There are several theories about why we dream. Maybe it’s to process what happens to us during the day. Maybe they’re just random. But here’s a better explanation.
It’s been agreed for a quite a while that dreams come from emotions. But not from all of them. According to the book, Origin of Dreams, our dreams come from emotions we don’t express while we’re awake.
If you have a passionate argument with your partner for example with lots of screaming, tears and door-slamming, you’ll probably not dream about it later because you’ve already had an outlet for these emotions. But then, if you’re angry at someone at work but can not express it, your unaddressed anger may be passed on to your dreams.
Unexpressed emotions usually come from one thing- ruminating, or thinking deeply about something. By digging deeper into thoughts and not having an outlet for emotions as they arrive, our emotions stay in our heads. And these quickly ripen into worries that then reappear in our dreams as our brains try to find an outlet for this emotional baggage.
Dreaming like this can be mentally exhausting. It uses as much energy as being awake does- explaining why those who have long and intense dreams may still be tired in the morning even after a long sleep. In fact, it’s why depressed people tend to dream more than non-depressed people; they tend to ruminate more often.
What do Dreams mean?
Based on our unexpressed emotions, our dreams act these out in metaphors. They’re often exaggerated too. For example, you may have a dream that you’re running in the street towards your childhood home. It’s a sunny day and you’re feeling good when out of nowhere, snakes start to wrap around your ankles and trip you up.
This dream may make no sense- you’re not scared of snakes and you no longer live in your childhood home. But when you think a little deeper, it may start to have meaning. Perhaps you’re feeling unstable at the moment- you want to recreate the stability you felt growing up. Although you feel optimistic, or “sunny” about the path you’re on (the street) you keep on being held up by bureaucracy; represented in your dream as snakes.
To conclude, dreams are not just abstract thoughts we have when sleeping. Instead, they follow a fairly straightforward logic by simply being played-out versions of unexpressed emotions. At the end of the day, they’re our brains’ ways of getting rid of leftover emotional baggage.