July 26, 2011

The Science Behind Dreaming

New research sheds light on how and why we remember dreams--and what purpose they are likely to serve

By Sander van der Linden

research articles about dreams

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For centuries people have pondered the meaning of dreams. Early civilizations thought of dreams as a medium between our earthly world and that of the gods. In fact, the Greeks and Romans were convinced that dreams had certain prophetic powers. While there has always been a great interest in the interpretation of human dreams, it wasn’t until the end of the nineteenth century that Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung put forth some of the most widely-known modern theories of dreaming. Freud’s theory centred around the notion of repressed longing -- the idea that dreaming allows us to sort through unresolved, repressed wishes. Carl Jung (who studied under Freud) also believed that dreams had psychological importance, but proposed different theories about their meaning.

Since then, technological advancements have allowed for the development of other theories. One prominent neurobiological theory of dreaming is the “activation-synthesis hypothesis,” which states that dreams don’t actually mean anything: they are merely electrical brain impulses that pull random thoughts and imagery from our memories. Humans, the theory goes, construct dream stories after they wake up, in a natural attempt to make sense of it all. Yet, given the vast documentation of realistic aspects to human dreaming as well as indirect experimental evidence that other mammals such as cats also dream, evolutionary psychologists have theorized that dreaming really does serve a purpose. In particular, the “threat simulation theory” suggests that dreaming should be seen as an ancient biological defence mechanism that provided an evolutionary advantage because of  its capacity to repeatedly simulate potential threatening events – enhancing the neuro-cognitive mechanisms required for efficient threat perception and avoidance.

So, over the years, numerous theories have been put forth in an attempt to illuminate the mystery behind human dreams, but, until recently, strong tangible evidence has remained largely elusive.

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Yet, new research published in the Journal of Neuroscience provides compelling insights into the mechanisms that underlie dreaming and the strong relationship our dreams have with our memories. Cristina Marzano and her colleagues at the University of Rome have succeeded, for the first time, in explaining how humans remember their dreams. The scientists predicted the likelihood of successful dream recall based on a signature pattern of brain waves. In order to do this, the Italian research team invited 65 students to spend two consecutive nights in their research laboratory.

During the first night, the students were left to sleep, allowing them to get used to the sound-proofed and temperature-controlled rooms. During the second night the researchers measured the student’s brain waves while they slept. Our brain experiences four types of electrical brain waves: “delta,” “theta,” “alpha,” and “beta.” Each represents a different speed of oscillating electrical voltages and together they form the electroencephalography (EEG). The Italian research team used this technology to measure the participant’s brain waves during various sleep-stages. (There are five stages of sleep; most dreaming and our most intense dreams occur during the REM stage.) The students were woken at various times and asked to fill out a diary detailing whether or not they dreamt, how often they dreamt and whether they could remember the content of their dreams.

While previous studies have already indicated that people are more likely to remember their dreams when woken directly after REM sleep, the current study explains why. Those participants who exhibited more low frequency theta waves in the frontal lobes were also more likely to remember their dreams.

This finding is interesting because the increased frontal theta activity the researchers observed looks just like the successful encoding and retrieval of autobiographical memories seen while we are awake. That is, it is the same electrical oscillations in the frontal cortex that make the recollection of episodic memories (e.g., things that happened to you) possible. Thus, these findings suggest that the neurophysiological mechanisms that we employ while dreaming (and recalling dreams) are the same as when we construct and retrieve memories while we are awake.

In another recent study conducted by the same research team, the authors used the latest MRI techniques to investigate the relation between dreaming and the role of deep-brain structures. In their study, the researchers found that vivid, bizarre and emotionally intense dreams (the dreams that people usually remember) are linked to parts of the amygdala and hippocampus. While the amygdala plays a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions, the hippocampus has been implicated in important memory functions, such as the consolidation of information from short-term to long-term memory.

The proposed link between our dreams and emotions is also highlighted in another recent study published by Matthew Walker and colleagues at the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at UC Berkeley, who found that a reduction in REM sleep (or less “dreaming”) influences our ability to understand complex emotions in daily life – an essential feature of human social functioning.  Scientists have also recently identified where dreaming is likely to occur in the brain.  A very rare clinical condition known as “Charcot-Wilbrand Syndrome” has been known to cause (among other neurological symptoms) loss of the ability to dream.  However, it was not until a few years ago that a patient reported to have lost her ability to dream while having virtually no other permanent neurological symptoms. The patient suffered a lesion in a part of the brain known as the right inferior lingual gyrus (located in the visual cortex). Thus, we know that dreams are generated in, or transmitted through this particular area of the brain, which is associated with visual processing, emotion and visual memories.

Taken together, these recent findings tell an important story about the underlying mechanism and possible purpose of dreaming.

Dreams seem to help us process emotions by encoding and constructing memories of them. What we see and experience in our dreams might not necessarily be real, but the emotions attached to these experiences certainly are. Our dream stories essentially try to strip the emotion out of a certain experience by creating a memory of it. This way, the emotion itself is no longer active.  This mechanism fulfils an important role because when we don’t process our emotions, especially negative ones, this increases personal worry and anxiety. In fact, severe REM sleep-deprivation is increasingly correlated to the development of mental disorders. In short, dreams help regulate traffic on that fragile bridge which connects our experiences with our emotions and memories.

Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas .

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Nightmares, REM

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Why humans dream remains one of behavioral science's great unanswered questions. Dreams have a purpose but it may not be to send us messages about self-improvement or the future, as many believe. Instead, many researchers now believe that dreaming mediates memory consolidation and mood regulation , a process a little like overnight therapy . But it's not a benefit all share equally: People who are sleep deprived also tend to be dream deprived, spending less time dreaming and perhaps not remembering dreams as well.

  • What Dreams Mean
  • Lucid Dreams

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Dreams are the stories the brain tells during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep. People typically have multiple dreams each night that grow longer as sleep draws to a close. Over a lifetime, a person may dream for five or six full years. How best to examine all that content remains a source of debate.

Dreams typically involve elements from waking life , such as known people or familiar locations, but they also often have a fantastical feel. In dreams, people may live out scenarios that would never be possible in real life, although they aren’t always positive.

People have always tried to figure out the meaning of their dreams, but dream interpretation as a field of psychological study emerged in 1899, when Sigmund Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams . Today, most experts disagree with Freud’s conclusions, and some don’t believe dreams signify anything at all . But people continue to mine them for clues to their inner lives, creative insight, and even hints of the future.

lassedesignen/Shutterstock

Nightmares can create feelings of terror, anxiety , or despair, and lead to psychological distress or sleep problems like insomnia . Research has identified a range of causes for nightmares, including post- traumatic stress , anxiety—especially the presence of generalized anxiety disorder, dissociation, and physiological changes.

“Re-experiencing” is a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as flashbacks. These involuntary recollections  often manifest in the form of nightmares that can cause significant emotional distress. Even when the dreams are not exact replays of a trauma, they may have a strong symbolic or indirect connection to the event.

Terrifying dreams that rouse people from sleep plague children more often than adults , and nightmares can be especially vivid for young children because they may have a harder time separating fantasy from reality. But at least half of grownups also have occasional nightmares, although fewer than 10 percent report frequent or recurring episodes.

Experts recommend that individuals experiencing nightmares tied to stress try to focus on positive elements of their day immediately before bed; catch themselves when they feel themselves ruminating or catastrophizing ; and train themselves not to dwell on disturbing images from nightmares. For nightmares tied to PTSD , visualization treatments in which patients replay traumatic memories in “safe” ways have shown potential to bring relief.

Not necessarily. Night terrors, which are primarily experienced by children, cause sleeping people to scream, bolt out of bed, or demonstrate symptoms similar to a panic attack. But night terrors tend to occur earlier in the sleep cycle , while nightmares take place primarily during REM sleep. And unlike nightmares, night terrors are usually not remembered by sufferers , even though they may appear to be awake during the experience.

begemot_30/Shutterstock

During lucid dreaming, which most commonly occurs during late-stage REM sleep, a dreamer is aware that they’re asleep, but is able to control events within their dreams, to some extent. Lucid dreamers report willing themselves to fly, fight, or act out sexual fantasies . There are communities dedicated to learning how to lucid dream at will, although evidence that this is possible remains inconclusive.

Research suggests that the brain undergoes a physiological change during lucid dreaming. In fMRI studies, the prefrontal cortex and a cortical network including the frontal, parietal, and temporal zones have been shown to activate when the brain begins lucid dreaming. This appears related to the "waking consciousness” that characterizes lucidity.

Most people do not typically experience lucid dreaming, or do not realize they do, and those who do tend to experience it in a limited way, without full agency. But some experts, and advocates of the potential benefits of lucid dreaming for boosting creativity and confidence , and reducing stress, believe most people can train themselves to experience lucid dreams.

Advocates of lucid-dream training suggest starting with dedicated recording of one’s dreams to gain a greater awareness of the conscious roles they may already play in common scenarios . Another approach is waking up two hours earlier than normal, staying awake for a short time, and then going back to bed, with the goal of increasing awareness of fresh late-stage REM sleep dreams and eventually directing them.

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research articles about dreams

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New advances in AI are making it possible to enhance, empower, and integrate Freudian and Jungian approaches to dream interpretation.

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Ever wonder how our dreams help facilitate the transitions we go through? Learn how sometimes one image alone can say what you are carrying with you as you move through change.

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Gestalt dream analysis can be a powerful personal growth tool when used in conjunction with personal therapy.

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Home ownership does result in increased happiness, but not to the extent expected.

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Dreams are not messages from the gods or omens of the future. They are way more interesting.

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Personal Perspective: College anxiety dreams are common in midlife. They may reflect worries about self-actualization but can be used for self-reflection and encouragement.

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Have you ever dreamed about adoption? Sometimes the mirror we create through our unconscious mind in a dream is stunningly precise.

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Why Do We Dream? A New Theory on How It Protects Our Brains

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W hen he was two years old, Ben stopped seeing out of his left eye. His mother took him to the doctor and soon discovered he had retinal cancer in both eyes. After chemotherapy and radiation failed, surgeons removed both his eyes. For Ben, vision was gone forever.

But by the time he was seven years old, he had devised a technique for decoding the world around him: he clicked with his mouth and listened for the returning echoes. This method enabled Ben to determine the locations of open doorways, people, parked cars, garbage cans, and so on. He was echolocating: bouncing his sound waves off objects in the environment and catching the reflections to build a mental model of his surroundings.

Echolocation may sound like an improbable feat for a human, but thousands of blind people have perfected this skill, just like Ben did. The phenomenon has been written about since at least the 1940s, when the word “echolocation” was first coined in a Science article titled “Echolocation by Blind Men, Bats, and Radar.”

How could blindness give rise to the stunning ability to understand the surroundings with one’s ears? The answer lies in a gift bestowed on the brain by evolution: tremendous adaptability.

Whenever we learn something new, pick up a new skill, or modify our habits, the physical structure of our brain changes. Neurons, the cells responsible for rapidly processing information in the brain, are interconnected by the thousands—but like friendships in a community, the connections between them constantly change: strengthening, weakening, and finding new partners. The field of neuroscience calls this phenomenon “brain plasticity,” referring to the ability of the brain, like plastic, to assume new shapes and hold them. More recent discoveries in neuroscience suggest that the brain’s brand of flexibility is far more nuanced than holding onto a shape, though. To capture this, we refer to the brain’s plasticity as “livewiring” to spotlight how this vast system of 86 billion neurons and 0.2 quadrillion connections rewires itself every moment of your life.

Neuroscience used to think that different parts of the brain were predetermined to perform specific functions. But more recent discoveries have upended the old paradigm. One part of the brain may initially be assigned a specific task; for instance, the back of our brain is called the “visual cortex” because it usually handles sight. But that territory can be reassigned to a different task. There is nothing special about neurons in the visual cortex: they are simply neurons that happen to be involved in processing shapes or colors in people who have functioning eyes. But in the sightless, these same neurons can rewire themselves to process other types of information.

Mother Nature imbued our brains with flexibility to adapt to circumstances. Just as sharp teeth and fast legs are useful for survival, so is the brain’s ability to reconfigure. The brain’s livewiring allows for learning, memory, and the ability to develop new skills.

In Ben’s case, his brain’s flexible wiring repurposed his visual cortex for processing sound. As a result, Ben had more neurons available to deal with auditory information, and this increased processing power allowed Ben to interpret soundwaves in shocking detail. Ben’s super-hearing demonstrates a more general rule: the more brain territory a particular sense has, the better it performs.

Recent decades have yielded several revelations about livewiring, but perhaps the biggest surprise is its rapidity. Brain circuits reorganize not only in the newly blind, but also in the sighted who have temporary blindness. In one study, sighted participants intensively learned how to read Braille. Half the participants were blindfolded throughout the experience. At the end of the five days, the participants who wore blindfolds could distinguish subtle differences between Braille characters much better than the participants who didn’t wear blindfolds. Even more remarkably, the blindfolded participants showed activation in visual brain regions in response to touch and sound. When activity in the visual cortex was temporarily disrupted, the Braille-reading advantage of the blindfolded participants went away. In other words, the blindfolded participants performed better on the touch-related task because their visual cortex had been recruited to help. After the blindfold was removed, the visual cortex returned to normal within a day, no longer responding to touch and sound.

But such changes don’t have to take five days; that just happened to be when the measurement took place. When blindfolded participants are continuously measured, touch-related activity shows up in the visual cortex in about an hour.

What does brain flexibility and rapid cortical takeover have to do with dreaming? Perhaps more than previously thought. Ben clearly benefited from the redistribution of his visual cortex to other senses because he had permanently lost his eyes, but what about the participants in the blindfold experiments? If our loss of a sense is only temporary, then the rapid conquest of brain territory may not be so helpful.

And this, we propose, is why we dream.

In the ceaseless competition for brain territory, the visual system has a unique problem: due to the planet’s rotation, all animals are cast into darkness for an average of 12 out of every 24 hours. (Of course, this refers to the vast majority of evolutionary time, not to our present electrified world.) Our ancestors effectively were unwitting participants in the blindfold experiment, every night of their entire lives.

So how did the visual cortex of our ancestors’ brains defend its territory, in the absence of input from the eyes?

We suggest that the brain preserves the territory of the visual cortex by keeping it active at night. In our “defensive activation theory,” dream sleep exists to keep neurons in the visual cortex active, thereby combating a takeover by the neighboring senses. In this view, dreams are primarily visual precisely because this is the only sense that is disadvantaged by darkness. Thus, only the visual cortex is vulnerable in a way that warrants internally-generated activity to preserve its territory.

In humans, sleep is punctuated by rapid eye movement (REM) sleep every 90 minutes. This is when most dreaming occurs . (Although some forms of dreaming can occur during non-REM sleep, such dreams are abstract and lack the visual vividness of REM dreams.)

REM sleep is triggered by a specialized set of neurons that pump activity straight into the brain’s visual cortex, causing us to experience vision even though our eyes are closed. This activity in the visual cortex is presumably why dreams are pictorial and filmic. (The dream-stoking circuitry also paralyzes your muscles during REM sleep so that your brain can simulate a visual experience without moving the body at the same time.) The anatomical precision of these circuits suggests that dream sleep is biologically important—such precise and universal circuitry rarely evolves without an important function behind it.

