Posted-By: auto-faq Archive-name: dreams-faq/part1 Revision: version 1.4, last cha

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

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

Posted-By: auto-faq
Archive-name: dreams-faq/part1
Revision: version 1.4,  last changed 1994/09/18 23:59:48
Posting-Frequency: biweekly

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.


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.  Part
four is  mostly  collected  quoted  input  from   a large   number  of
contributors. Many  thanks  to all  who have  helped to  compile these

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

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


1. General

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

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.

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.

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  entertwining 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  entertwining 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]

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.

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 rememberance 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.


2. Dream interpretation and symbols

2.1. What does this <symbol> mean?

A. Symbols are one way of interpreting dreams.  Researchers have tried
to find,  for each common dream  occurence, 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.

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,  dont'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.

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
breaststrokes 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
rememberance 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 toothaches caused by
illnesses (cf. section 1.2.)

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.

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...)

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  rememberances 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...


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank