Strange facts about dreams

Dreams are weird. Everyone knows that.

But the truth is that dreams are even weirder than most people realize. Although scientists still aren’t sure why people dream, they’ve discovered some interesting things in the process of trying to figure it out.

Here are 5 strange facts about dreams:

1. Whether you dream in color depends partly on what kind of TV you watched as a kid

Most people today report dreaming in color, but that hasn’t always been the case. For a good part of the twentieth century, researchers thought everyone naturally dreamed in black and white.

This discrepancy appears to arise from the way media influences our dreams. Today, the vast majority of people who grew up watching color TV report dreaming in color while those who watched black-and-white TV as kids still tend to live a significant portion of their dream life in a monochromatic world. A few people even report dreaming exclusively in black and white.

2. Being chased is the most common dream

Dreams are strange, but they aren’t always unique.

Some kinds of recurring dreams, like having teeth fall out or being naked in public, are very common. The most common of all appears to be dreaming about being chased.

One reason these dreams are so common is that pretty much any kind of stressful situation can trigger them. For example, a study of stock brokers’ dreams following a market crash found that reported stress was correlated with dreams about being chased and clients’ financial losses were correlated with dreams about falling.

3. Dreams may be a kind of learning

The jury’s still out on what the purpose of sleep is, but there is some evidence suggesting that one function of dreams is to help with learning.

A 2010 study showed that people can improve their performance on a maze by dreaming.

In the study, participants who thought about the maze while awake and participants who took a nap but didn’t dream about the maze didn’t show much progress. But participants who dreamed about the maze during an afternoon nap showed dramatic gains in their ability to work the maze.

More studies will have to be done to clarify the relationship between dreaming and learning, but this line of research has already given us something important: a ready-made excuse to take a nap at any time.

4. Suppressed thoughts pop back up in your dreams

As I wrote about last week, intentionally forcing yourself to forget about something is no easy task.

One way suppressed thoughts make themselves known is through dreams. The more you try not to think about something, the more likely that thing is to appear in your dreams.

Dream rebound is an example of ironic processing – the idea that trying not to think about something actually makes it harder not to think about it. (Also, I just lost The Game.)

5. Dreaming about failing an exam makes you more likely to pass it

If you dream about doing bad on a big exam you have coming up, not to worry!

A survey of students’ dreams the night before a med school entrance exam found that 60% of the students dreamed about the exam, with the overwhelming majority of the dreams being negative. At the same time, students who dreamed about the exam ended up actually scoring higher.

The cause-and-effect isn’t totally clear here. It could be that the students who dreamed more about the exam were more anxious about the exam, so they studied more in advance. It could also be that some students just studied more in advance, which made them more likely to dream about the exam. Or it could be dreaming about the exam actually made students more prepared, a possibility the authors of the study emphasize.

Whatever the reason, one thing’s for sure: dreaming about something bad happening in an impending stressful situation isn’t necessarily an omen that something bad really will happen – it could even be a sign that something good is in the works!

D’you have any of these dreams? D’you have anything about dreams you want me to research for future posts? Comment below!

Image: Aagaard Nielsen