I liken going to sleep to going into a dark theater and having no idea what you’re about to see. You don’t know the title of the show and haven’t seen any previews. You don’t know if the show you are about to experience (and sometimes unwillingly participate in) will be a comedy, a romance, a drama, a thriller, or a horror. More often than not, the dream isn’t exactly something you may have wanted to see. You may wake up feeling happy and peaceful. You may wake up confused, anxious, or even scared. No matter what you’re feeling, pay attention. These dreams are trying to tell you something.
Nearly every night, I experience vivid and realistic dreams that usually dramatize many of the feelings and anxieties I feel consciously and/or subconsciously throughout my day. But sometimes the dreams connect me to issues and feelings that have been building up inside me for a long time coming. It can be fascinating and enlightening to be able to connect my dream experience with what’s going on in my life. What’s even better is when I’m able to connect my dreams with things going on within me that I simply wasn’t aware of beforehand.
Connecting your dreams with your reality can be an especially useful way to help process things going on in your life. All of the emotions and feelings that you might be bottling up or not recognizing can often play out during those 8 hours or so every night when you have zero control over your thoughts. Your dreams can play out your deepest anxieties and fears, but they can also reveal your hidden hopes and desires. Dreams can be important and useful, which leads me to one of the best ways to figure out the meaning behind the dream:
Write them down.
Keeping a dream diary/sleep journal is a great way to check in with yourself. Keep the journal next to your bed and write your dreams down immediately upon waking. Even after my most vivid dream, I will have trouble remembering it if I don’t write it down within a matter of minutes. Make sure to also note what you may have been feeling during your dream or when you first woke up.
While you’re keeping a dream journal, you won’t be able to remember every dream or have any recollection of dreaming at all. Even if you don’t remember your dreams from the night before, write down how you slept. Did you have trouble falling asleep? Did you wake up during the night? Did you have trouble waking up? Do you feel well-rested, tired, or groggy? What was going during the day that may have caused some sleep problems? Was it simply a matter of drinking too much caffeine late in the day, drinking alcohol, or going to bed too late or did you experience something that may have caused some sleep disruption, like a problem at work or an issue within your relationship. It may be interesting to you to keep track of your sleep and dream experiences and note any patterns that form. If you’re seeing a therapist, or planning on seeing a therapist, your documented sleep patterns and dreams can be very useful information during your therapy sessions.
I love seeing the patterns in my own dreams. I know, for example, that I will often have dreams that take place in my childhood home when I am feeling uncomfortable, unsteady, or anxious. My childhood home was a place of great comfort and stability for me, no matter what was going on in my life. These dreams, which have been re-occurring since childhood, lead me to believe that they are my subconscious way of giving me comfort and peace during a challenging time. I usually wake up from those dreams feeling less anxious than from the time I went to sleep.
Another interesting dream I remember was about 3 years ago while I was living in San Francisco. In that particular dream I moved from San Francisco back to an area near the house I grew up in, about 15 miles away. I woke up feeling confused but also happy and wistful. This dream confused me a great deal since I never planned to move back there and I certainly never expected to be happy about leaving San Francisco, a place I planned to live the rest of my life. One year after that dream, the Dude informed me that he had a job opportunity 15 miles from my hometown. As he wrestled with that idea for a few days, I knew my answer from the moment he told me about it. My dream from the year before had already prepared me for the very real option of moving back. It was something I didn’t even really need to question because the idea of it gave me happiness and a sense of peace, the same feelings I experienced after that dream.
Do you keep a sleep journal? Care to share any interesting dreams that helped you in your life? Feel free to comment!