Dreams: Voice of our Subconscious

When we sleep we do much more than just “rest our weary bones”; we tap into our subconscious mind (Ullman and Zimmerman 1979). The subconscious has much to offer about oneself. The average human being spends one third of their life in sleep and during each sleep approximently two hours is spent dreaming (Ullman and Zimmerman 1979). These dreams are important because they are the voice of our subconscious.

Dreams and theories on dreams go as far back as 2000 BC in Egypt. One of the first organized glimpses into the diagnostics of a dream came in an Egyptian book called the Chester Beatty Papyrus, its author is unknown. In ancient Greece dreams were believed to be messages from the gods. In later centuries, Hippocrates (a Greek physician), Aristotle (a Greek philosopher), and Galen (a Greek philosopher) believed that dreams often contained physiological information that may be cause of future illnesses. Artemeidorus documented and interpreted thousands of dream reports in his book Oreiocritica (meaning “critical dreams” in Greek). His ideas were later abandoned, and no further progress was made in the study of dreams until the late 1800s. That was until Sigmund Freud wrote his book The Interpretations of Dreams in 1900. After its publishing, dreams became a popular topic once again.

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The modern day idea that dreams come from our daily life is partially accurate. When I say “partially” I mean only a specific aspect of dreams comes from daily life interactions. The imagery in dreams comes from daily life (Freud 1900). You must understand that the subconscious can only talk in a language that the conscious can understand, therefore it uses imagery. So to put it in lay terms “You’ll never see an object in dream that you haven’t seen in your daily life”(Ullman and Zimmerman 1979). This statement raises an interesting question. “What do blind people who never see anything dream about?” The answer to this question is even more puzzling. The subconscious speaks to blind people using all other sensory modalities such as hearing, taste, touch, and smell. Instead of seeing things blind people will hear or smell things in their dreams. Helen Keller talked of “seeing” in her dreams much as she saw when she was awake (let it be stated that Helen Keller was blind). The subconscious is usually the right side of the brain or the opposite side of persons writing hand. Within the subconscious lie different types of things such as suppressed emotions, creativity, and basic human instinct (Ullman and Zimmerman 1979. The conscious part of the mind works when people are awake and is the part of the mind that handles things that people can understand. No one truly knows why a person can’t interact with the subconscious while awake, however studies show that dreams are a way in which people can better comprehend its behavior.

The condition of the body during dreaming is interesting because the brain shuts off all sensory receptors thus, canceling all somatic impulses (Ullman and Zimmerman 1979). This puts the body in an almost paraplegic state. The brain however continues to control all autonomic functions such as blood flow, heart pulsation, and lung inflation. During the sleep, homeostasis will fluctuate because sleep occurs on four stages (Davidmann, 1998). The individual goes from awake to stage 1, then to 2, 3, and finally 4, the deepest stage of sleep. After spending about twenty minutes in stage 4, they return to stage 1 and progress back to stage 4. The individual will continue to make these cycles throughout their sleep. Most individuals will experience about 4 to 5 cycles a night (Davidmann, 1998). This is why humans are more apt to wake up at specific times in the night and not sporadically (most people do not notice this however). During stage 1 the individual will experience what has been named REM (Rapid Eye Movement), I will make further elaboration on REM momentarily. For now I would like to point out that during REM the body will show more signs of consciousness by spontaneous muscle contractions, flagellate excretion, and oculomoter coordination (eye movement). The body will experience these tensions and reactions because this is the active time of sleep in the average human (Davidmann, 1998).

I spoke earlier of REM (Rapid Eye Movement); it is the time in which the individual will have their dreams. Nathaniel Kleitman discovered it in 1953. It always occurs in the lightest stage of sleep, stage 1. It has been given its name because of the muscle contractions in the eye motor receptors. These electrical impulses originate from the brain stem and then travel to the eyes to produce imagery. The catalysts for these impulses are triggered by the subconscious mind and the emotions within it (Davidmann, 1998). The REM will usually begin ninety minutes after sleep is initiated and will last roughly ten to fifteen minutes (Davidmann, 1998). It is during the ten to fifteen minutes that dreams occur. The REM will end and the individual will slip into deeper sleeps, until the forth stage is reached. Once this occurs the mind begins to come out of the deeper sleep stages until it reaches the REM once again. The interesting factor is that each time the sleeper enters the REM phase of sleep the REM phase will increase in length. This repeats four to five times in the average sleep. The reason the dreams occur in the REM or the lightest stage is because this is the only stage in which the conscious mind can interpret the imagery of the subconscious. This is not to say that the subconscious doesn’t remain active in deeper sleep stages but the conscious mind isn’t alert enough to decipher the imagery the subconscious creates in deep sleep. A good personification description of this is to say that the conscious simply can’t swim as deep as the subconscious. The REM is also interesting because if a person does not experience it they will suffer from various sleeping disorders because it is required by the body just like sunlight is required. People who experience exaggerated REM will suffer from fatigue and sleep depravation while they are awake. Usually, a fully-grown person has about 4 to 5 cycles of REM sleep, consisting of about 25% of a night’s sleep. A newborn child’s sleep can consist of as high as 50% REM type sleep (Davidmann, 1998). As I previously stated, a person would go through the sleep stage cycle four to five times a night, hence four to five dreams per night. With this in mind it can be calculated the average human being will have 136,000 dreams in a lifetime, spending about six total years in the REM stage dreaming. Mentally retarded individuals or people with low IQs tend to spend less time in the REM type sleep, but other mental disorders are capable of initiating more REM type sleep. The reason for this is unknown.

