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How to... interpret your dreams

Keep a notepad by your bed and get into the habit of writing down your dreams

Ever dreamed you are being pursued, of exam failure or that you are falling? You are not alone. These are amongst the most common dreams, studies show. Being late, flying and repeatedly trying and failing to do something are on the list too.

“Dreaming is a mental activity while we sleep. Some people believe dreaming is the unconscious brain trying to deal with the unresolved issues of the day,” says Monica Jackman, an Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy-accredited counsellor. “During the day we are processing our thoughts. At night we are processing too, but it is subconscious.”

Ditch the dream dictionary

Black cats, choppy waters, showing up naked to school – some dream dictionaries claim themes or symbols have a fixed meaning. Not so, says Jackman. “From a counselling point of view, I would ask people how did you feel when you woke up from that dream, what was the emotion? The emotion is the thing to focus on.

“If you wake up frightened or upset, look at what in your life is causing you to be afraid. It might not be the exact thing that you dreamed about,” says Jackman. “Ask yourself, is there an action I am afraid of taking, what can I do to make myself feel safer?”


Take notes

We’ve all had the experience of remembering a dream on waking only to forget it minutes later. Get into the habit of writing down your dreams, says Jackman. Keep a notepad by your bed because your dreams are worth recording and pondering. “You can use your dreams to reflect. Use what the subconscious mind has offered you during the night to understand what has to be dealt with that maybe you are not thinking about during the day – maybe because it’s too difficult and your subconscious brain is saying, ‘actually, this needs to be dealt with’.”

Rewrite your dreams

Do you have a recurring dream that upsets you? Trying rewriting the script, says Jackman. A recurring dream could be a replay of something that happened to you as a child, or it could be that your brain has simply got used to having this dream and replays it. Try reimagining the dream, says Jackman. “It doesn’t mean that you have to go back over a traumatic event that happened. You can work with a therapist to use imagery to rewire the nightmare to contain less upsetting images.” Then practice the new dream during the day. “The new imagery can replace or decrease the frequency of the nightmare, or completely eliminate it altogether. You don’t have to keep having that dream for the rest of your life.”

Wildest dreams

If you feel you were dreaming all night and wake up feeling tired there may be a good reason for it. In the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep phase there is increased brain activity and it’s where we have our most intense dreams. Our sleep is not as deep during this stage. “If you are dreaming a lot you may have spent more of the night in REM sleep,” says Jackman. Try to lay the foundation for better quality sleep. “It’s about eating well, exercising, and drinking plenty of water during the day,” she says. “You will get your REM sleep, but also your better quality sleep as well.” Avoid alcohol too. “People think ’I’ll sleep better if I have a drink’. You may fall asleep faster, but you will spend less time in REM sleep. You may not get as deep a sleep and will feel quite tired the next day.”