The defensive activation theory makes some clear predictions about dreaming. For example, because brain flexibility diminishes with age, the fraction of sleep spent in REM should also decrease across the lifespan. And that’s exactly what happens: in humans, REM accounts for half of an infant’s sleep time, but the percentage decreases steadily to about 18% in the elderly. REM sleep appears to become less necessary as the brain becomes less flexible.

Of course, this relationship is not sufficient to prove the defensive activation theory. To test it on a deeper level, we broadened our investigation to animals other than humans. The defensive activation theory makes a specific prediction: the more flexible an animal’s brain, the more REM sleep it should have to defend its visual system during sleep. To this end, we examined the extent to which the brains of 25 species of primates are “pre-programmed” versus flexible at birth. How might we measure this? We looked at the time it takes animals of each species to develop. How long do they take to wean from their mothers? How quickly do they learn to walk? How many years until they reach adolescence? The more rapid an animal’s development, the more pre-programmed (that is, less flexible) the brain.

As predicted, we found that species with more flexible brains spend more time in REM sleep each night. Although these two measures—brain flexibility and REM sleep—would seem at first to be unrelated, they are in fact linked.

As a side note, two of the primate species we looked at were nocturnal. But this does not change the hypothesis: whenever an animal sleeps, whether at night or during the day, the visual cortex is at risk of takeover by the other senses. Nocturnal primates, equipped with strong night vision, employ their vision throughout the night as they seek food and avoid predation. When they subsequently sleep during the day, their closed eyes allow no visual input, and thus, their visual cortex requires defense.

Dream circuitry is so fundamentally important that it is found even in people who are born blind. However, those who are born blind (or who become blind early in life) don’t experience visual imagery in their dreams; instead, they have other sensory experiences, such as feeling their way around a rearranged living room or hearing strange dogs barking. This is because other senses have taken over their visual cortex. In other words, blind and sighted people alike experience activity in the same region of their brain during dreams; they differ only in the senses that are processed there. Interestingly, people who become blind after the age of seven have more visual content in their dreams than those who become blind at younger ages. This, too, is consistent with the defensive activation theory: brains become less flexible as we age, so if one loses sight at an older age, the non-visual senses cannot fully conquer the visual cortex.

If dreams are visual hallucinations triggered by a lack of visual input, we might expect to find similar visual hallucinations in people who are slowly deprived of visual input while awake. In fact, this is precisely what happens in people with eye degeneration, patients confined to a tank-respirator, and prisoners in solitary confinement. In all of these cases, people see things that are not there.

We developed our defensive activation theory to explain visual hallucinations during extended periods of darkness, but it may represent a more general principle: the brain has evolved specific circuitry to generate activity that compensates for periods of deprivation. This might occur in several scenarios: when deprivation is regular and predictable (e.g., dreams during sleep), when there is damage to the sensory input pathway (e.g., tinnitus or phantom limb syndrome), and when deprivation is unpredictable (e.g., hallucinations induced by sensory deprivation). In this sense, hallucinations during deprivation may in fact be a feature of the system rather than a bug.

We’re now pursuing a systematic comparison between a variety of species across the animal kingdom. So far, the evidence has been encouraging. Some mammals are born immature, unable to regulate their own temperature, acquire food, or defend themselves (think kittens, puppies, and ferrets). Others are born mature, emerging from the womb with teeth, fur, open eyes, and the abilities to regulate their temperature, walk within an hour of birth, and eat solid food (think guinea pigs, sheep, and giraffes). The immature animals have up to 8 times more REM sleep than those born mature. Why? Because when a newborn brain is highly flexible, the system requires more effort to defend the visual system during sleep.

Since the dawn of communication, dreams have perplexed philosophers, priests, and poets. What do dreams mean ? Do they portend the future? In recent decades, dreams have come under the gaze of neuroscientists as one of the field’s central unsolved mysteries. Do they serve a more practical, functional purpose? We suggest that dream sleep exists, at least in part, to prevent the other senses from taking over the brain’s visual cortex when it goes unused. Dreams are the counterbalance against too much flexibility. Thus, although dreams have long been the subject of song and story, they may be better understood as the strange lovechild of brain plasticity and the rotation of the planet.

For more information:

  • Eagleman DM (2020). Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain. New York: Pantheon.
  • Eagleman DM, Vaughn DA (2020). The defensive activation theory: dreaming as a mechanism to prevent takeover of the visual cortex .

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Scientists break through the wall of sleep to the untapped world of dreams

NSF-supported researchers achieve two-way communication with lucidly dreaming people, creating a new method for studying the human mind that might lead to innovative ways of learning and problem-solving.

"Eight minus six … two”

It’s not exactly “one small step for man,” but that humble mathematical message is extraordinary in its own way. The first part — “eight minus six” — was transmitted by a scientist to a place just as exotic as the moon yet frequented by each of us. The response — “two” — came from the mind of a sleeping research subject as he snoozed in a neuroscience laboratory outside Chicago.

You see, “eight minus six... two” is a dialogue between two people — one of whom was asleep and dreaming .

“It’s authentic communication,” says cognitive neuroscientist Ken Paller , who oversees the laboratory where this groundbreaking communication took place. “It can be done.”

Researchers at Paller’s lab at Northwestern University in Illinois, along with researchers in France, Germany and the Netherlands, have independently demonstrated two-way communication with people as they are lucidly dreaming during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the breakthrough was achieved in the U.S. by Karen Konkoly, Paller’s doctoral student, and Christopher Mazurek, a volunteer research participant at the time of the study — and one of the first people to ever engage in a real-time dialogue from within a dream.

This discovery holds tantalizing possibilities for expanding our understanding of how our minds work. It may even lead to methods that could improve our ability to learn difficult skills or solve complex problems.

And, with the help of a new smartphone app from Paller’s lab, you could even try it at home.

The windows to the soul (and dreams)

Research into the fundamental nature of dreams, and what the human mind can do while dreaming, has been limited by a seemingly unsolvable problem: you can’t get much information about someone’s dream while they’re actually having the dream. “All we have are the stories people tell when they wake up,” says Paller. That deficiency has left an entire state of consciousness largely unexplored.

The novel methods pioneered by Konkoly, Paller and their colleagues are designed to solve this problem and open entirely new areas of research focused on the dreaming mind. Konkoly describes the possibilities: “Right now, we conduct psychology experiments with people who are awake. With two-way communication [during dreams], we could conduct some of the same experiments while people are sleeping. It could really expand our view of consciousness and what the mind is capable of.”

But, how can a dreaming research subject communicate if they can’t even move, let alone speak, while sleeping? The answer requires so me explanation about what happens in our mind during sleep.

a man in a mask reclines on a pillow and an image of an eeg readout

Scientists have identified the different stages of sleep by monitoring electrical signals from the brain using electroencephalography, or EEG, and from other places in the body. When the electrical signals are recorded and plotted, they chart the course our mind takes as we progress through the stages of sleep.

As you sleep, your mind transitions through several different stages, from light sleep to deep sleep and eventually to REM sleep. REM sleep is notable not just for what’s moving — our eyes — but what isn’t . Although our mind is active and dreams often occur during REM sleep, our bodies are almost completely paralyzed. That presents an obvious challenge for communications since we can’t move the body parts we typically use to communicate. As the name "rapid eye movement" suggests, however, there is an exception.

During REM sleep, our eyes move around behind our eyelids in a seemingly random fashion, which often corresponds to the sleeper “looking” at various imagined things in their dream. If you dream that you’re looking at something, your closed eyes move correspondingly as if you were looking at something while awake.

That phenomenon led researchers to a key insight: If eye movement were consciously controlled, the dreamer’s eyes could become a vehicle for getting a message to the waking world.  

He’s lucid! Let’s do math

Who among us hasn’t wished we could fly like a bird? Or walk on another planet? So-called lucid dreamers can do these things and more from the comfort of their own bed. Accomplished lucid dreamers have reported being able to regularly achieve awareness in their dreams and even “programming” themselves to have dreams about specific activities or locations.

Christopher Mazurek was not one of those people.

“I had no experience with lucid dreaming,” says Mazurek, an undergraduate student at Northwestern University and now research assistant in Paller’s sleep lab. At the time, he was a volunteer research participant. “Before I entered the lab, I never had anything near a lucid dream.”

To prepare Mazurek and the other U.S. volunteers, Konkoly wired each participant with electrodes that sense brain activity through the scalp, behind the ears, on the chin and — critically — near the eyes. Those would allow the researchers to monitor and record even slight eye movements. “When your eyes move in their sockets, it creates an electrical current which is detected by the electrodes and recorded,” says Konkoly.

A man looks at the camera while wearing a red cap fitted with white electrodes

Konkoly also trained each research participant to help them achieve lucidity and instructed them on what to do if they succeeded. That included learning to recognize the specific sound she would play when they entered REM sleep, prompting the participants to realize they’re dreaming and thus become lucid. The participants also learned the distinct response signal they should produce from within their dream: moving their eyes from left to right multiple times.

“Repeatedly looking from left to right is a very distinctive eye movement and it stands out from other eye movements during REM sleep,” says Konkoly. As she carefully watched the EEG and saw Mazurek progressing through the stages of sleep and into REM sleep, she spotted the repeating left-right signal on the monitor as Mazurek signaled his awareness.

“He’s lucid!” remembers Konkoly . “Let’s do math.”

Konkoly played a randomly selected audio recording: "eight minus six." Mazurek knew he would be presented with simple math problems but did not know which problems would be selected. Some of the international labs in the study used different methods to send messages to their dreaming subjects, such as flashing lights in Morse code which the sleepers could perceive through their closed eyelids and manifest in their dream. In most of the labs, the research participants were trained to move their “dream eyes” to signal their answer.

A few seconds later, Konkoly saw Mazurek’s response written among the peaks and valleys of his eyes’ electrical signals: “Two.” Konkoly sent another randomly selected math problem and once again received a correct response. And what was Mazurek dreaming about during this groundbreaking exchange between two worlds?

“I dreamed I was sleeping in the lab when I heard her question,” he says. Despite that rather mundane dreamscape, “It still blew me away how different and intense and odd it all felt. It was different than anything I could have imagined.”

To obtain independent verification of their results, Konkoly sent the recorded data to an expert “sleep scorer.” Like an astrophysicist who can tell you what elements are in a distant star by deciphering the colored light recorded in a spectrograph, a sleep scorer is trained to “read” the recorded electrical signals and analyze their complex patterns. The sleep scorer confirmed that Mazurek was indeed in REM sleep during the exchange.

While Mazurek was the first in Paller’s lab to achieve two-way communication in a dream, two more participants later accomplished that same feat. Meanwhile, researchers in France, Germany and the Netherlands were independently testing methods for two-way communication in dreams and reported that three additional individuals were able to provide correct responses while dreaming. The collective results from all the laboratories are now published in the journal Current Biology .

Sleep on it

“Why would you want to do math in your sleep?” quips Konkoly. “I get that comment sometimes.”

Joking aside, researchers have a number of ideas for how this discovery could be expanded and applied. “There’s evidence that lucid dreaming is a great place to practice skills compared to when you're awake," says Konkoly. "For example, you could slow down time so you could practice a skill in more detail or practice something without having any fear of the repercussions of failing."

Imagine a surgeon attempting to perfect a technique used in open heart surgery — in a dream. 

"There are many unexplored neurobiological aspects to learning and training during REM sleep. But without two-way communication, you can't conduct a proper controlled experiment to understand it," she adds.

“ People say 'sleep on it,” when grappling with a hard problem," says Paller, in reference to his research published in 2019 , which showed people who were cued to think about puzzles during sleep exhibited substantial improvement in finding solutions. "There's some sense that sleep can help you find an answer to a problem that's vexing you. Our two-way communication method provides hope for improving that. If you're working on a problem, can you be reminded of that problem during a dream and come up with a creative answer more easily?

"From run of the mill personal problems to complex global problems, we need creative solutions. If we can help people come up with the answers more easily, we should do that," he says.

Paller's lab has also developed a smartphone app that aims to make it easier for people to achieve lucidity, which could enable anyone to phone home from the world of dreams without visiting a sleep laboratory. You can learn how to get the app and give it a try through Paller's cognitive neuroscience website .

research articles about dreams

Our full potential

Although many aspects of the sleeping mind remain a mystery, researchers across a variety of scientific disciplines are utilizing new techniques and analytical methods to better understand it. “Sleep is valuable for our health in ways we’ve yet to come to grips with,” says Paller. For example, neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, recently uncovered evidence showing that sleep plays a critical role in how our brains flush out beta-amyloid , a toxic substance that contributes to the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

“REM sleep is a unique state of consciousness,” adds Konkoly. “We spend a lot of time in it and yet no one really understands its full potential. We want to know how it works.”

The pioneering work of Konkoly, Paller and their colleagues provides an entirely new method that scientists can use to investigate how sleep and dreams affect health and mental abilities.

And who knows? Perhaps the idea of conversing with someone from within a dream may one day be as routine as sending a text message on your phone:

“Can I snooze five more minutes? I’ve almost figured out this problem...”

[Other contributors to this discovery include researchers at Osnabrück University in Germany, Sorbonne University in Paris, and Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands. NSF supported the researchers at Northwestern University in the U.S.]

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Frontiers for Young Minds

Frontiers for Young Minds

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The Science of Dreams

research articles about dreams

Dreams are a common experience. Some are scary, some are funny. Recent research into how the brain works helps us understand why we dream. Strange combinations of ideas in our dreams may make us more creative and give us ideas that help us to solve problems. Or, when memories from the day are repeated in the brain during sleep, memories may get stronger. Dreams may also improve our moods. Together, these studies show that dreams and sleep are important for performing well when we are awake.

When she was 8, my daughter told me about one of her dreams. She was in a spaceship with some animals. Although she knew she was in a spaceship in her dream, when telling me about the dream, she realized the spaceship was actually a washing machine. At times, she and the animals would be out in space, but they also came back to earth. She told me the dream with a laugh and then moved on with her day, ignoring the crazy animals and spaceships that entertained her in her sleep.

Since we remember our dreams and then often forget them, what is their purpose? Why do we dream about the things we do? New research tools, particularly those that can be used to investigate the brain, are being used to answer these questions.

What Are Dreams?

Although it is hard to define what a dream is, for the purpose of this article, we will define dreams as our thoughts during sleep that we recall when we wake up. So, sleeping dreams are not the same as “daydreaming.” Dreams are mostly visual (made up of scenes and faces; sound, taste, and smell are rare in dreams [ 1 ]). Dreams can range from truly strange to rather boring, snapshots from a recent event.

To study dreams, scientists need a measure of dreaming. Most studies use dream reports (a person writes out her dreams when she wakes up) or questionnaires (a person answers questions like “How many dreams have you recalled in the past month?” [ 2 ]). Dreams are more likely to be recalled when a person is woken up from REM sleep. REM sleep is a type of sleep that is named for the rapid eye movements that can be measured during this stage of sleep. We do not dream as much in non-REM sleep, the sleep stages that make up the rest of the night, and dream reports from non-REM sleep are often less strange.

