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Dreams FAQ Pt.1/4: General Information, dream interpretation

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Posted-By: auto-faq
Archive-name: dreams-faq/part1
Revision: version 1.5, last changed 1995/01/21 01:48:08
Posting-Frequency: biweekly

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
This is the first  in a series  of  four postings of  Frequently Asked
Questions  for  the alt.dreams   and alt.dreams.lucid  newsgroups.  It
contains general information about dreams and dream interpretation, as
well as FAQ administrative info.


  (New/changed sections are marked #)


  0. Administrivia

  1. General
  1.1. Does everybody dream? Why is it that I don't remember my dreams? 
  1.2. How do external stimuli affect my dreams?
  1.3. How do my dreams interact with my waking life?
  1.4. What causes dreams, anyway?
  1.5. How long do dreams last?

  2. Dream interpretation and symbols
  2.1. What does this <symbol> mean?
  2.2. Can you interpret this dream for me?
  2.3. Is this <dream scene> common?
  2.4. Can people dream of their own death?
  2.5. What are common misconceptions? What is wrong with these?
  2.6. Why do I keep dreaming the same thing over and over?


  3. Sleep paralysis, night terrors, nightmares
  3.1. What causes sleep paralysis?
  3.2. What causes nightmares?
  3.3. How can I relieve myself of these?
  3.4. What is a myoclonic jerk?

  4. Out-of-body experiences
  4.1. What are out-of-body experiences?
  4.2. How do I find out more about out-of-body experiences?

  5. Paranormal issues
  5.1. Do dreams predict the future?
  5.2. Can people share dreams?
  5.3. How can I tell actual paranormal experiences from self-delusion?


  6. Lucid dreaming
  6.1. What is lucid dreaming?
  6.2. If you are lucid, can you control the dream?
  6.3. Does lucid dreaming interfere with the function of "normal"
  6.4. Does everybody dream?
  6.5. Why would you want to have lucid dreams?
  6.6. How do you have lucid dreams?
  6.7. Is there a way to prevent yourself from awakening right after 
       becoming lucid? 
  6.8. How can I find out more about lucid dreaming, or get involved 
       in lucid dreaming research? 


  7. Research, further reading, dreaming help etc.
  7.1. What are the various gadgets to help you in lucid dreaming?
# 7.2. How do various drugs/nutritional components influence dreaming?
  7.3. What about the dream experiments on alt.dreams?
  7.4. Books, articles and other stuff to read
  7.5. Organizations, etc.