Now that the diagnostics of dreams has been covered I would like to focus on the origin of dreams from a medical standpoint. As a consequence, memory, sensory, muscle-control, and cognitive areas of the brain are randomly stimulated, resulting in the higher cortical brain attempting to make some sense of it. The reason for these stimulations is unknown but various medical researchers believe they are the after effects of certain chemical reactions in the brain. This, according to the research, gives rise to the experience of a dream, but there is controversy of the question of whether dreams have intentional meaning. Many psychotherapists agree that dreams are stimulated by impulses from the brain stem but they have actual meaning and are not just hallucinations.

Thus far, I have established that dreams have both a metaphysical existence and a physical. The metaphysical is the imagery within in them and their relation to the subconscious. The physical aspect is the chemical reactions occur within the brain during dreams and the REM. The tie between physical and metaphysical cannot be established but it safe to say that one does exist. Thoughts are not physical in nature, we can’t touch and see them but in order for them to occur the brain must go through chemical and hormonal changes, dreams are the same in character.

“The dream uses collective figures because it has to express an eternal human problem that repeats itself endlessly, and not just a disturbance of personal balance”, (Jung, 1945). Carl Jung is very right on that point. The act of learning what dreams encompass and occupy has become known as Dream Interpretation. There are many methods used for understanding dreams but the two most popular and practiced methods are the Freud method and the Jung method. The other is always the personal method of dream interpretation but it can sometimes be misleading. Once an individual establishes a method of dream analysis they must decide what type of dream they are analyzing. There seven types of dreams according to the facts I have researched. The superconscious dream, lucid dream, nightmares, night terrors, sexual dreams, repetitive dreams, and the plain subconscious dream. Freud believed in the superconscious dream, the repetitive dream, the sexual dream, and the regular subconscious dream. Ullman and Zimmerman believe in all seven types of dreams.

The first type of dream known as the superconscious dream isn’t well known. The superconscious is often referred to as the sixth sense, the ability to perceive things that haven’t yet occurred. Sometimes the dreams act as warnings and other times they act as messengers. An ever-growing trend is the idea of being psychic; the idea of this is false because futuristic visions can’t occur in the conscious mind (Ullman and Zimmerman, 1979). It is however possible in the subconscious mind. When someone dreams of a future experience this would display a superconscious dream. It’s prophetic in a way and this type of dream was extremely promoted in biblical times. Daniel, form the bible, many times had superconscious dreams as he dealt with Nebuchadnezzar II (king of Babylon). There were many prophets who saw visions of Jesus several hundred years before his birth. These visions had to have been dream imagery because it’s not possible to have an actual prophetic vision in the conscious. The reason its impossible is because the mind can’t justifiable vision the future while conscious, the individual cannot perceive events of that nature accurately (Freud, 1900). The main problem with superconscious dreaming is that the individual has no way to distinguish between a regular subconscious image and a prophetic image. Only the dreamer can remedy this problem. Constituting the imagery and significance of the dream can do this. The dreamer must also find relations between current events and the dream to make sound decisions on whether it is a superconscious dream or a plain subconscious dream. The idea of having prophetic dreams is somewhat bogus however you must understand the subconscious works in mystique forms (Freud 1900).

The second class of dreams is the lucid dreams. Lucid dreaming transpires only if the individual is aware that they are dreaming (Ullman and Zimmerman 1979). Lucid dreams are paradoxes; the individual will be asleep and dreaming but will be awake in their dream. This form of dreaming often puzzles the dreamer into believing they are actual awake they however are not. The main differential factor for lucid dreaming is that the imagery is sharper and the content is more realistic. The dreamer discovers or concludes that he is in a dream and is able to identify some realistic details are missing. This is often shocking to the dreamer because dream reality does not apply to the physical laws therefore dreams will have a disillusioned appearance (Ullman and Zimmerman 1979). Once lucidity sets in the dreamer may attempt to control the future course of the dream. The lucid stage occurs between being awake and the REM, with this reason in mind the dreamer can assume that if they are having a lucid dream that they are about to awaken (Ullman and Zimmerman 1979).