Dream frequency (how often dreams happen) and content (what dreams are about) is very different for everyone, and there are many reasons why this may be true. For example, you will remember dreams more if you are woken up by someone or by an alarm clock. This might be because you can still recall that dream memory while it is fresh but, if you wake up on your own, you will transition through a few sleep stages and possibly lose that dream memory. Dream recall changes with age, too. Older people are less likely to report dreaming. This could also be related to memory: since older people have weaker memories, it could be that they dream but cannot remember their dreams by the time they wake up. A brain area called the medial prefrontal cortex is also related to dream recall. If this brain area is damaged, the person recalls few dreams, which may mean the person dreams less (or not at all). Also, how tightly packed the brain cells are in the medial prefrontal cortex can vary from person to person, which may cause some healthy people to dream more or less than other healthy people. There are also genes that affect how much REM sleep people get. People with less REM sleep may not have the strange dreams that tend to come in REM. So, how long you sleep, your age, and your genetics may all explain why you dream more or less than someone else.

Do dreams actually happen while we sleep, or are they ideas that come to us when we wake up and we just “feel” like it happened during sleep? A recent study using a type of brain imaging called magnetic resonance imaging or (MRI: Read more in the Young Minds article “How Is Magnetic Resonance Imaging Used to Learn About the Brain?” [ 3 ]) helped answer this question ( Figure 1A ). The scientists made maps of the brain activity that occurred when people looked at pictures of things—keys, beds, airplanes. Later, the people in the study slept in the MRI machine. The scientists matched the pattern of brain activity from the people as they slept to brain activity patterns for the pictures they viewed earlier, and then chose the best match ( Figures 1B,C ). This match predicted what the person said they dreamed about 60% of the time. Although 60% is not perfect, it is better than guessing! [ 4 ]. This means that dreams are created in the brain during sleep.

Figure 1 - (A) Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a way to investigate the brain.

  • Figure 1 - (A) Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a way to investigate the brain.
  • The person lies on a bed inside a giant magnet. (B) MRI can measure the structure of the brain and the areas of the brain that are active. (C) MRI was used to measure dreaming. First, while the participant was awake, they viewed thousands of pictures in the MRI. This told scientists the specific brain responses to specific pictures. Later, when the participant slept in the MRI, scientists measured the brain activity patterns and matched this to the brain responses to the pictures the participant saw when they were awake. Scientists guessed that the best match would tell them what the participant was dreaming about. By asking the participant about their dreams in the MRI, scientists found that the dreams did tend to match the pictures predicted by the brain activity.

Dreams Support Memories

What is the purpose of our dreams? Researchers have found that sleep is important for memory (see this Frontiers for Young Minds article ; “Thanks for the Memories…” [ 5 ]). Memories move from temporary storage in the hippocampus , a brain structure that is very important for short-term memory, to permanent storage in other parts of the brain. This makes the memories easier to remember later. Memories improve with sleep because the memories are replayed during sleep [ 6 ]. If you want to learn all the words to your favorite scene in a movie, you might re-watch that scene over and over again. The brain works the same way: neurons (brain cells) that are active with learning are active again and replay the learned material during sleep. This helps store the memory more permanently.

Memory replay may show up in our dreams. Dreams in non-REM sleep, when most memory replay happens, often contain normal people and objects from recent events. However, sleep switches between non-REM and REM sleep (see Figure 2 ). So, bizarre dreams in REM sleep may come from a combination of many different recent memories, which were replayed in non-REM sleep, and get jumbled up during REM sleep. If dreams help with memory processing, does that mean your memories are not being processed if you do not dream? No. Memories are moving to storage even if we do not dream.

Figure 2 - There are four types of sleep—REM sleep (purple) and three stages of non-REM sleep (blue).

  • Figure 2 - There are four types of sleep—REM sleep (purple) and three stages of non-REM sleep (blue).
  • REM stands for rapid eye movements, which happen during this stage of sleep. During REM sleep, muscle and brain activity also differ from other sleep stages. Characteristics of dreams tend to be different for each of these sleep stages.

Dreams Improve Creativity and Problem Solving

My daughter’s dream of a spaceship made a great story that she recited to me, and later, to her classmates. The images were intense and interesting, inspiring her to draw scenes in a notebook and write about the dream for school. This is an example of how dreams can help make us more creative. Mary Shelley, the author of the book Frankenstein, got the idea for her book from a dream. Even scientists get ideas from dreams [ 7 ].

To measure creative problem solving, scientists used a remote associates task, in which three unrelated words are shown, and the person is to come up with a word they have in common. For instance, HEART, SIXTEEN, and COOKIES seem unrelated until you realize they all are related to SWEET (sweetheart, sweet sixteen, and cookies are sweet) ( Figure 3 ). The scientists wanted to see whether sleep helped people do better on this task. They found that people were better at thinking of the remote solution if they had a nap, particularly a nap with REM sleep. Given that REM is when most bizarre dreaming occurs, this supports the idea that these dreams might help us find creative solutions to problems [ 8 ].

Figure 3 - REM sleep helps people find creative solutions.

  • Figure 3 - REM sleep helps people find creative solutions.
  • In the morning, participants did two tasks to test creativity and problem solving (A) . They did one task again in the afternoon. In between, they either stayed awake (“wake” group) or took a nap. Those that took naps either did not have REM sleep in their nap (“nREM” group) or had both nREM and REM sleep (“nREM + REM” group). (B) If subjects stayed awake between the morning and afternoon tests (yellow bar), they did not improve on the task. They also did not improve if they had a nap that was only nREM sleep (light blue bar). But, if they had a nap with both nREM and REM sleep, they did better in the afternoon compared with when they did the task in the morning (dark blue bar). So, REM sleep must help us find creative solutions (from Cai et al. [ 8 ]).

This study and research like it gives us reason to believe that REM dreams may help us be more creative and solve problems. Many different memories may be activated at the same time and when these memories are mixed together, the result when we wake up may be both the memory of a strange dream and a unique perspective on problems.

Dreams Regulate Our Moods and Emotions

Dreams are usually emotional. One study found that most dreams are scary, angry, or sad.

Dreams might seem to be emotional simply because we tend to remember emotional things better than non-emotional things. For example, in waking life, the day you got a puppy is more memorable than a normal school day. So, dreams about emotional events might be remembered more easily than boring, non-emotional dreams. It is also possible that dreams are emotional because one job of dreams is to help us process emotions from our day [ 9 ]. This may be why the amygdala , an area of the brain that responds to emotions when we are awake, is active during REM sleep. If you had a sad day, you are more likely to have sad dreams. But, sleep also improves mood–sleep after a disagreement or sad event will make you happier.

Dreams could also help prepare us for emotional events, through something called threat simulation theory [ 10 ]. For example, when I dreamt that my young daughter, who could not swim, fell into a swimming pool, recall of that dream convinced me to sign her up for swim lessons. By simulating this fearful situation, I could prevent it by being prepared.

These studies show us that sleep and dreams are important for our emotions. By processing emotions in sleep, we may be better prepared and in a better mood the next day.

Conclusions

There are different ways scientists measure dreams—from asking questions to using MRI. These studies show us that activity in the brain while we sleep gives us the interesting dreams we recall when we wake up. These dreams help us remember things, be more creative, and process our emotions.

We know most kids do not get enough sleep. Some diseases (like Alzheimer’s disease) also make people sleep less, while others (like REM sleep behavior disorder and mood disorders) affect dreams directly. It is important to study sleep and dreams to understand what happens when we do not get enough sleep and how we can treat people with these diseases.

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) : ↑ A stage of sleep in which the eyes move rapidly and there is no muscle activity.

Medial Prefrontal Cortex : ↑ A specific area in the front of the brain that is associated with dream recall but also has a role in memory and decision-making.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) : ↑ A tool used to take pictures of internal body parts (including the brain). MRI can also be used to measure the activity in the brain.

Hippocampus : ↑ An area in the brain that is thought to be important for short-term memory.

Neuron : ↑ A cell in the nervous system (brain and spinal cord) that can transmit information to other cells.

Amygdala : ↑ An area of the brain involved in the experience of emotions.

Threat Simulation Theory : ↑ A theory of dreaming that says that threats (things that could be bad) are simulated or practiced in your dreams to prepare you for those situations when you are awake.

1. ↑ Zandra, A. L., Nielsen, T. A., and Donderi, D. C. 1998. Prevalence of auditory, olfactory, and gustatory experiences in home dreams. Percept. Mot. Skills 87:819–26.

2. ↑ Schredl, M. 2002. Questionnaires and diaries as research instruments in dream research: methodological issues. Dreaming 12:17–26. doi: 10.1023/A:1013890421674

3. ↑ Hoyos, P., Kim, N., and Kastner, S. 2019. How Is Magnetic Resonance Imaging Used to Learn About the Brain? Front. Young Minds . 7:86. doi: 10.3389/frym.2019.00086

4. ↑ Horikawa, T., Tamaki, M., Miyawaki, Y., and Kamitani, T. 2013. Neural decoding of visual imagery during sleep. Science 340:639–42. doi: 10.1126/science.1234330

5. ↑ Davachi, L., and Shohamy, D. 2014. Thanks for the Memories.… Front. Young Minds. 2:23. doi: 10.3389/frym.2014.00023

6. ↑ O’Neill, J., Senior, T. J., Allen, K., Huxter, J. R., and Csicsvari, J. 2008. Reactivation of experience-dependent cell assembly patterns in the hippocampus. Nat. Neurosci . 11:209–15. doi: 10.1038/nn2037

7. ↑ Barrett, D. 2001. The Committee of Sleep: How artists, scientists, and athletes use dreams for creative problem-solving–and How You Can Too . New York, NY: Crown.

8. ↑ Cai, D. J., Mednick, S. A., Harrison, E. M., Kanady, J. C., and Mednick, S. C. 2009. REM, not incubation, improves creativity by priming associative networks. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A . 106:10130–4. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0900271106

9. ↑ Cremone, A., Kurdziel, L. B. F., Fraticelli, A., McDermott, J., and Spencer, R. M. C. 2017. Napping reduces emotional attention bias during early childhood. Dev. Sci . 20:e12411. doi: 10.1111/desc.12411

10. ↑ Revonsuo, A. 2000. The reinterpretation of dreams: an evolutionary hypothesis of the function of dreaming. Behav. Brain Sci . 23:877–901. doi: 10.1017/s0140525x00004015

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Mind & Body Articles & More

Why your brain needs to dream, research shows that dreaming is not just a byproduct of sleep, but serves its own important functions in our well-being..

We often hear stories of people who’ve learned from their dreams or been inspired by them. Think of Paul McCartney’s story of how his hit song “Yesterday” came to him in a dream or of Mendeleev’s dream-inspired construction of the periodic table of elements.

But, while many of us may feel that our dreams have special meaning or a useful purpose, science has been more skeptical of that claim. Instead of being harbingers of creativity or some kind of message from our unconscious, some scientists have considered dreaming to be an unintended consequence of sleep—a byproduct of evolution without benefit.

Sleep itself is a different story. Scientists have known for a while now that shorter sleep is tied to dangerous diseases, like heart disease and stroke . There is mounting evidence that sleep deprivation leads to a higher risk of obesity and Alzheimer’s disease . Large population studies reflect a saddening truth—the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life . Not only that, sleep helps us to hold onto our memories and to learn facts and skills faster, making it important for everyone including infants, students, athletes, pilots, and doctors.

research articles about dreams

Much of this I outline in my new book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams , which summarizes the many findings we have about sleep and its function in our lives.

But what about dreaming? Does it also have a purpose?

Recent work in my neuroscience lab and the work of other scientists has shown that dreams may have a very particular function important to our well-being. Here are the two main ways dreams help us.

Dreaming is like overnight therapy

It’s said that time heals all wounds, but my research suggests that time spent in dream sleep is what heals. REM-sleep dreaming appears to take the painful sting out of difficult, even traumatic, emotional episodes experienced during the day, offering emotional resolution when you awake the next morning.

REM sleep is the only time when our brain is completely devoid of the anxiety-triggering molecule noradrenaline. At the same time, key emotional and memory-related structures of the brain are reactivated during REM sleep as we dream. This means that emotional memory reactivation is occurring in a brain free of a key stress chemical, which allows us to re-process upsetting memories in a safer, calmer environment.

More on Sleep

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Learn why sleep is key to peak performance .

How do we know this is so? In one study in my sleep center, healthy young adult participants were divided into two groups to watch a set of emotion-inducing images while inside an MRI scanner. Twelve hours later, they were shown the same emotional images—but for half the participants, the twelve hours were in the same day, while for the other half the twelve hours were separated by an evening of sleep.

Those who slept in between the two sessions reported a significant decrease in how emotional they felt in response to seeing those images again, and their MRI scans showed a significant reduction in reactivity in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain that creates painful feelings. Moreover, there was a reengagement of the rational prefrontal cortex of the brain after sleep that helped maintain a dampening influence on emotional reactivity. In contrast, those who remained awake across the day showed no such dissolving of emotional reactivity over time.

That in itself doesn’t say anything about the role of dreaming. But we had recorded each participant’s sleep during the intervening night between the two test sessions, and we found that specific brain activity that reflected a drop in stress-related brain chemistry during the dream state determined the success of overnight therapy from one individual to the next.

Dreaming has the potential to help people de-escalate emotional reactivity, probably because the emotional content of dreams is paired with a decrease in brain noradrenaline. Support for this idea came from a study done by Murray Raskind on vets with PTSD, who often suffer debilitating nightmares. When given the drug Prazosin—a medication that lowers blood pressure and also acts as a blocker of the brain stress chemical noradrenaline—the vets in his study had fewer nightmares and fewer PTSD symptoms than those given a placebo. Newer studies suggest this effect can be shown in children and adolescents with nightmares, as well, though the research on this is still in its infancy.

The evidence points toward an important function of dreams: to help us take the sting out of our painful emotional experiences during the hours we are asleep, so that we can learn from them and carry on with our lives.

Dreaming enhances creativity and problem-solving

It’s been shown that deep non-REM sleep strengthens individual memories. But REM sleep is when those memories can be fused and blended together in abstract and highly novel ways. During the dreaming state, your brain will cogitate vast swaths of acquired knowledge and then extract overarching rules and commonalties, creating a mindset that can help us divine solutions to previously impenetrable problems.

How do we know dreaming and not just sleep is important to this process?

In one study , we tested this by waking up participants during the night—during both non-REM sleep and dreaming sleep—and gave them very short tests: solving anagram puzzles, where you try to unscramble letters to form a word (e.g., OSEOG = GOOSE). First, participants were tested beforehand, just to familiarize them with the test. Then, we monitored their sleep and woke them up at different points of the night to perform the test. When woken during non-REM sleep, they were not particularly creative—they could solve very few puzzles. But, when we woke up participants during REM sleep, they were able to solve 15-35 percent more puzzles than when they were awake. Not only that, participants woken while dreaming reported that the solution just “popped” into their heads, as if it were effortless.

In another study , I and my colleagues taught participants a series of relational facts—such as, A>B, B>C, C>D, and so on—and tested their understanding by asking them questions (e.g., Is B>D or not? ). Afterwards, we compared their performance on this test before and after a full night’s sleep, and also after they’d had a 60- to 90-minute nap that included REM sleep. Those who’d slept or had a long nap performed much better on this test than when they were awake, as if they’d put together disparate pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in their sleep.