Subject: 0. Administrivia This document is intended to provide answers to the most frequently asked questions on alt.dreams and alt.dreams.lucid. **It does not claim to be authoritative.** Some answers are controversial. Discussion over controversial topics about dreaming is always welcome. Don't let the fact that a topic is discussed in this FAQ discourage you from posting about it at all - the purpose of the FAQ is just to cut down on easily-answered questions that occur often. This document was compiled by Olaf Titz <>, to whom questions, error corrections, suggestions for improvements etc about this documents should be directed. Most answers are summaries of statements posted on alt.dreams by various people. This document is now split into four parts for convenience and for clear distinction of the various sources. Part one and two are general information written into prose by me with some help from others. Part three is the original older Lucid Dreaming FAQ by Lynne Levitan (soon to be replaced by a complete rewrite). Part four is mostly collected quoted input from a large number of contributors. Many thanks to all who have helped to compile these thoughts. The particular order of sections is a result of several reorganizations and renumberings and as such somewhat chaotic. I don't claim any special meaning in this order and in the cuts between sections. The whole document is now in "digest" format. This is posted biweekly on alt.dreams, alt.dreams.lucid, alt.answers, news.answers and is available from the archives via FTP at and via WWW at If you are redistributing this document, please read at the end of part 4.
Subject: 1. General ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Subject: 1.1. Does everybody dream? Why is it that I don't remember my dreams? A: [cf. section 6.4] Everybody dreams. Not only all humans, but in fact all mammals are shown to have REM sleep, which is associated with dreams. It is a normal and necessary function of the body (though the details, especially the exact reason why it is important, are unknown). So if you think you don't dream you probably just don't remember. People vary greatly in how much they remember of their dreams. The perhaps most important reason why people forget their dreams is that they don't care. Western culture does not regard dreams as especially important, rather it regards getting out of the bed in time as a prevalent survival factor. This is bad in two respects as most dreams occur at the end of the sleeping cycle and are often interrupted, and the necessity of getting up fast and keeping up with the schedule occupies peoples' minds and prevents them from thinking about their dreams in the morning. Dream recall can be trained. Try to think over all what you have dreamed for some time before getting up and write it down soon afterwards. More info in section 6.
Subject: 1.2. How do external stimuli affect my dreams? A. Sensual "input" while sleeping is incorporated into dreams. Most notably, while sleeping, you hear as well as while waking - the ears are never turned off. This leads to the consequence that what you hear while sleeping, you'll hear in your dreams. The sound is always coming from "somewhere". Common experiences of this kind are a telephone ringing or music from the radio. The same holds for the other senses. Note that it is not important how loud some noise is to get noticed while sleeping - even an otherwise unnoticed sound, like a mouse running over your floor, can wake you up if it is uncommon or otherwise alarming to you - on the other hand, you can get accustomed to high levels of noise, like construction work nearby. (What definitely will wake you up is someone knocking at your window if you live at the 10th floor ;-) It is an interesting experience that you can hear exactly what is going on, but will forget it on waking up along with forgetting the rest of your dream. This includes things such as news broadcast heard on the radio - after waking up, you have forgotten it. It is like you have dreamed the news broadcast as well - but distinguishing this fact is a good clue to lucid dreaming and the way "lucidity inducing devices" work.
Subject: 1.3. How do my dreams interact with my waking life? [Section by (The Dreamer)] Dreams seem to be a way for the subconscious mind to sort out and process all the input and problems that are encountered in waking life. Therefore, a scientist could be working on a problem ... say the structure of the DNA molecule. Then said scientist could have a dream in which he sees two snakes intertwining in a double helix. When he wakes, he has discovered the structure of the DNA molecule (true story). Students who study and get some good REM sleep retain the information better and for longer periods of time than students who study longer, but have no sleep. This is because the brain needs time to process the information, form sensible pattern out of it, and place it in long term memory. Dreams can also improve your emotional well-being, reduce stress, improve your creativity, and provide a playground for your mind while your body recovers and repairs itself. [Comment by Brian Hostetler <>] > dream in which he sees two snakes intertwining in a double helix. > When he wakes, he has discovered the structure of the DNA molecule Actually, this isn't true. You are confusing this with the widespread (and unproven) story about how the structure of the benzene ring was discovered. Supposedly the scientist in question had a dream of a snake biting its tail. Anyway, Watson and Crick 'discovered' the structure of DNA using models, not dreams. [If I remember Chemistry lessons in school correctly, the dream story was indeed about Kekul'e and the benzene molecule, I think. Anyway, even if this is a legend, it *could* well be true. Many people gain creative impulses from dreams. -ot]
Subject: 1.4. What causes dreams, anyway? A. Good question... Many different theories, nothing for sure. According to the Freudian school, dreams are the result of subconscious thoughts and desires. The other extreme attributes dreams to random "noise" in the neurons without special meaning. My own understanding is that dreams are made out of many small parts of memory and imagination that get combined to form dream imagery. This is a process that runs both consciously (cf. section 6) and subconsciously. I don't know and leave to speculation the reason why this is so.
Subject: 1.5. How long do dreams last? A. REM sleep periods, and therefore dreams, last typically in the range of 5 to 45 minutes (cf. section 6). Often, the subjective time spent in a dream is much longer. One possible explanation for this time-stretch effect is that dreams are combined from pieces (see preceding paragraph) that have their own different setting in time. You first dream of something that occurred a year ago, then - following - of something that occurred just recently, mix them up a bit and are left with the remembrance of a dream that lasted a year. But experiments suggest that dreamed actions run in "real time" - what you do in your dream takes exactly this time to dream. With external influences like the radio running in the morning, you have both the real time in which you hear something and - sometimes - the feeling that it lasted considerably longer. Anyway, time is one of the perceptions that are heavily distorted in dreams.
