred to in psychology asdissociation. As the mind begins to wander during lulls in concentration throughout the day, the level of conscious awareness can decrease and the imagination may create all manner of (usually pleasant and positive) imagined scenarios and fantasies, all without consciousness sinking to the level of actual sleep. A 2009 neurological study indicates that as much as half of our day-to-day thoughts are what are generally referred to as daydreams, and that more of our supposedly focussed thinking is interrupted and unstructured than we are wont to think.
Recent research is also attaching more and more importance to daydreaming. It claims that a wandering unfocussed mind is the brain’s default mode, to which it automatically tries to return given the oportunity. It even claims that some of our best thinking occurs when our minds are allowed to wander. During these daydreaming episodes, our minds are more likely to tackle ongoing intractible life problems that we may be unwilling to work through in a more focussed way, thus providing an essential element of stress reduction. It also provides an opportunity for creativity and the incubation of new ideas without the usual inhibitory brake of our rational and prudent prefrontal cortex.
Normal dreams constitute the most common type of dreaming. They are dreams in which the dreamer is unaware that what he is experiencing is a fabricated reality: a dream in which the dreamer’s brain does not distinguish between the dream world and the real world.
In normal dreams, the dreamer experiences a sequence of events as an alternative reality (but one that feels quite real during the dream) and possesses no real control over the content of the dream. Additionally, events that would normally be recognized as improbable are typically not scrutinized in a normal dream due in part to the fact that the dream is perceived by the dreamer as real.
With this said, it is interesting to note that the phrase “normal dreams” is a bit of an oxymoron in almost any case. Dreams themselves are often very strange, and while they are normal in the sense that everyone experiences them, they are certainly not “normal” in their content much of the time.
Contrary to normal dreams, lucid dreams are dreams in which the dreamer is aware that he or she is, in fact, dreaming. Skilled lucid dreamers can take advantage of this realization to actually take control of their dreams.
Once a lucid dreamer becomes aware that she is in the dream world, she can often take control of the dream and do whatever she pleases.
Lucid dreaming denotes more complexconsciousthought when compared to typical dreaming, which seems likely to contribute to the vivid quality described by lucid dreamers. Normal dreams can be quite vivid themselves, especially while they are taking place, but the imperfection of dream recall in the waking state substantially limits this vivacity for any extended period of time.
As Dr. Dement likes to say, “We see our dreams through the frosted glass of memory.“
Lucid dreams, on the other hand, allow the dreamer to partially defrost this glass to a significant extent. In fact, some lucid dreamers go as far as to say that upon awakening they are left with a memory of the dream that is comparable to an event in experienced in the state of wakefulness.
Recurring dreams are dreams that repeat themselves night after night with little variation. They may be positive in nature, but more often they have a nightmare-ish quality (see the separate section on Nightmares). The recurrence is thought to be because some conflict depicted by the dream (e.g. some life situation or emotional problem) remains stubbornly unresolved.
Progressive dreams are related dreams that occur in a sequence over several nights, with one night’s dreamcontinuing where the previous night’s dream left off. This is relatively unusual, but it can occur when a particularly complex problem or situation needs to be worked out in great detail.