Some may consider this trivial, but it is one of the key operations differentiating your brain from your computer. It also underlies the difference between knowledge (retention of individual facts) and wisdom (knowing what they all mean when you fit them together). The latter seems to be the work of REM-sleep dreaming.

“It’s said that time heals all wounds, but my research suggests that time spent in dream sleep is what heals”

Dreaming improves creative problem solving, too, according to another study . Participants learned to navigate a virtual maze using trial and error and aided by the placement of unique objects—like Christmas trees—at certain junctions in the maze. After this learning session, the group was split in two, with half napping and half watching a video for 90 minutes. Nappers were occasionally awoken to ask about the content of their dreams; those watching a video were also asked about thoughts going through their minds.

Afterwards, the participants again tried to solve the maze, and those who napped were significantly better at it than those who didn’t, as expected. But the nappers who reported dreaming about the maze were 10 times better at the task than those who napped and didn’t dream about the maze. There’s a reason you’ve never been told to stay awake on a problem.

Looking at the content of these dreams, it was clear that the participants didn’t dream a precise replay of the learning experience while awake. Instead, they were cherry-picking salient fragments of the learning experience and attempting to place them within the catalog of preexisting knowledge. This is how dreaming helps us be more creative.

While the benefits of dreaming are real, too many of us have problems getting a full eight hours of sleep and lose out on these advantages. Alternatively, we may think we’re the exception to the rule—that we’re one of those people who doesn’t happen to need a lot of sleep. But nothing could be further from the truth. Research clearly shows that people who overestimate their ability to get by on less sleep are sadly wrong.

Five ways to enhance your sleep

So how can we be sure to get enough sleep and experience a dream state? While we may be tempted to use sleeping pills to get to sleep, this has been shown to be detrimental to dreaming. Instead of taking pills, here are some simple ways to enhance your sleep:

1. Make sure your room is dark and that you are not looking at bright light sources—i.e., computer screens and cell phones—in the last hour or two before going to bed. You may even want to start dimming lights in your house in the earlier parts of the evening, which helps to stimulate sleepiness.

2. Go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day. This helps signal to your body a regular time for sleeping. It’s no use trying to sleep in a lot on weekends. There is no way to make up for regular sleep loss during the week.

3. Keep the temperature in your house cool at night—maybe even cooler than you think it should be, like around 65 degrees. Your body temperature needs to drop at night for sleep, and a lower room temperature helps signal your brain that it’s time to sleep.

4. If you have trouble falling asleep, or wake in the night feeling restless, don’t stay in bed awake. That trains the brain that your bed is not a place for sleeping. Instead, get up and read a book under dim light in a different room. Don’t look at your computer or cell phone. When sleepiness returns, then go back to bed. Or if you don’t want to get out of bed, try meditating. Studies suggest it helps individuals fall asleep faster, and also improves sleep quality.

5. Don’t have caffeine late in the day or an alcohol-infused nightcap. Both of these interfere with sleep—either keeping you awake or stimulating frequent wake-ups during the night.

Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to rest our brain and physical health each day. Atop of sleep, dreaming provides essential emotional first aid and a unique form of informational alchemy. If we wish to be as healthy, happy, and creative as possible, these are facts well worth waking up to.

About the Author

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Matthew Walker

Matthew Walker is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, and the director of the university’s Center for Human Sleep Science .

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International Association for the Study of Dreams

International Association for the Study of Dreams

Journal: Dreaming

Dreaming journal of the association for the study of dreams.

Dreaming is a peer-reviewed multidisciplinary journal devoted specifically to dreaming.

The journal publishes scholarly articles related to dreams from any discipline and viewpoint. This includes biological aspects of dreaming and sleep/dream laboratory research; psychological articles of any kind related to dreaming; clinical work on dreams regardless of theoretical perspective (Freudian, Jungian, existential, eclectic, etc.); anthropological, sociological, and philosophical articles related to dreaming; and articles about dreaming from any of the arts and humanities.

The journal Dreaming has a 2011 impact factor of 0.841, ranking it 68th out of 125 journals in the category “Psychology, Multidisciplinary”

  • Editorial Staff  / Contact the Editor
  • APA Publisher
  • Manuscript Submission Guidelines
  • Pricing and Subscription Information [for non-IASD members]
  • Pricing for individual articles in Dreaming journal [APA PsychArticlest]
  • List of Issues / Abstracts
  • Online Articles

DREAMING – IASD’S SCHOLARLY AND MULTIDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL

Because of its large and diverse membership IASD is now able to cover the full range of activities and output that would be expected of an organization “dedicated to the pure and applied investigation of dreams and dreaming.” Part of that range of activities and output is IASD’s scholarly journal, Dreaming . Below are answers to some common questions about the journal.

Why is the journal important to IASD?

The journal ensures that IASD, while covering applied and personal aspects of working with dreams, also covers the publishing of original scholarly works (which can of course be about applied and personal work, as well as being from various academic disciplines). This publishing adds prestige to the work that IASD undertakes in Continuing Education, public education, and the holding of conferences. The journal also acts as outreach to various scholarly and therapeutic communities world-wide, showing them that such work on dreams can be done, and enables IASD to appear in many places as the broadcaster of the work. Dream Time also publishes original scholarly works, usually shorter articles, and these similarly get IASD cited world-wide as the organization stimulating and broadcasting the work.

Why is the journal important to scholarly work on dreams?

There are many journals that compete with Dreaming to publish research articles on dreaming. However, those journals are usually within one specific field, such as the study of personality, or ethnology, and so our journal enables authors, where they could probably have got the article into a single discipline type of journal if they wanted to, to instead publish alongside articles from other disciplines, but all of which have dreams as their subject. This can lead to future multidisciplinary work, as researchers get to read articles about dreams from disciplines they may be unfamiliar with. It also enables individuals whose interest is mainly dreams to receive a broad range of articles just on dreams.

What happens to manuscripts that are submitted to the journal?

Manuscripts are read by 3-6 reviewers, from within and outside the discipline of the author. The reviewers are not told the name(s) of the author(s), although they can sometimes guess it, and the authors are not told who has reviewed it. Each reviewer writes a report on the article, assessing its strengths and weaknesses, and making constructive comments and suggestions. This stage should take 3-4 months, with each reviewer making a recommendation about the manuscript:

1) that it be accepted as it is – this is very rare, even the best researchers make mistakes about what should or should not be in the article, or are unclear about what they mean; 2) that it be accepted subject to modification – this is a common recommendation where the value of the work is obvious, but where some deficiencies in the manuscript need to be addressed; maybe there has been insufficient acknowledgement of previous work, or previous work is acknowledged that is in fact irrelevant; 3) that the author(s) be invited to resubmit the work with major changes – this is where the value of the work is unclear, but the authors are given another chance to make their case, or, in the case of experimental work, even to undertake further experiments; 4) rejection .

The Editor then makes a decision based on what the reviewers have written and recommended, and this is communicated to the author. If the final decision is 2) above, then authors will often take up to 2 months to rewrite, if 3), then it can take up to 6 months.

If you want to have your name on the list of available reviewers, then please inform the Editor-in-Chief, with mention of your areas of interest .

What other checks are there on the quality of the journal?

Each year the world’s top 6000 journals, from science, social science, and the arts and humanities, are assessed by Journal Citation Reports for how frequently their articles are referred to: In other words, we can ask the questions, Have articles in Dreaming provoked further research? Are articles in Dreaming worth referring to? Journal Citation Reports measures how often articles in each journal are cited, that is, how many people reading a journal cite it in work they are writing. Dreaming does well on this, being quoted above the average. Just looking at some of the journals that start with A, Dreaming is being cited more than the journals Adolescence, Applied Nursing Research, Aids Patient Care Studies, Africa, American Criminal Law Review, Adult Education Quarterly, Anthropology Quarterly, Ageing Society, Australian Journal of Psychology, American Political Quarterly, American Journal of Psychotherapy, and American Journal of Art Therapy. These are just a few of the journals starting with A that Dreaming exceeds in level of world citation. It also exceeds GLQ-Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, American Journal of Psychology, and Canadian Psychologist, and we are just behind Creativity Research Journal. Hopefully with its 3 publication outlets ( Dreaming , Dream Time , and the website) IASD will be not just the publisher of the majority of the world’s original works on dreaming, but Dreaming (and hence IASD) could be the most cited source of new scholarly work on dreaming, and a model of a multidisciplinary journal that others may copy.

The journal DREAMING has a 2011 impact factor of 0.841, ranking it 68th out of 125 journals in the category “Psychology, Multidisciplinary”

Why are the articles so detailed?

Even if an article is of interest you may not need or want to read every word of it, some people may be more interested in the conclusions, others in how the work was done, others just want a brief summary of the whole thing. The article has to satisfy a wide range of readers and researchers, some of whom may be reading the article 20 years from now. Take the example of the discovery of REM sleep, we all know something about this subject, much of it is in public knowledge, in TV documentaries, or in summary articles and popular works. But as well as having the summaries and the speculations and the popular works and the subsequent research based on the discovery, there has to be an archived full account, available for future generations, of the discovery of REM sleep. This enables others to copy and repeat what was done, in order to check that the research and results are true. For example, in the original paper in 1953 reporting that dreams occur during REM sleep, there is detail about how the researchers defined dreams. This led to subsequent work that found that with a laxer criterion for calling a report a dream then dreams could also be found in non-REM sleep. The important point is that somewhere the full details of work done has to be recorded. IASD has decided that it will, in addition to all its other activities, publish a journal as such a detailed archive.

Detailed, but readable at one sitting?!

There have been many articles in Dreaming that are not only detailed, but are readable at one sitting too! The following is a personal, partial, and necessarily brief selection. “Nightmare Frequency and Related Sleep Disturbance as Indicators of a History of Sexual Abuse”; “Effect of Encouragement on Dream Recall”; “Perestroika of the Self: Dreaming in the U.S.S.R.”; “How Might We Explain the Parallels Between Freud’s 1895 Irma Dream and his 1923 Cancer?”; “Making Connections in a Safe Place: Is Dreaming Psychotherapy?”; all of Carla Hill’s papers on the effects of associating to dreams; “Dreams Following Hurricane Andrew”; “Anxiety Dreams in School-Aged Children”; “A Dream Is a Poem, A Metaphorical Analysis”; “The Dream as a Tool for Historical Research: Reexamining Life in Eighteenth Century Virginia Through the Dreams of a Gentleman: William Byrd, II, 1674-1744”; “Preconscious Mental Activity and Scientific Problem-Solving: A Critique of The Kekulé Dream Controversy”; “Just How Lucid are Lucid Dreams?”; “Dreaming in a Totalitarian Society; A Reading of Charlotte Beradt’s The Third Reich of Dreams”, “The Presentation of Dreaming and Dreams in Introductory Psychology Textbooks: A Critical Examination with Suggestions for Textbook Authors and Course Instructors”; “Freud’s Dream of the Botanical Monograph and Cocaine the Wonder Drug”; “Touring the Dream Factory: The Dream-Film Connection in The Wizard of Oz and A Nightmare on Elm Street”

Dreaming is multidisciplinary

The issues of Dreaming will obviously be appreciated by more readers if they each have a wide disciplinary range, and the aim has been to achieve that in each issue (except where it’s a special issue), assuming that articles of sufficient quality are available at the time. In order to keep up interest of the wider IASD membership in the journal, we have started summarizing individual Dreaming articles in Dream Time , with the possibility of including in Dream Time explanatory material that may not be, or cannot be, in the original articles.

New developments

All of the past abstracts of articles from Dreaming are on the IASD website here at www.asdreams.org. IASD volunteers are also in process of making one complete article per issue of Dreaming available to the public on the online Dreaming articles page. There are also invited website articles that provide commentaries on particular journal articles, and there is a discussion bulletin board for detailed discussion by anyone of individual articles.

If you have any questions or comments about the journal, please send them to the Editor-in-Chief, Deirdre Barrett, PhD.

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Science News

Here’s what lucid dreamers might tell us about our sleeping minds.

Dreams are one of the most universal yet elusive human experiences

illustration of a person wearing pajamas flying through the air with blue a pink hues

Most people rarely lucid dream. But some people can do it regularly and even gain control over these alternate realities.

RUNE FISKER

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By Maria Temming

August 27, 2023 at 9:00 am

When Christopher Mazurek realizes he’s dreaming, it’s always the small stuff that tips him off.

The first time it happened, Mazurek was a freshman at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. In the dream, he found himself in a campus dining hall. It was winter, but Mazurek wasn’t wearing his favorite coat.

“I realized that, OK, if I don’t have the coat, I must be dreaming,” Mazurek says. That epiphany rocked the dream like an earthquake. “Gravity shifted, and I was flung down a hallway that seemed to go on for miles,” he says. “My left arm disappeared, and then I woke up.”

Most people rarely if ever realize that they’re dreaming while it’s happening, what’s known as lucid dreaming. But some enthusiasts have cultivated techniques to become self-aware in their sleep and even wrest some control over their dream selves and settings. Mazurek, 24, says that he’s gotten better at molding his lucid dreams since that first whirlwind experience, sometimes taking them as opportunities to try flying or say hi to deceased family members.

Other lucid dreamers have used their personal virtual realities to plumb their subconscious minds for insights or feast on junk food without real-world consequences. But now, scientists have a new job for lucid dreamers: to explore their dreamscapes and report out in real time.

Dream research has traditionally relied on reports collected after someone wakes up. But people often wake with only spotty, distorted memories of what they dreamed. The dreamers can’t say exactly when events occurred, and they certainly can’t tailor their dreams to specific scientific studies.

Gravity shifted, and I was flung down a hallway that seemed to go on for miles.… My left arm disappeared, and then I woke up. Christopher Mazurek

A photo of Christopher Mazurek during a lucid dream study

“The special thing about lucid dreaming is that you can get even closer to dream content and in a much more controlled and systematic fashion,” says Martin Dresler, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Donders Institute in Nijmegen, Netherlands.

Lucid dreamers who can perform assigned tasks and communicate with researchers during a dream open up tantalizing opportunities to study an otherwise untouchable realm. They are like the astronauts of the dream world, serving as envoys to the mysterious inner spaces created by slumbering minds.

So far, tests in very small groups of lucid dreamers suggest that the strange realities we visit in sleep may be experienced more like the real world than imagined ones. With more emissaries enlisted, researchers hope to probe how sleeping brains construct their elaborate, often bizarre plots and set pieces. Besides satisfying age-old curiosity, this work may point to new ways to treat nightmares. Lucid dream studies could also offer clues about how dreams contribute to creativity, regulating emotions or other cognitive jobs — helping solve the grand mystery of why we dream.

But there are still a lot of problems to solve before lucid dreaming research can really take off. Chief among them is that very few dreamers can become lucid on demand in the lab. Those who can often struggle to do scientists’ bidding or communicate with the waking world. Pinpointing the best techniques to give more people more lucid dreams may assuage those issues. But even if it does, not all scientists agree on what lucid dreams can tell us about the far more common, nonlucid kind.

Are lucid dreams real?

Tales of lucid dreams date back to antiquity. Aristotle may have been the first to mention them in Western literature in his treatise On Dreams . “Often when one is asleep,” he wrote, “there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream.”