The next genus of dreams is nightmares. Nightmares are very simple in nature but there is much contained within them. Nightmares come from highly surpressed negative emotion. This negative emotion can be directed toward oneself or an opposing party. The imagery in nightmares is often intense and fearful. The body goes through unusual occurrences, the heart rate will increase, the oculomotor effectors receive impulses at a high rate, and the body temperature climbs due to the nervousness from the nightmare. An interesting fact on nightmares is that they all end with awakening. The reason for this is simple; the nature of the nightmare is so emotionally overwhelming that the mind is virtually “shaken” out if sleep (Ullman and Zimmerman 1979). Some people often state how they never have nightmares; this is a good thing to be able to say. A person who lacks nightmares is obviously an emotionally stable person. Nightmares can be relaxed by take prescribe drugs that slow down the mind functions, downers if you will.

Another type of dreams is the night terror. Not much is known about night terrors except they are extremely frightening. “It’s frightening but is not unusual or dangerous to a child,” says Harry Abram, M.D., a neurologist with The Nemours Children’s Clinic. Night terrors occur mostly in young children, typically between the ages of 3 to 5 years. Two to 3% of all children will experience episodes of night terrors and children who wet the bed are more likely to have night terrors. The fascinating attribute of night terrors is that they occur in the non-REM sleep and in the deepest sleep possible. They can last any from ten minutes to an hour. A person experiencing a night terror customarily doesn’t wake up until it’s over. The eyes can sometimes remain open during the entire episode and regularly the body suffers from many excited spasms. Once the victim awakens they cannot recollect any of the nights experiences (Kidshealth.com 1999).

The next two species of dream are very frank in their description. The first one being the sexual dream and the second being the repetitive dream. The sexual dream was analyzed greatly by Sigmund Freud he theorized that sexual dreams came from sexual tension. He felt that sexual tension came from the compelling urge to engage in sexual intercourse. Sexual symbols such as long rod shapes symbolizing the male penis and hollow round shapes symbolizing the female vagina (Freud 1900). Freud thought if either of these symbols appeared in a dream that the individual had surpressed sexual tension within their emotions. The repetitive dream is best defined as a dream that occurs twice within different REMs. The only reasonable explanation for repetitive dreams is that they are indications of a troublesome but often ignored emotion. They are the way in which the subconscious keeps the individual from suffering complete denial. Repetitive dreams cease once the problem is resolved in daily life or in the dream (Ullman and Zimmerman 1979).

Lastly, the plain subconscious dream, this is the dream doesn’t fit in to any other dream categories. To put in lay terms it is the “average” dream. They occur with the REM and are usually not remembered because of the ordinariness. They however are the hardest dreams to understand and interpret because they can’t be categorized specifically. Most of them don’t have much significant evidence to offer because they are just based upon present daily life and some acute emotions. There are exceptions to this rule.

An often-pondered aspect on dreams is sleepwalking and talking. Popular belief thinks that sleepwalking and talking are just individuals acting out what they see in their dreams. Actually neither of these seems directly linked to dreaming. They occur in the nondreaming phase of sleep and represent transitory releases of speech and motor mechanisms. There is no evidence to why this occurs. Also, a sleepwalker, contrary to popular belief, can injure himself (Ullman and Zimmerman 1979).

There are many subsidiary facts about dreams that most people do not know. One of these is that the older a person gets the less dreams they will have and the vaguer they appear. It has also been proven through research that using drugs such as stimulates increases the possibility of nightmares and other intense dreams. The reason for this is the change in chemicals within the brain. While an individual takes stimulates they will experience very exaggerated distorted dreams, where as a person taking depressive drugs, like Ridilin, will have slower less precise dreams. Finally one of the most shocking aspects of dreams is the fact that people can physically die while having them. This belief is completely theoretical and can’t be proven however it is very fascinating. This scenario takes place mostly in elderly people. What causes the physical death is a highly complicated and intense dream. The origin of dreams like this is unknown however there have been cases of people dying of a form of shock. The brain can’t control the immense stimulation therefore it burns itself up. Let me once again state that this is theoretical and not proven.

Dreams as you now know are very enigmatic and very complex. Yet, it is through this enigmatic manifestation that we can learn what lurks behind stage in our minds. Dreams prove just how diverse humans can be when it comes to emotions. I hope you have gained insight not only to dreams but how to better understand yourself, I leave you with this “Learn your theories as well as you can, but put them aside when you touch the miracle of a living soul”(Jung, 1945). Carl Jung is correct, it is good to learn the theories on dreams but remember what dreams are…“a living soul.”


Abram, Harry, M.D.. “Coping with Night Terrors”. The Nemours Foundation Web Site. Retrieved February 3, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.kidshealth.org/parent/behavior/nghtter.html

Davidmann, Manfred. “How the Human Brain Developed and How the Human Mind Works”. Retrieved February 3, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.solbaram.org/articles/humind.html

Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principal. New York: Liveright Publishing, 1950.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretations of Dreams. Psych Web. Retrieved February 1, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.psychwww.com/books/interp/toc.htm

Jung, Carl. On the Nature of Dreams. Jungian Psychology Articles Web Site. Retrieved January 30, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.cgjung.com/articles/cgjdream.html

Ullman, Montague and Zimmerman, Nan. Working With Dreams. NewYork: Delacrote Press, 1979

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