Subject: 2. Dream interpretation and symbols +++++++++++++++++++++++++
Subject: 2.1. What does this <symbol> mean? A. Symbols are one way of interpreting dreams. Researchers have tried to find, for each common dream occurrence, a psychological situation that matches the dream in some way and link it as a cause. A well-known example of this approach is Freud's interpretation. Asking for symbols allows for (sometimes too easy) interpretation of dreams by given rules. Other people question this approach. Dream interpretation by catalog of symbols doesn't take into account individual differences between dreamers. You can imagine this flaw by taking into account that the cultural background is an important point that should not be neglected. Freud's theories, that give high importance to hidden signs of sexual desires, are based on a society that has suppressed sexuality. And so on. In a more global context, asking for special symbols is of dubious value. Nonetheless, in a certain given context, these symbols can have a valuable meaning.
Subject: 2.2. Can you interpret this dream for me? A. Dreams are made up of the dreamer's thoughts. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to interpret dreams if you don't know the dreamer, since to recognize the meaning of dreams (if there is one) you need to know the "background". So dream interpretations given on the Net are (IMHO) of questionable value, either they deal with "reasonably obvious" meanings or they rely on symbols (cf. 2.1). I recommend to take these with a grain of salt and not expect too much. [Anyone disagrees on this point? It's controversial, I'd like input from the other side.] Of course, if you want to post your dreams, don't let this discourage you. Sharing dream experiences with others and getting response is a nice thing anyway and may help you to find out more about yourself.
Subject: 2.3. Is this <dream scene> common? A. Yes. :-) Specifically, if people ask the newsgroups about a certain dream experience, in the overwhelming majority of cases others answer that they know this from their dreams. Sometimes the reaction comes up, "And I've thought I was the only one to dream this weird thing!" "Weird" is the most inappropriate word when dealing with dreams, anyway. Dreams are not to be measured by real life standards, they have their own. It can be assumed that much, if not most, dream imagery follows common patterns in all people. Most important, we should not forget that dreams are based on actual experiences and imaginations, some of which are just widespread. We all think about how nice it would be to fly, for example. On the other hand, people who report flying dreams use a number of different flying techniques in their dreams, from breast-strokes like in swimming to simply lifting off, Superman-style. It is imagination that sets the limits. An oft-cited example is that of teeth falling out. The common "symbolistic" interpretation associates this with fear of loss of something, perhaps someone, valuable. The next common explanation is remembrance of losing teeth during childhood, which could have been a somewhat traumatic experience. But it can also be easily linked to a sleeping position where some external pressure or muscle contractions cause your teeth to grind against each other, or tooth-aches caused by illnesses (cf. section 1.2.)
Subject: 2.4. Can people dream of their own death? A. Yes. This has been reported many times. The reports vary widely in what actual experiences are made when dreaming of dying; there seems to be no common pattern. Most probably the prevalent influence is again the thoughts of the individual about death. It can not be figured out whether dream-death experiences which match patterns given in actual near-death experiences are just based on reading about near-death experiences. Also, for instances of talking to deceased people, God(s) or other "supernatural" entities after dreamed death, it can not be figured out whether they are "real" or just based on peoples' religious belief (see also the FAQ for alt.atheism). A widespread old wives tale is that when you dream of your own death, you will soon die. Given the usual understanding of "soon" (and considering section 5.1), experience has proven this false. A sharp line has to be drawn between dreams of death and actual near-death experiences. The latter occur in people with blood circulation failure just before they actually die, and sometimes are reported when medical art brings these people back to life. What constitutes the real source of these experiences is still not known for sure. Dreams of death have no connection to this, they are like all dreams just imagination.
Subject: 2.5. What are common misconceptions? What is wrong with these? A. We occasionally hear sayings about "you can't do/see XXX in dreams". Where XXX is seeing colors, seeing lights, seeing your face in a mirror, or perhaps a large number of variants on this theme. Experience clearly proves this tales of unknown origin wrong. (It may well be that people who actually believe in these misconceptions do have the mentioned "handicaps" in their dreams. What they believe about dreams comes true. It's very hard to tell the cause from the result in such cases...)
Subject: 2.6. Why do I keep dreaming the same thing over and over? A. Recurrent dreams are a sign of thoughts that occupy the dreamer much, consciously or unconsciously. Such thoughts have influence on the dreams and they are often remembered better than "random" dreams since you somewhat know of their importance. Sometimes those dreams are unpleasant, a sign or symbol of some conflict situation that you still have to overcome. Ask yourself what the dream signifies - probably you can interpret it better than anybody else, since you are the one who knows yourself best. Of course, there are also nice recurring dreams. Some people build their own dream world which they explore, meeting friends there etc. Some claim they are in fact entering a different world (cf. sections 4 and 5), others attribute this to remembrances of old dreams creating new ones. At first, it's up to yourself to believe a reason or another. For either one, probably the most important thing is that you - again - take these dreams as valuable for looking at yourself. ------------------------------ To be continued ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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