If Aristotle had lucid dreams often, though, he was probably an outlier. Only about half of people say they’ve ever had a lucid dream , while a mere 1 percent or so say they lucid dream multiple times a week. Modern enthusiasts use various techniques to boost their likelihood of lucid dreaming — such as repeatedly telling themselves before bedtime that they will have a lucid dream, or making a habit of checking whether they’re awake several times a day in the hopes that this routine carries over into their dreams, where a self-check may help them realize they’re asleep. But those practices don’t guarantee lucidity.

The rarity of lucid dreaming may be why modern science took some convincing that it’s even real. For millennia, lucid dreamers’ own testimonies were the only evidence that someone could be self-aware while catching z’s. Some scientists wondered if so-called lucid dreams were just brief waking hallucinations between bouts of sleep.

But within the last few decades, experiments have offered proof that lucid dreams are truly what they seem. It turns out, when someone in a dream purposely sweeps their gaze all the way left, then all the way right, their eyes can match those movements behind closed lids in real life. These motions, measured by electrodes near the eyes, stand out from the smaller optical jitters typical of REM sleep, when most lucid dreams happen. This gives dreamers a crude way to signal they’ve become lucid or send other messages to the outside world ( SN: 9/19/81, p. 183 ). Meanwhile, brain waves and muscle paralysis throughout the rest of the body confirm that the dreamer is indeed asleep.

Eyes on eye movements

A person’s eyes can smoothly track left and right movements when they are awake or in a lucid dream. But when someone closes their eyes and tries to imagine tracking that motion, their eyes pan in small jumps, suggesting that lucid dreams are experienced more like waking perception.

three graphs show the direction of eye movement during waking perception, lucid dreaming and imagination

Neuroscientists are just beginning to realize the potential of that line of communication. Lucid dream research “has been enjoying a renaissance over the last decade,” says neuroscientist Tore Nielsen. He directs the Dream & Nightmare Laboratory at the Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine in Montreal. “This renaissance has made it one of the cutting-edge areas of dream study.”

One research team recently deployed experienced lucid dreamers to find out whether dream imagery is more like real-life visuals or imagined ones. While asleep, six lucid dreamers moved their thumbs in either a circle or a line (or both) and traced that motion with their eyes. Participants repeated the same task while awake with their eyes open and in their imaginations with their eyes closed. People’s gazes panned jerkily when they tracked the imagined movements, as though they were viewing something in low resolution. But in dreams, people’s eyes tracked the movements smoothly just as in real life, the team reported in 2018 in Nature Communications .

“It’s been debated really all the way back to the ancient Greeks, are dreams more like imagination, or is it more like perception?” says study coauthor Benjamin Baird, a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Austin. “The smooth tracking data suggests that, at least in that sense, the imagery is more like perception.”

This and other early experiments offer a taste of what dreamstronauts could teach us. But any conclusions based on just a handful of dreamers have to be taken with a grain of salt. “They’re more like proof-of-concept studies,” says Michelle Carr, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine. “It needs to be studied in bigger samples.”

That means finding — or creating — more expert lucid dreamers.

Strategies for lucid dreaming

If you want to have a lucid dream, there are a few strategies you can use to up your chances. Besides regularly questioning whether you’re awake and setting an intention before bed to become lucid, you can keep a dream diary. Getting familiar with common characters, events or themes in your dreams may help you recognize when you’re dreaming. Some aspiring lucid dreamers also use a tactic called “wake-back-to-bed.” They wake up extremely early in the morning, stay up for a while, then get more shut-eye. That jolt of alertness right before tumbling back into REM sleep may help them become lucid in a dream.

Such techniques can be hit-or-miss, though. And data on their effectiveness are still pretty murky, Baird says. One study with about 170 Australians, for instance, suggested that checking if you’re awake, setting an intention to become lucid and doing wake-back-to-bed all together can increase your odds of lucid dreaming . But it wasn’t as clear if using just one or two of those practices worked.

Investigations by Baird and others have shown that the supplement galantamine promotes lucid dreaming , probably by fiddling with neurotransmitters involved in REM sleep. But galantamine can be saddled with side effects such as nausea. And although lucidity itself does not appear to spoil sleep quality , the long-term effects of using galantamine are not well-known. “Personally, I wouldn’t be mucking around with my neurotransmitters every night,” Baird says.

In 2020, Carr and colleagues reported that they’d coaxed 14 of 28 nappers to become lucid in the lab — including three people who’d never before lucid dreamed — no drugs necessary. Before falling asleep, participants learned to associate a cue, such as a series of beeps, with self-awareness. Hearing the same sound again while sleeping reminded them to become lucid. Carr is particularly interested in finding out whether lucid dreaming can help people conquer nightmares, but researchers at Northwestern use the sensory cue strategy to get more lucid emissaries to carry out dream tasks for their experiments.

Galantamine as a dream aid

For three nights, 121 people combined commonly used strategies for lucid dreaming with one of three doses of galantamine. Those who took higher doses of galantamine were more likely to have lucid dreams.

Effect of galantamine dose on likelihood of lucid dreaming

graph showing the effect of galantamine dose in milligrams on likelihood of lucid dreaming, measured by the percentage of study participants who reported at least one lucid dream

“Our method is kind of a shortcut,” says Northwestern cognitive neuroscientist Ken Paller. It doesn’t require a lot of mental training or the grueling sleep interruptions that some other lucid dreaming techniques do.

Another shortcut for researchers is to recruit dreamers from a special slice of the population: people with narcolepsy, who are liable to fall asleep suddenly during the day.

“They’re just champions at lucid dreams,” says Isabelle Arnulf, a sleep neurologist who heads the sleep disorders clinic at Pitie-Salpetriere University Hospital in Paris.

In 2018, Arnulf’s team reported a study where 18 of 21 narcolepsy patients signaled lucidity during lab naps . Even with those impressive numbers, a couple of lucid nappers still couldn’t control their dreams well enough to complete their assignment: to do something in a dream that made them briefly stop breathing, such as swimming underwater or speaking. One said after waking that they’d simply forgotten to stop breathing while diving off a cliff, while another said they tried to speak but couldn’t get any words out.

Staying lucid and successfully wrangling dream scenarios present challenges for lucid dreamers — and the scientists relying on them. In one study, lucid dreamers instructed to fill a dream room with objects, such as a clock and a rubber snake, ran into problems ; the clock spun wildly, or the snake slithered away. In another experiment, lucid dreamers asked to practice throwing darts were waylaid by only having pencils to throw or being pelted with darts by a nasty doll.

“It’s a lot harder than just passively lucid dreaming in your bed,” says Mazurek, who has participated in several lucid dream studies at Northwestern. “You realize, ‘OK, I have to stabilize the dream. I have to remember what the task is. I have to do the task without the dream falling apart.’ ”

Missions to the moon may be hard, but at least astronauts don’t have to worry about forgetting who or where they are, or their spaceship suddenly turning into a banana.

Despite these challenges, lucid dream expeditions are forging ahead — and fast. In fact, an international crew of dreamfarers, including Mazurek, recently embarked on their most ambitious mission yet.

An illustration of a patient lucid dreaming surrounded by scientists and charts. Swirling above are another depiction of the patient holding a clock with snakes and other dream figures swirling around.

Real-time dream science

When it comes to getting on-the-ground data, interviewing dreamers in real time is, well, the dream. Instead of just sitting back and watching dreamers do various activities, researchers could ask these agents about their experiences moment to moment, painting the realm of dreams in sharper detail than ever before.

“Reports of dreamed sensations, [such as] tasting certain foods, can be compared with those of actual sensations,” Nielsen says. “Similarly, one could test whether sexual pleasure, certain sounds or other types of experiences are accurately simulated.” These details, he says, might help “probe the limits and mechanisms of dream production.”

Karen Konkoly is especially excited about giving people assignments mid-dream. Say researchers want to know how much dreams help with creative problem-solving. If dreamers are assigned a problem before sleep, they’re liable to mull it over as they nod off. “Even if it feels like the lucid dream, maybe it’s really the time as you’re falling asleep that helped you solve the problem,” says Konkoly, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern. Airdropping a puzzle straight into a dream could better isolate the usefulness of that specific part of sleep.

There’s a whole medley of theories about why people dream, from honing skills to tapping into creativity to processing memories or emotions. “But if you can’t control the dream in real time and then study the outcome, then you never know … if the dream is really doing anything,” Konkoly says. So a few years ago, she, Arnulf, Dresler and others decided to find out if people can receive and respond to outside input while dreaming.

Thirty-six people took snoozes at Northwestern, Arnulf’s lab, Dresler’s lab or another lab that was in Germany. Once sleepers signaled that they were lucid, researchers spoke yes-or-no questions or math problems in the sleepers’ ears. Or, for the Germans, lights flashing different colors conveyed math questions in Morse code. Before conking out, dreamers were told to answer whatever questions they received with eye signals or by smiling and frowning.

“Facial muscles are less inhibited than other muscles during REM sleep,” Arnulf explains. Someone smiling in a dream may not make that expression in real life, but electrodes on the face can register tiny corresponding muscle twitches.

Out of 158 attempts to interrogate lucid dreamers, 29 total correct responses came from six different people . Those six ranged from newbie to frequent lucid dreamers, including Mazurek, who heard scientists’ questions while dreaming he was in a Legend of Zelda game. The rest of the attempts yielded five wrong answers, 28 ambiguous ones and 96 nonresponses.

When Konkoly first saw someone correctly answer a question in their sleep, “my first reaction was to not believe it.” But for 26 of those 29 correct responses, a panel of independent sleep experts unanimously agreed that the dreamers were in the throes of REM sleep when they replied. Nearly 400 attempts to reach sleepers who hadn’t signaled lucidity netted a single correct response — bolstering the researchers’ confidence that correct answers from lucid dreamers weren’t flukes. The results appeared in 2021 in Current Biology .

Answering questions during a dream

While dreaming, Christopher Mazurek signaled the outside world by sweeping his eyes left and right. Electrodes on his face recorded those motions. On the graph below, Mazurek’s eye motions that indicate he is lucid appear as three big up-down sweeps. Eye signals answering “2” to researchers’ simple math question appear as two big up-down sweeps.

Lucid dreamer’s eye movements during a mid-dream conversation

graphic showing a lucid dreamer’s eye movements during a mid-dream conversation that lasted 30 seconds

“I was astonished,” says Robert Stickgold, a cognitive neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School who studies dreams but not lucid ones. “I had no question but that these people are in fact listening and are in fact having lucid dreams at the time of the communication — and that opens up all sorts of possibilities.”

Arnulf and others have since asked lucid dreamers to smile or frown as their dreams became more or less pleasant with the goal of understanding how dreamers experience emotion. Another study, not yet published, tracked when lucid dreamers answered or ignored researchers’ questions to see how people tuned in and out of the real world while dreaming. Knowing which signals break the dream-reality barrier could help “uncover the mechanism of the brain’s disconnection from the external world — which is huge,” Baird says. It could even be relevant for other states of unconsciousness, he adds, such as when someone is put under for surgery.

Limits of lucidity

Even if researchers get all the expert lucid dreamers they need to run all their desired experiments, there’s still one major sticking point to this whole field of study.

“The biggest issue is how far can you push these results to dreaming in general,” Stickgold says. Imagine, for instance, that lucid dreamers get better at a skill by practicing it in their dreams. It’s not clear that people who just happen to have normal dreams about doing those activities, without self-awareness, would reap the same rewards. “It’s a little bit like recruiting major league baseball players to give you some baseline data on how far people can throw balls,” Stickgold says.

Existing data do suggest that lucid dreamers may have access to parts of the brain that normal dreamers don’t. The lone case study comparing fMRIs of someone’s lucid and nonlucid REM sleep hints that brain areas linked with self-reflection and working memory are more active during lucidity. But those data come from just one person, and it’s not yet clear how such differences in brain activity would affect the outcomes of lucid dream experiments.

Brain clues to lucid dreams

Functional MRI scans of one sleeper’s brain during lucid and nonlucid sleep showed that some brain areas (highlighted) may be more active during lucid dreams than during normal sleep.

  • The lateral parietal cortex is involved in working memory.
  • The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and frontopolar cortex are involved in working memory and introspection.
  • Activity near the temporal cortex may make lucid dreams brighter and more detailed than normal dreams.

research articles about dreams

Some researchers, including Dresler, resist the idea that lucid dreams are profoundly different from nonlucid ones. “Lucid dreaming is not a strict all-or-nothing phenomenon,” he says, with people often fluttering in and out of awareness. “That suggests that lucid and nonlucid dreaming are in principle something very similar on the neural level and not two completely different animals.”

Perhaps lucidity affects some aspects of the dream experience but not all of them, Baird adds. In terms of how dreams look, he says, “it would be very, very surprising if it was somehow completely different when you become lucid.”

A more thorough inventory of the differences in brain activity between lucid and nonlucid dreams might help settle these questions. But even if lucid dreams don’t represent dreams in general, Nielsen still thinks they’re worth studying. “It is a type of consciousness that has intrigued and amused people for centuries,” he says. “It would be important for science to understand how and why humans have this extraordinary capacity for intentional world simulation.”

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Nuclear fusion: new record brings dream of clean energy closer

  • Published 8 February
  • comments Comments

Inside of JET reactor

Nuclear fusion has produced more energy than ever before in an experiment, bringing the world a step closer to the dream of limitless, clean power.

The new world record has been set at the UK-based JET laboratory.

Nuclear fusion is the process that powers stars. Scientists believe it could produce vast amounts of energy without heating up our atmosphere.

European scientists working at the site said "we have achieved things we've never done before".

The result came from the lab's final experiment after more than 40 years of fusion research.

Andrew Bowie, UK Minister for Nuclear, called it a "fitting swansong".

Nuclear fusion breakthrough – what is it and how does it work?

  • Fusion energy pushed back beyond 2050

Nuclear fusion is the process that powers the Sun. It works by heating and forcing tiny particles together to make a heavier one which releases useful energy.

If successfully scaled up to commercial levels it could produce endless amounts of clean energy without carbon emissions. And crucially unlike wind and solar energy would not be at the mercy of weather conditions.

But as Dr Aneeqa Khan, Research Fellow in Nuclear Fusion, University of Manchester explained, this is not straightforward.

"In order for the atoms to fuse together on Earth, we need temperatures ten times hotter than the Sun - around 100 million celsius, and we need a high enough density of the atoms and for a long enough time," she explained.

The experiments produced 69 megajoules of energy over five seconds. That is only enough energy for four to five hot baths - so not a lot.

It is clear we are still a long way off from nuclear fusion power plants, but with every experiment it is bringing us one step closer.

Prof Stuart Mangles, Head of the Space, Plasma and Climate Research Community, Imperial College London, said: "The new results from JET's final run are very exciting.

"This result really highlights the power of international collaboration, these results wouldn't have been possible without the work of hundreds of scientists and engineers from across Europe."

The Joint European Torus (JET) facility, was constructed in Culham in Oxford in the late 1970s and until the end of last year was the world's most advanced experimental fusion reactor. All experiments ceased in December.

Although based in the UK it was funded predominantly by the EU nuclear research programme, Euratom, and operated by the UK Atomic Energy Agency. For four decades it hosted scientists from the UK, Europe, Switzerland and Ukraine.

The reactor was only meant to be operational for a decade or so but repeated successes saw its life extended. The result announced today is triple what was achieved in similar tests back in 1997.

Prof Ambrogio Fasoli, programme manager at EUROfusion, said: "Our successful demonstration... instils greater confidence in the development of fusion energy. Beyond setting a new record, we achieved things we've never done before and deepened our understanding of fusion physics."

UK Minister for Nuclear and Networks, Andrew Bowie, said: "JET's final fusion experiment is a fitting swansong after all the ground-breaking work that has gone into the project since 1983. We are closer to fusion energy than ever before thanks to the international team of scientists and engineers in Oxfordshire."

Scientists celebrate in control room of JET

But the future role of the UK in European fusion research has been unclear. Since Brexit the UK has been locked out of the Euratom programme and last year the government made the decision not to re-join.

Instead the government said it would commit £650m to national research programmes instead.

The Euratom successor to JET is a facility called ITER that will be based in France. Originally planned to be open in 2016 and cost around 5bn euros, its price has since roughly quadrupled and its start-up pushed back to 2025. Full-scale experiments are now not foreseen until at least 2035.

Although no reason was given for the UK government's decision not to re-join Euratom the delays with ITER are believed to have played a part. At the time a spokesperson for the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero said: "Given delays to association and the direction of travel of these EU programmes, an alternative approach gives the UK the best opportunity to deliver our fusion strategy."

At the announcement of the record on Thursday, Ian Chapman, from UKAEA, did say that discussions were still ongoing with European partners to see how the UK could be involved with ITER in the future.

The government is now hoping to build the world's first fusion power plant in Nottinghamshire with operations beginning in the 2040s. The Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) project will be delivered by a new nuclear body, the UK Industrial Fusion Solutions.

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The Effects of Sleep Quality on Dream and Waking Emotions

Francesca conte.

1 Department of Psychology, University of Campania L. Vanvitelli, Viale Ellittico 31, 81100 Caserta, Italy; [email protected] (O.D.R.); [email protected] (M.L.R.); [email protected] (G.F.)

Nicola Cellini

2 Department of General Psychology, University of Padova, Via Venezia 8, 35131 Padova, Italy; [email protected]

3 Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Padova, Via Ugo Bassi 58/B, 35131 Padova, Italy

4 Padova Neuroscience Center, University of Padova, Via Giuseppe Orus 2, 35131 Padova, Italy

5 Human Inspired Technology Center, University of Padova, Via Luzzatti 4, 35121 Padova, Italy

Oreste De Rosa

Marissa lynn rescott, serena malloggi.

6 Department NEUROFARBA, University of Firenze, Via di San Salvi 12, 50135 Firenze, Italy; [email protected] (S.M.); [email protected] (F.G.)

Fiorenza Giganti

Gianluca ficca, associated data.

The data presented in this study are available on request from the corresponding author. The data are not publicly available due to privacy reasons.

Despite the increasing interest in sleep and dream-related processes of emotion regulation, their reflection into waking and dream emotional experience remains unclear. We have previously described a discontinuity between wakefulness and dreaming, with a prevalence of positive emotions in wakefulness and negative emotions during sleep. Here we aim to investigate whether this profile may be affected by poor sleep quality. Twenty-three ‘Good Sleepers’ (GS) and 27 ‘Poor Sleepers’ (PS), identified through the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) cut-off score, completed three forms of the modified Differential Emotions Scale, assessing, respectively, the frequency of 22 emotions over the past 2 weeks, their intensity during dreaming and during the previous day. The ANOVA revealed a different pattern of emotionality between groups: GS showed high positive emotionality in wakefulness (both past 2 weeks and 24 h) with a significant shift to negative emotionality in dreams, while PS showed evenly distributed emotional valence across all three conditions. No significant regression model emerged between waking and dream affect. In the frame of recent hypotheses on the role of dreaming in emotion regulation, our findings suggest that the different day/night expression of emotions between groups depends on a relative impairment of sleep-related processes of affect regulation in poor sleepers. Moreover, these results highlight the importance of including sleep quality assessments in future dream studies.

1. Introduction

The interaction between sleep and affective brain function has received attention only in the last couple of decades. As pointed out by Walker and van der Helm [ 1 ], this delay appears surprising in light of two observations. On one hand, there is significant overlap between sleep physiology and the brain networks and neurochemical processes involved in affective modulation; in addition, sleep dysfunctions co-occur with remarkable frequency in most affective psychiatric disorders [ 1 ].

Despite the dearth of past research on the topic, recent work has begun to point out the importance of sleep for the regulation of emotions (see, e.g., [ 2 ] for a recent review). The role of sleep in affective processing is generally explained in light of the peculiar neurophysiology of sleep, and REM sleep in particular (see, e.g., [ 1 , 3 ]). In fact, this sleep state is associated with a relative deactivation of several areas of the neocortex [ 4 , 5 ], paralleling an increased activity in subcortical regions [ 4 , 6 ]. This pattern of activation, accompanied by the distinctive neurochemical balance occurring during REM sleep [ 7 , 8 ], is believed to provide optimal conditions for offline processing of emotional information.

In line with the prominent involvement hypothesized for REM sleep in emotional processing, the most recent theoretical approaches propose an important role of mental activity occurring during sleep (i.e., dreaming, according to Schredl and Wittman’s definition [ 9 ]) in these complex regulatory processes. At the biological level, it is supported by the existence of largely overlapping neural networks sustaining both (REM) dreaming and emotional processing (extensively reviewed in [ 10 ]). Indeed, several models propose that dreaming actively participates in the regulation of prior daytime emotions by facilitating the resolution of emotional conflicts [ 11 , 12 ], enhancing fear-extinction processes [ 3 ], and depotentiating the affective tone initially associated with waking events [ 1 ]. Another set of hypotheses focuses instead on the role of dreaming in optimizing affective reactions to future waking events: dreaming would allow an offline simulation of threatening or social episodes and a rehearsal of the corresponding threat- or social coping skills (respectively the “threat simulation theory” [ 13 ] and the “social simulation theory” [ 14 ]). Ultimately, both types of models converge in suggesting that waking and dream emotions are closely connected and that emotional processing occurring in dreams promotes adaptive behavioral responses to the challenges of waking life.

However, a clear understanding of the relationship between waking and dream emotions and their expression in subjective daytime consciousness and sleep mentation is still lacking. A recent study by our group [ 15 ] has addressed this issue in a sample of healthy adults: emotions of the last recalled dream, as well as those of the previous day and previous two weeks, were collected (through the modified Differential Emotions Scale, mDES [ 16 , 17 ]) and compared. Our findings mainly highlighted a discontinuity between waking and dream affect, with positive emotionality prevailing during the past two weeks as well as the day before the dream and reduced in the dream, while negative emotionality of the dream was similar to that of the preceding two weeks but significantly increased relative to the previous day. This interesting pattern of results opened the way to several hypotheses, such as the possibility that positive and negative emotions experienced in wakefulness may undertake different but parallel sleep-related regulation pathways.

As also suggested in the discussion of those findings [ 15 ], another intriguing hypothesis is that the relationships between waking and dream emotions (plausibly reflecting affective regulation processes) may be modulated by sleep quality. In fact, in the last couple of decades, a vast amount of research has focused on the effects of sleep disruption on several aspects of affective processing.

One night of sleep deprivation is sufficient to increase subjective reports of stress, anxiety, and anger in response to low-stress situations [ 18 ] and to increase impulsivity toward negative stimuli [ 19 ]. Moreover, after one night of sleep deprivation, subjects evaluated neutral pictures more negatively than control participants [ 20 , 21 ], independently of negative mood [ 20 ]. Impairments of emotion recognition [ 22 ] and expression [ 23 ] have been observed as well after single-night sleep deprivation.

Other studies provide evidence of emotional dysregulation following sleep deprivation using neural and physiological measures of emotionality. Enhanced amygdala reactivity in response to emotionally negative pictures, paralleled by a reduction of functional connectivity with medial prefrontal regions (believed to exert top-down regulatory control on the amygdala), has been detected after one night of sleep deprivation [ 24 ] as well as after five nights of sleep restriction [ 25 ]. Also, sleep loss has been shown to amplify pupil diameter responses during passive viewing of negative emotional pictures [ 26 ] and to increase sympathetic dominance of the autonomic nervous system, indexed by changes in heart rate variability [ 27 ].

An impact of sleep loss on affective processing has also been described in more ecologically relevant paradigms, i.e., based on cumulative sleep restriction protocols or on samples with impaired sleep quality. For instance, negative emotional changes have been reported in both adults [ 28 ] and adolescents [ 29 ] after several days of sleep restriction. Furthermore, poor subjective sleep quality has been associated with higher negative [ 30 , 31 ] and lower positive emotionality [ 30 , 31 , 32 ] and with decreased ability in cognitive reappraisal [ 33 ]. Habitual self-reported sleep quality has also been found to moderate the relationship between threat-related amygdala reactivity, negative affect, and perceived stress [ 34 ]. Furthermore, Tempesta et al. [ 21 ] showed that poor sleepers (classified through the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, PSQI [ 35 ]) evaluated neutral pictures more negatively than good sleepers.

In sum, this brief review of data provides strong support to the idea that sleep disruption impairs affective regulation. In light of the aforementioned hypotheses on dreams as a reflection of ongoing emotional processing, dream emotions of individuals with disturbed sleep may represent an interesting object of study. The very few studies addressing this issue show that dreams of insomniacs [ 36 , 37 , 38 ] and narcolecptic subjects [ 39 ] are more negatively toned than those of good sleepers; also, nightmare frequency appears to be more elevated in individuals with poor sleep quality [ 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 ]. However, focusing exclusively on dream emotions, these studies do not allow the authors to make hypotheses on the possible differences between good and poor sleepers in emotion regulatory processes, which are probably better expressed in the relationships between waking and dream emotions rather than in dream emotions alone.

Indeed, several hypotheses on the presentation of waking and dream emotions in good and poor sleepers may be put forward. For instance, the profile of differences between daytime and dream emotionality observed in our previous study [ 15 ] could emerge in poor sleepers as well, indicating the presence of a similar pathway of affective processing notwithstanding the possible dysfunctionality of emotion regulation processes in poor sleepers observed in previous literature (e.g., [ 21 , 33 ]). Alternatively, poor sleepers could display an inverse pattern of emotionality in wakefulness and dreaming relative to good sleepers, with negative tone predominant in wakefulness and a positive rebound in sleep. Also, at variance with good sleepers, poor sleepers could manifest a more evenly distributed emotional tone (similar in both states of consciousness), and so on. The possibilities are multiplied when considering the time span over which these mechanisms unfold: for instance, each dream may process emotions experienced the day before, a few days before (in analogy with literature on the “dream lag” and “day-residue” effect [ 44 , 45 ]), or during wider daytime spans (e.g., the last few weeks, the general “time period”), etc.

Therefore, here we conduct an exploratory study to investigate the relationships between waking emotions and those of the subsequent night’s dreams in a sample of good and poor sleepers identified through the PSQI [ 35 ]. Specific aims of our study are:

  • to compare, between good and poor sleepers, the prevalent emotional valence of the dream with that of the previous day and previous weeks;
  • to assess the possibility that waking emotionality predicts dream emotionality in good and poor sleepers;
  • to confirm findings from previous literature on dream emotional valence in good and poor sleepers using an instrument, the mDES [ 16 , 17 ], which addresses a repertoire of emotions broader than the ones commonly used in dream literature.

2. Materials and Methods

2.1. participants and procedure.

Figure 1 displays the recruitment and selection process. Four hundred volunteers from the cities of Naples and Caserta (Italy) were screened through a brief ad-hoc interview to collect general demographic data and information on medical conditions and life habits. The interview was conducted via telephone by a psychologist from the Sleep Lab of the University of Campania. Two hundred and twelve healthy participants (163 F, 49 M; mean age: 25 ± 8 years) were thus selected for the study, according to the following inclusion criteria: age between 18 and 65 years; absence of any relevant somatic or psychiatric disorder; absence of any sleep apnea or respiratory disorder symptoms; having a regular sleep–wake pattern; absence of sleep disorders; no history of drug or alcohol abuse; limited caffeine (no more than 150 mg caffeine per day, corresponding to about three cups of espresso or one cup of American coffee) and alcohol (no more than 250 mL per day) consumption.

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Flowchart of the participant recruitment and selection process.

The whole selected sample ( N = 212) participated in a larger study [ 15 ], which included a validation of the Italian version of the mDES [ 16 , 17 ]. Thus, two forms of the questionnaire (WAKE-24 h and WAKE-2 weeks, assessing the frequency of specific emotions over the past 2 weeks and their intensity in the past 24 h, respectively) were administered to participants along with the Mannheim Dream Questionnaire (MADRE [ 46 ]) to collect data on dream recall frequency and several variables related to dreams, and the PSQI [ 35 ], in its Italian version [ 47 ], to assess habitual subjective sleep quality.

Of the 212 participants included in the validation study, 50 (38 F, 12 M; mean age: 24.6 ± 6.4 years) volunteered to take part in a second phase of the study, i.e., the assessment of relationships between waking and dream emotions. Participants received 10 copies of the WAKE-24 h mDES, with the instruction to complete one each night at bedtime, referring to the emotions experienced during that particular day. This had to be done until the day they recalled a dream. On the morning they recalled a dream, they had to fill in the DREAM mDES, specifically referring to the emotions experienced during the dream. Data collection was thus ended as soon as the mDES ratings of one dream were provided by each participant.

While our previous study [ 15 ] focused on differences between waking and dream emotions in the general sample, this study analyses the same dataset with regard to sleep quality, i.e., by dividing the final sample ( N = 50) into a group of ‘Good Sleepers’ and a group of ‘Poor Sleepers’ (GS and PS, respectively) based on the PSQI cut-off score (scores ≥ 5 indicate poor sleep quality [ 35 ]).

2.2. Instruments

  • Italian version of the mDES: The original mDES [ 16 , 17 ] consists of 20 items corresponding to 20 different emotions (10 positive and 10 negative) whose intensity over the past 24 h is rated on a five-point Likert scale (from 0 = Not at all, to 4 = Extremely). Each category is described by three adjectives (e.g., “Grateful, appreciative, or thankful”): for clarity purposes, throughout the manuscript the noun referring to the first of the three adjectives will be used to identify specific emotion categories (e.g., “Gratefulness”). The Italian version [ 15 ] includes two additional positive emotions (“sexual/desiring/flirtatious” and “sympathy/concern/compassion”), which were included in the earlier version of the instrument [ 16 ]. In addition to this standard version (labeled WAKE-24 h mDES [ 15 ]), two other forms of the scale were developed in our previous study [ 15 ], assessing, respectively, the frequency of each emotion over the past two weeks (WAKE-2 weeks mDES) and the intensity of emotions experienced during the last recalled dream (DREAM mDES). The specific instructions provided in the DREAM and the WAKE-24 h mDES versions are: “Please think back to how you have felt during your last recalled dream/last 24 h. Using the 0–4 scale below, indicate the greatest amount that you’ve experienced each of the following feelings.” As for the WAKE-2 weeks form, the instructions are: “Please think back to how you have felt during the past two weeks. Using the 0–4 scale below, indicate the frequency with which you’ve experienced each of the following feelings.” (from 0 = Never, to 4 = Very frequently). The mDES also allows the use of aggregate measures of positive and negative emotionality (the Positive Affect (PA) and Negative Affect (NA) subscales, i.e., average scores of the positive and negative emotion items, respectively), which have shown to have high internal reliability, ranging from 0.82 to 0.94 [ 48 , 49 ]. The scale has been validated on the Greek [ 50 ] and Italian [ 15 ] populations and has shown to have good psychometric properties in its various translations [ 15 , 50 , 51 , 52 , 53 ].
  • PSQI [ 35 ]: This questionnaire assesses sleep quality and disturbances over a 1-month time interval. It consists of 19 individual items which generate seven component scores: subjective sleep quality, sleep latency, sleep duration, habitual sleep efficiency, sleep disturbances, use of sleeping medication and daytime dysfunction. The sum of scores for these seven components yields one global score, ranging from 0 to 21, with 5 as a cut-off score which allows to differentiate good from poor sleepers [ 35 ] (higher scores indicate worse sleep quality). Here we use the Italian version of the PSQI [ 47 ], which has been validated on the Italian population [ 47 ].
  • MADRE questionnaire [ 46 ]: This questionnaire measures several variables related to dreams such as frequency of dream recall, nightmares and lucid dreaming, attitude towards dreams and the effects of dreams on waking life. We report frequency of dreams, lucid dreams, and nightmares, as well as intensity of the dream experience, attitude towards dreams and correlates of dreams (the sum of items 13-14-15-16-17), all referring to how the contents of dreams are used in terms of problem solving and creativity (see [ 54 ]).

2.3. Data Analysis

Differences between GS and PS in age, gender distribution and MADRE scores were assessed using independent t -test, χ 2 (for categorical data) and Mann–Whitney test (for ordinal data). To assess the differences between groups in emotional valence of dreams and previous wakefulness, we conducted a 2 (Group: GS, PS) × 3 (Condition: WAKE-2 weeks, WAKE-24 h, DREAM) mixed ANOVA, with Δ mDES score (PA minus NA, i.e., an aggregate measure of valence, with positive values indicating positive valence and negative values indicating negative valence) as dependent variable. We used η 2 p as a measure of effect size and the Holm test for post-hoc analysis.

Also, in order to explore the potential predictors of dream emotions, we conducted, separately for GS and PS, a linear regression with DREAM Δ scores as dependent variables and WAKE-2 weeks and WAKE-24 h Δ scores as predictors. For each significant predictor, we reported the unstandardized (b) and the standardized (β) coefficient. All analyses were conducted using JAMOVI 1.2.27 and a p < 0.05 was considered statistically significant.

3.1. Descriptives

The sample was made up of 38 females (76%) and 12 males (24%), with an age range of 19 to 52 years.

A total of 50 DREAM mDES and 50 WAKE-2 weeks mDES (one per participant) were collected. As for the WAKE-24 h version, 84 scales were collected in total (50 referring to the day immediately preceding the dream and the remaining referred to the previous days); in fact, 30 participants (60%) recalled a dream after 1 night, 6 participants (12%) after 2 nights, and the remaining 14 (28%) after 3 nights. Only the 50 WAKE-24 h mDES scales (one per participant) referring to the day before the recalled dream were included in data analyses.

Twenty-seven participants (54% of the sample) reported a PSQI > 5 and were thus classified as PS [ 35 ], while the remaining 23 subjects (46%) made up the GS group. GS and PS were similar in terms of age (GS: 25.26 ± 7.39 vs. PS: 23.96 ± 5.04, t = 0.734, p = 0.466, Cohen’s d = 0.21) and gender distribution (GS: 5 M, 18 F vs. PS: 7 M, 20 F, χ 2 1 = 0.119, p = 0.730), while they significantly differed in PSQI scores (GS: 3.70 ± 0.92 vs. PS: 7.93 ± 1.83, t = −10.496, p < 0.001, Cohen’s d = −2.837).

3.2. MADRE Scores in Good and Poor Sleepers

The two groups showed similar dream frequency (median = 4, W = 301, p = 0.858), intensity of the dream experience (median = 2.5, W = 307.5, p = 0.959), attitude towards dreams (median = 2.4, W = 703.5, p = 0.770) and correlates of the dream experience (mean = 11, W = 286.5, p = 0.647). A significant difference was observed for the frequency of lucid dreams (W = 194.5, p = 0.023), with higher frequency in PS (median = 4) compared to GS (median = 3). The frequency of nightmares was nominally higher (W = 224.5, p = 0.091) in PS (median = 3) relative to GS (median = 4).

3.3. Characterisctics of Dream Emotions

3.3.1. good sleepers.

In GS, scores at the PA and NA subscales of the DREAM mDES showed a higher intensity of negative emotionality in the dream (PA: 0.80 ± 0.58 vs. NA: 1.40 ± 1.30; t22 = −2.29, p = 0.032, Cohens’ d = −0.48).

Looking at the specific emotions, all dreams contain at least 8 emotions and all of the 22 emotions are reported at least once. On average, GS reported 12.08 ± 4.79 dream emotions. As displayed in Figure 2 , the most frequent emotion is Sadness (reported by 91.3% of the participants), followed by Fear (82.6%) and Anger (78.3%), while the least frequent are Sensuality (30.4%) and Inspiredness (30.43%).

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Proportion of Good Sleepers reporting each of the 22 emotions during the dream.

The most intensely experienced emotions during the dream were mostly negative ( Figure 3 ): Sadness (2.00 ± 0.28) was followed by Fear (1.87 ± 1.32), Stress (1.878 ± 1.28), Anger (1.70 ± 1.40), and Awe (1.61 ± 1.12).

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Scores of each emotion in the WAKE-2 weeks, WAKE-24 h, and DREAM mDES in Good Sleepers. Panels ( a , b ) display positive and negative emotions, respectively. Error bars represent standard error of the means.

3.3.2. Poor Sleepers

Scores at the PA and NA subscales of the DREAM mDES did not differ (PA: 1.10 ± 0.76 vs. NA: 1.13 ± 0.81; t26 = −0.10, p = 0.925, Cohens’ d = −0.02), indicating an equal intensity of positive and negative emotionality in the dreams of PS.

As for specific emotions, all dreams contain at least 5 emotions and all of the 22 emotions are reported at least once. On average, PS reported 12.63 ± 4.39 dream emotions. As displayed in Figure 4 , the most frequent emotion is Awe (reported by 81.5% of the participants), followed by Pride (77.8%) and Solidarity (74.1%), while the least frequent are Gratefulness (37.04%) and Sensuality (29.6%).

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Proportion of Poor Sleepers reporting each of the 22 emotions during the dream.

Although PA and NA scores did not differ, the most intensely experienced emotions during the dream were mostly negative ( Figure 5 ): Awe (1.74 ± 0.22) was followed by Anger (1.55 ± 0.25), Sadness (1.52 ± 0.26), Fear (1.48 ± 0.27), and Stress (1.41 ± 0.27).

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Scores of each emotion in the WAKE-2 weeks, WAKE-24 h, and DREAM mDES in Poor Sleepers. Panels ( a , b ) display positive and negative emotions, respectively. Error bars represent standard error of the means.

3.4. Differences between Waking and Dream Emotions in Good and Poor Sleepers

The ANOVA on Δ mDES scores yielded a significant main effect of condition (F 2,96 = 15.41, p < 0.001, η p 2 = 0.24), with a decrease of delta scores (i.e., more negative emotionality) in the DREAM compared to WAKE-2 weeks and WAKE-24 h (all p holm ’s < 0.001), and no difference between WAKE-2 weeks and WAKE-24 h (p holm = 0.923). Although we did not find a main effect of Group (F 1,48 = 0.40, p = 0.528, η p 2 < 0.01), we observed a significant Group × Condition interaction (F 2,96 = 4.72, p = 0.011, η p 2 = 0.09, Figure 6 ): only GS displayed a reduction of delta scores from wakefulness to dream (WAKE-2 weeks vs. DREAM: p holm < 0.001; WAKE-24 h vs. DREAM: p holm < 0.001), while PS did not show any significant change (all p holm ’s > 0.644). No between-groups differences were observed in any of the three conditions (all p holm ’s > 0.643, Table 1 ).

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Change in Δ mDES scores (PA minus NA) as a function of condition (WAKE-2 weeks, WAKE-24 h, and DREAM) in Good and Poor Sleepers. The orange area indicates positive affect and the blue area indicates negative affect. Error bars represent standard error of the means.

Mean and standard error of Δ scores in the two groups across conditions.

3.5. Predictors of Dream Emotional Valence (Δ mDES Scores) in Good and Poor Sleepers

In GS, linear regression analysis showed that neither WAKE-2 weeks nor WAKE-24 h Δ scores were predictive of DREAM Δ scores (F 2,20 = 0.04, p = 0.952, Adj. R2 < 0.01). The same result was observed in PS (F 2,24 = 0.99, p = 0.387, Adj. R2 < 0.01).

4. Discussion

This study investigated the relationships between dream emotions and those experienced during the previous days (both the day before the recalled dream and over the two weeks preceding it) in good and poor sleepers. In the frame of theoretical models on the role of dreaming in emotion regulation, postulating a close link between waking and dream emotionality, we aimed to assess the influence of poor sleep quality on this relationship. In fact, though previous literature has already shown the prevalence of negatively toned dreams in populations with disturbed sleep, we believe that affect regulation processes are plausibly better expressed in the interplay between waking and dream emotions rather than in dream emotions alone.

4.1. Proportion of Good and Poor Sleepers

Before discussing our main results, it is worth commenting on the high proportion of poor sleepers that emerged in our sample (54%). Considering that most of our participants were university students (mean age: 24.6 ± 6.4 years), this result is in line with those of several wide survey studies assessing the prevalence of poor sleep quality through the PSQI on similar populations and age groups. Indeed, the proportion of poor sleepers was over 40% in Mah et al. [ 55 ] and exceeded 60% in Lund et al. [ 56 ] and Becker et al. [ 57 ].

4.2. Results from the MADRE Questionnaire in Good and Poor Sleepers

Data from the MADRE questionnaire show that GS and PS are similar in most dream related variables, including dream frequency, intensity of dreams, attitude towards dreams, and perceived effects of dreams on waking life problem solving and creativity skills. However, PS show a higher frequency both of nightmares and lucid dreams. As for nightmares, this finding is consistent with previous studies showing increased nightmare frequency in poor sleepers [ 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 ]. Also, lucid dreaming has sometimes been associated with disrupted sleep [ 58 , 59 ]. Interestingly, nightmares and lucid dreaming have been conceptualized as belonging to a common domain involving unusual cognitions and perceptions in wakefulness and sleep [ 60 ], which would be linked to arousal and hypervigilance intruding in the sleep state [ 58 , 61 ] and thus could be viewed as indicators of poor sleep quality [ 58 ]. In other words, these hypotheses point to the existence of a close link between the quality of physiological sleep features and that of subjective sleep mentation.

4.3. Frequency and Valence of Dream Emotions in Good and Poor Sleepers

GS and PS reported on average a similar number of dream emotions (slightly more than 12), suggesting that the average amount of emotions (12.38) found in our previous study on the whole sample [ 15 ] was not affected by sleep quality. The number of emotions in our two samples is slightly higher than that reported in previous literature using the same self-report scale [ 62 ], probably because of methodological differences (see [ 15 ]).

As for emotional valence, GS displayed higher negative than positive emotionality (scores at the NA subscale) in the dream, whereas, in PS’ dreams, positive and negative emotionality appeared with equal intensity (no difference between PA and NA scores of the DREAM mDES). This finding well accounts for the one emerged in our previous study [ 15 ], in which NA scores were slightly higher than those at the PA subscale, but the difference failed to reach significance. The higher negative affect observed in GS is coherent with the finding that specific negative emotions were the most frequent as well as the most intense in this sample; also, it is in line with several previous studies showing a prevalence of negative emotions in dreams (e.g., [ 63 , 64 , 65 , 66 ], but see also [ 67 ] for a discussion on the differences between self and external ratings of dream emotions). Instead, the evenly distributed emotional tone observed in PS’ dreams apparently contradicts existing literature on populations with sleep impairments [ 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 ], which points to more negatively toned dreams in these individuals. However, our analysis of specific emotions showed that, although positive emotions were the most frequently reported by PS, their negative emotions were the most intense. In addition, it must be considered that: (a) the instrument we used is quite different from those commonly used in dream research, since it includes a much broader repertoire of emotions and a more balanced number of positive and negative items, thus reducing the risk of underestimating the presence of positive emotionality; (b) results obtained on sleep disordered populations [ 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 ] are not fully comparable to those observed in healthy samples reporting poor sleep quality; (c) the higher frequency of nightmares observed in individuals with poor sleep quality (both in our present study and in previous research [ 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 ]) does not necessarily imply that their dreams are generally more negatively valenced (in fact, emotionality may be viewed as a “tonic” feature of sleep mentation, while nightmares, or lucid dreams, may be better conceptualized as “phasic” events, although the notion of a continuum between bad dreams and nightmares is sustained by several authors [ 68 , 69 ]).

4.4. Relationships between Waking and Dream Emotions in Good and Poor Sleepers

The main finding of our study is the difference observed between GS and PS in the profile of waking and dream emotionality. While GS display a striking inflection of emotional tone from wakefulness to the dream (i.e., affective tone is prevalently positive both during the previous weeks and the previous day and becomes extremely negative in the dream), PS’ emotionality remains stable across conditions. Specifically, in PS, differences between positive and negative emotionality (i.e., delta values) are very close to zero in all three scales.

First of all, this pattern of data suggests that habitual sleep quality significantly affects the interplay of emotional expression across wakefulness and dreaming. This observation is particularly important in light of the numerous discrepancies existing in data on dream features and especially dream emotionality (see [ 62 , 67 , 70 ]). Controversial results in this field are usually explained through methodological biases as well as biases linked to the retrospective nature of dream descriptions [ 62 , 67 , 70 ]. Our data prompt us to consider sleep quality as an additional factor affecting dream emotional experience, and thus able to confound results when not controlled for. Therefore, we believe that future dream investigations should include assessments of sleep quality even when addressing nonclinical samples.

At the theoretical level, the differences observed between GS and PS appear to reflect a different functionality of sleep–wake emotion regulation processes, in line with the recent models on dream-related affect regulation [ 1 , 3 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 ]. In other words, the lack of oscillations in prevalent emotional valence of PS (expressed by their flattened curve of Δ mDES scores across daytime and sleep) may depend on a relative impairment of their emotion regulation processes, whose effectiveness would instead be expressed by the opposite emotional tone in wakefulness and dreams of GS. Specifically, GS display a prevalence of positive affect during daytime and negative affect during the dream. As suggested in Conte et al. [ 15 ], the negative emotions experienced more frequently or intensely in the general period in which the dream occurs would be those in need of regulation during sleep, whereas positive emotions, requiring less modulation, would be underrepresented in the dream. Also, the predominant positive affect observed during wakefulness in GS would at least partly depend on effective sleep-related modulation that occurred in previous dreams. As for PS, they showed lower positive emotionality than GS both during the two weeks and the day preceding the dream (although the differences between groups did not reach significance). This observation is in line with past literature showing lower well-being and positive affect in poor sleepers [ 30 , 31 , 32 , 71 ], which also is plausibly linked to less effective sleep-related affect modulation. Moreover, as suggested above, the fact that negative affect does not prevail in PS’ dreams could indicate poor functioning of sleep-related emotion regulation.

A complementary explanation may also be proposed, referring to the recent hypothesis of a dream rebound of thoughts suppressed during wakefulness [ 72 , 73 , 74 ], which, in turn, can be traced back to Freud’s idea [ 75 ] that dreams reflect the return of mental contents inhibited during the waking hours. This kind of mechanism was plausibly active in GS, whose negative emotions, excluded from waking consciousness in favor of positive ones, may have rebounded in the dream. The process of negative affect suppression could instead have been ineffective in PS, possibly due to the fact that disrupted sleep is linked to deficits in higher cognitive functions including inhibition (e.g., [ 19 , 76 , 77 ]). In line with Malinowski et al. [ 78 ], who showed that successful suppression of thoughts and their rebound in the dream benefit the emotional response to pleasant and unpleasant thoughts, it may be hypothesized that, in good sleepers, the dream rebound of negative emotions reflects their effective processing in sleep, irrespective of the specific episodic memories (thoughts, events, etc.) that generated them.

In sum, our findings are probably the result of two parallel mechanisms: a general day-night emotion regulation process (with prevalent negative emotions of daytime being processed in sleep and thus reappearing in dreaming) and the specific suppression (either deliberate or automatic) of certain negative emotions during wakefulness with consequent rebound in the dream for regulation purposes.

It must be acknowledged here that our regression analysis on waking and dream delta scores did not yield significant results. In fact, emotional tone of the previous day and previous two weeks did not predict that of the dream in either group of participants. This result is consistent with three other studies which found few [ 79 ], small [ 80 ], or no correlations [ 81 ] between corresponding dream and previous daytime emotions. The absence, to date, of data on direct relationships between waking and dream affect does not lend support to our main hypothesis, i.e., the interpretation of our data in the frame of theories on dream-related emotion regulation [ 1 , 3 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 ]. However, clearer associations between waking and dream affect could exist across different time spans and in different directions than those investigated here and in the abovementioned studies [ 79 , 80 , 81 ]. In fact, as pointed out in the introduction, each dream could process emotions experienced the day before, a few days before (in analogy with literature on the “dream lag” and “day-residue” effect [ 44 , 45 ]), or during wider daytime spans (e.g., the last few weeks, the general “time period”, etc.). Also, as predicted by the “simulation models” [ 13 , 14 ], dream emotionality could reveal stronger associations with future rather than past waking affect, a possibility to be investigated in forthcoming studies.

Furthermore, it may be speculated that poor sleepers rate their dreams as less negatively toned compared to good sleepers also because of a different general perception of the dreaming experience. In other words, they could retrospectively evaluate their dream experience as more positive than it actually was since the simple fact of having dreamed, per se, represents for them a sign of having slept well (good sleepers would obviously have no such bias). This interesting possibility could be usefully investigated in future research.

Finally, our findings allow us to extend the discussion of our previous work on the same sample [ 15 ], by underlining the influence exerted by poor habitual sleep quality on waking and dream emotional expression. In fact, here we observed that the opposite prevalent emotional tone of wakefulness and dreams, emerged in the previous study, well describes GS’ profile, while PS display an equal amount of positive and negative affect in both states. The hypotheses made on these findings are coherent with the main interpretations discussed in our previous work. However, the current data allow us to exclude a couple of alternative explanations advanced on those data [ 15 ]. Specifically, we proposed that participants may have undergone some sort of social desirability effect in compiling the scales (see, e.g., [ 82 ]); in other words, they would have more easily identified positive emotions (coherent with a positive image of the self) in wakefulness and negative emotions in the dream (which is experienced as “involuntary”). Similarly, we acknowledged a possible recall bias linked to the time frame of events to which the emotions refer. In the DREAM mDES, the participant is focusing on a much shorter time frame compared to those of the daytime scales (2 weeks and 24 h). Among this limited pool of memories, the negative ones could appear more salient and thus be more easily recognized (according to the widely held tenet in psychology that “bad is stronger than good” [ 83 ]). While these two hypotheses may have applied to our GS group, we see no reason why PS would not have equally undergone these types of biases: thus, the different emotional profile emerged in the latter group induces us to rule out these possibilities.

4.5. Limitations

Our results should be considered in light of some limitations to be overcome in future research. The main limitation is the use of a self-report measure of sleep quality rather than standard polysomnography for the identification of good and poor sleepers. However, it must be noted that groups of good and poor sleepers classified through the PSQI have been shown to significantly differ in polysomnographic sleep measures in several previous studies [ 35 , 84 , 85 ].

Furthermore, according to some authors [ 67 , 86 ], self-ratings of dream emotions based on emotion rating scales may be biased by demand characteristics of the rating task (i.e., individuals may be primed by answer options) or phenomena such as the positivity offset (i.e., the tendency to experience mildly positive mood most of the time); still, several authors argue that self-ratings more validly represent dream emotional experiences [ 65 , 87 ].

5. Conclusions

In conclusion, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate differences between good and poor sleepers in the profile of emotionality across wakefulness and dreaming. Overall, our findings show that good sleepers experience a notable change in emotionality between wakefulness and dreaming, with a prevalence of positive affect during daytime and predominant negative affect during dreaming, whereas poor sleepers are characterized by equal intensity of positive and negative emotionality in both states. In the frame of recent theoretical models postulating a role of dreaming in affect regulation, the lack of changes in prevalent emotional valence across states observed in the latter group may be interpreted as reflecting ineffective sleep-related emotional processing. Furthermore, regardless of the theoretical framework, our results highlight that sleep quality is associated with notable differences in the expression of waking and dream emotions which should not be neglected in future dream research. Therefore, our findings definitely encourage researchers to include sleep quality assessments in dream studies (both on clinical and nonclinical samples) and prompt future investigations on sleep-impaired populations as a privileged object of study in the field of research on dreaming and emotion regulation processes.

Author Contributions

All authors contributed in a meaningful way to this manuscript. Conceptualization, F.C., F.G. and G.F.; Methodology, F.C. and G.F.; Formal analysis, N.C. and O.D.R.; Investigation, O.D.R. and S.M.; Writing—original draft preparation, F.C. and N.C.; Writing—review and editing, F.C., M.L.R. and G.F.; Visualization, F.C. and N.C.; Supervision, F.G. and G.F.; Project administration, F.C., F.G. and G.F. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

The study design was submitted to the Ethical Committee of the Department of Psychology, University of Campania “L. Vanvitelli”, which approved the research (code 1/2017) and certified that the involvement of human participants was performed according to acceptable standards.

Informed Consent Statement

Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the study.

Data Availability Statement

Conflicts of interest.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Who Was Alexei Navalny and What Did He Say of Russia, Putin and Death?

Reuters

FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny pays respect to founder of Russia's oldest human rights group and Sakharov Prize winner Lyudmila Alexeyeva in Moscow, Russia December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

By Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Alexei Navalny, Russia's most prominent opposition leader, died on Friday after collapsing and losing consciousness at the penal colony north of the Arctic Circle where he was serving a long jail term, the Russian prison service said.

OPPOSITION LEADER

Navalny, 47, became the leading figure among Russia's splintered opposition.

The Latest Photos From Ukraine

BAKHMUT REGION, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 3: The Ukrainian military fires RPGs at enemy positions as the special military unit "Kurt & Company group" hold the first line of the frontline Russian-Ukrainian war on November 3, 2023 in Bakhmut District, Ukraine, the frontline of the Russian Ukrainian war. Ukrainian forces continue to fight to retake Bakhmut, which was captured by Russian forces in May, following a yearlong war battle. Over the summer, Ukraine regained territory north and south of Bakhmut but Russia has held the city itself. (Photo by Kostya Liberov/Libkos/Getty Images)

Supporters cast him as a Russian version of South Africa's Nelson Mandela who would one day be freed from jail to lead the country.

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He earned admiration from many in Russian opposition circles for voluntarily returning to Russia in 2021 from Germany, where he underwent treatment for what Western laboratory tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent in Siberia. 

RISE TO PROMINENCE

A former lawyer, Navalny rose to prominence with blogs which exposed what he said was vast corruption across the Russian elite, describing Russia as ruled by "crooks and thieves".

He participated in Russian nationalist marches in the 2000s. Calls for restrictions on immigration and criticism over what some viewed as his overly nationalist views prompted his expulsion from the liberal Yabloko opposition party in 2007.

He lampooned President Vladimir Putin's elite and exposed some of the opulence of the lifestyles of senior officials, using the internet and even drones to illustrate what he described as their vast holdings and luxury property.

When demonstrations against Putin flared in December 2011, after an election tainted by fraud accusations, he was one of the first protest leaders arrested.

Navalny long forecast Russia could face seismic political turmoil, including revolution, because he said Putin had built a brittle system of personal rule reliant on sycophancy and corruption.

WHAT DOES THE KREMLIN SAY?

The Kremlin said Putin had been informed of his death.

The Kremlin dismissed Navalny's allegations of vast corruption and Putin's personal wealth. Navalny's movement is outlawed and most of his senior allies have fled Russia and now live in Europe.

Russian officials cast Navalny as an extremist who was a puppet of the U.S. CIA intelligence agency which they say is intent on trying to sow the seeds of revolution to weaken Russia and make it a client state of the West.

Navalny was detained countless times for organising public rallies, and prosecuted repeatedly on charges including corruption, embezzlement and fraud. He said the accusations and convictions were politically motivated.

Navalny had an extra 19 years in a maximum security penal colony added to his jail term in 2023 in a criminal case that he said was designed to cow the Russian people into political submission.

In August 2020, Navalny fell ill on a flight from Tomsk, in Siberia, to Moscow. The pilot made an emergency landing, saving his life, and Navalny was flown to Berlin, where he was treated for the effects of a neurotoxin that German military tests showed to be Novichok, a poison developed in the Soviet Union.

Putin dismissed a joint media investigation that said it had identified a team of assassins from Russia's FSB security service. "If someone had wanted to poison him, they would have finished him off," he said.

Navalny's wife is Yulia. Their daughter is called Darya, and their son is called Zakhar.

KEY NAVALNY QUOTES:

ON THE UKRAINE WAR:

"This is a stupid war which your Putin started," Navalny told an appeal court in Moscow via video link from a corrective penal colony in 2022. "This war was built on lies."

"One madman has got his claws into Ukraine and I do not know what he wants to do with it - this crazy thief."

"Corruption is the foundation of contemporary Russia, it is the foundation of Mr Putin’s political power," Navalny told Reuters in an interview in 2011.

"Once the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy described the structure of power in Russia: 'the villains who robbed their own people got together, recruited soldiers and judges to guard their orgy, and now they're having a feast'. This brilliant phrase precisely describes what is happing in our country."

In 2023, he admonished the Russian elite for its venality, expressing hatred for those who he said squandered a historic opportunity to reform after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

He dissected Russia's post-Soviet history, including the legacies of the most powerful figures of the 1990s who became known as the reformers who sought to lay the foundations of capitalism and the oligarchs who won fabulous fortunes.

"I can’t stop myself from fiercely, wildly hating those who sold, pissed away, and squandered the historical chance that our country had in the early nineties," Navalny said.

ON FEAR AND AMBITION:

"Why should I be afraid?" he said in 2011 when asked about the dangers of challenging the Kremlin. 

When asked by Reuters about his ambition, he winced but said: "I would like to be president, but there are no elections in Russia."

"If they decide to kill me then it means we are incredibly strong and we need to use that power and not give up," he once told CNN. "We don't realise how strong we actually are."

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Copyright 2024 Thomson Reuters .

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High-Flying Nvidia’s Earnings Could Test US Stock Market’s AI Dreams

Reuters

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: The Charging Bull or Wall Street Bull is pictured in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

By David Randall and Saqib Iqbal Ahmed

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Next week’s earnings report from chipmaker Nvidia could prove a gut check for one of the market’s hottest names, and for the artificial intelligence fever that has helped power gains for U.S. stocks in recent months.

Excitement over the business potential of AI has boosted Nvidia’s shares by more than 46% since Jan. 1. Its $570 billion increase in market capitalization is more than triple the market value of Intel. Shares of Nvidia, whose chips are considered the gold standard in the AI industry, surged nearly 240% in 2023.

The chipmaker's gains have accounted for more than a quarter of the S&P 500's increase this year. The benchmark index is up nearly 5% year-to-date, after optimism about AI helped drive the index up 24% in 2023.

Now the third most valuable company on Wall Street after Apple and Microsoft, Nvidia has also become a bellwether for the artificial intelligence industry. Other AI-focused stocks have surged this year, including Super Micro Computer Inc, which is up 182% year-to-date, and Arm Holdings, up nearly 71%.

"When people say that the market is doing well this year, they really mean that tech is doing well, and Nvidia is at the core of that," said Keith Lerner, chief market strategist at Truist Advisory Services. "There is excitement within AI and if that optimism is not fulfilled by earnings then you could see that reverberate quickly and weigh on sentiment."

Nvidia will release quarterly earnings results on Feb. 21. Wall Street expects earnings of $4.56 a share, and a rise in quarterly revenue to $20.378 billion from $6.05 billion a year ago, according to the mean estimate from 33 analysts, based on LSEG data.

Given the company's size and its importance to the AI story, Nvidia’s results could be pivotal for market sentiment, said Kevin Landis, a portfolio manager at Firsthand Capital.

"Every time you get a big stock market rally there’s a favorite stock that leads it," said Landis, who regrets selling his shares in Nvidia last year. "It's hard not to look at Nvidia and see … that's driving the psychology of the overall market."

Not surprisingly, traders are bracing for big moves in the company’s shares. Nvidia options are pricing a swing of about 11% in either direction following its results, according to data from options analytics service ORATS.

That's the largest expected move options traders have priced ahead of Nvidia's earnings over the last three years and well above the stock's average earnings move of 6.7% over that period, ORATS data showed.

Tom Hainlin, senior investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, said positive updates to Nvidia's corporate outlook could fuel more AI optimism and extend a market rally that has been concentrated in the so-called Magnificent Seven group of megacap stocks, of which Nvidia is a member.

Shares of Meta Platforms, another member of the group, have surged 34% this year while Apple’s have fallen by 5%. Shares of Tesla have tumbled nearly 20% after the electric car maker warned of "notably lower" sales growth this year and shrinking margins.

"Right now investors are rewarding visibility into earnings growth and that keys up well for more gains for Nvidia," Hainlin said.

On the other hand, investors may use a less-than-stellar report as an opportunity to take profits.

Ryuta Makino, research analyst at Gabelli Funds, believes investor enthusiasm for Nvidia is so high that its shares could fall by at least 10% if the company simply meets expectations, without exceeding them.

He remains bullish on Nvidia due to rising capital expenditures from customers such as Amazon.com and Microsoft into their cloud businesses, which rely on the company’s chips.

A disappointing report from Nvidia could also exacerbate concerns over crowding in the market’s largest stocks, said Michael Purves, head of Tallbacken Capital Advisors.

Overall, investors have their highest allocation to the tech sector since August 2020, according to fund managers in the latest survey conducted by BofA Global Research.

"This is the pillar of the growth for the index today, but at some point the gas tank will go empty," Purves said.

(Reporting by David Randall and Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by Ira Iosebashvili and David Gregorio)

Copyright 2024 Thomson Reuters .

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