April 12, 2024
7 min read

Understanding Dreams: Definition, Types & Interpretation

Understanding Dreams: Definition, Types & Interpretation

Exploring The Dreams

A vast majority of people have had dreams of some kind throughout their lives. Many have difficulty recalling specifics of their dreams, but it is generally assumed that most of us do enjoy the wild world of dreams. Let's delve into this mysterious world then, shall we?

Definition of Dreams

You could dream about anything your mind wishes to conjure. Your mind will take you to many, many places.
Source: Hitesh Sonar For The Swaddle/Getty

Unconscious Mental Activity during Sleep

When we recall dreams, we often have memories of various images and perhaps of encountering individuals or groups of people. We might even recall specific sounds. At least this is how we perceive dreams when we awaken. Often dreams feel disjointed and random. When you awaken, it's also common to feel certain emotions and sensations, leaving you wondering what it means, and trying to recall as much as you can before it fades away.

But have you ever had a dream that did not fade away, where you could recall everything in detail even hours or days later? Lets dig into the world of dreams to understand their nature and how they affect us.

The Science of Dreams

A brief description of the sleep cycle with approximate time we spend in each of the stages.
Source: sleepcycle.com

Sleep Stages and Dreaming

Each sleep cycle is broken down into a few parts. Four to be exact. The first three are the NREM stages. With the fourth one being REM sleep and that's when most of the "magic" happens. Let's break these down further.

Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) Sleep

Starting from Stage 1 or alternatively N1. It lasts between 1-7 minutes, it's very easy to wake someone up during this period. Our mind and body begin to slow down unless interrupted.

Stage 2 (N2) lasts between 10 - 25 minutes, our body becomes more "subdued" and starts to relax. This includes slower breathing and heart rate but also a decrease in body temperature. Now our brain activity slows down, but also our eye movement stops. We begin to show some extra "resistance" to being woken up. As the cycles repeat themselves through the night, the N2 stage can become longer. We usually spend half of our time asleep at this stage.

Stage 3 (N3) is when we enter a deep sleep. It is noticeably harder to be woken up by external stimuli. Our body goes into an even more relaxed state, while our breathing and pulse slows down further. It is believed that this is the stage that allows our body to recover and allow its growth (for those under 25 years old!). It is also said to contribute to our creativity and insightful thinking. N3 lasts around 20 - 40 minutes but becomes shorter with each cycle and gets gradually replaced with REM sleep instead.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep

Stage 4 or REM is the moment our body goes into sleep paralysis, also known as "atonia". It's meant to keep us from "acting out" our dreams. The naming comes from our eyes moving around a lot, despite them being closed. The brain itself reaches an activity level similar to when you're awake. It is generally believed this period affects our cognitive functions the most, like storing memories and experiences that we've learned throughout the day. While dreams can occur at any stage, they're most vivid in REM. It usually takes around 90 minutes before you enter the REM sleep stage for the first time. While the first one lasts only a few minutes, each new cycle can last up to around an hour. In total, we spend around a quarter of our sleep in the REM stage.

Types of Dreams

Ordinary Dreams

A small nap above the clouds on the hammock. A pretty "ordinary" dream to have.
Source: sleepreviewmag.com

Ordinary dreams are the dreams we have which are not out of the ordinary, bizarre, or have you feeling disoriented or confused. Dreams have a tendency to reflect the state of our mind. If we're stressed or worried about the future, it may create dreams around the troubles that may be the cause of it. Interestingly enough, on average we have around 3 - 6 dreams. Unfortunately we rarely remember any of them. Only around 5% of all of our dreams can be recalled after waking up.

Vivid Dreams

Sometimes we have a really good recollection of the dream we've had. And a general desire to continue the dream where we've "left off". These are called vivid dreams. They mostly occur during REM sleep, so if we’ve woken up during that time, there's a higher chance of a dream being vivid. Lack of REM sleep during previous nights may also increase their frequency on the following night. Not all vivid dreams are pleasant though, stress and sleep disorders may create rather unpleasant or outright bizarre ones.

Lucid Dreams

On a rare occasion we become aware of the fact that we're dreaming. This can lead us to immediately wake up from the dream. There's also a chance of continuing it, while retaining a certain degree of control over it. There are certain ways to increase their frequency, like writing “dream diaries”, self suggesting or manifesting an idea that you want to dream about  or "optimising" your sleep environment. You can optimise it by minimising light/sound distractions, maintaining around 18-19 degree Celsius or just having a very comfortable bed and sheets.


Nightmares tend to be quite vivid and memorable since they awake you from your slumber.
Source: sleepcycle.com

There are also a lot less pleasant dreams that you can have, specifically nightmares. These usually cause feelings of anxiety, fear, discomfort and other unwanted emotions. The difference between a bad dream and a nightmare is that the nightmares tend to wake you up from your sleep, hence why often the emotions you feel right after you wake up are very real at that moment. Sometimes it takes some time to conclude that it was indeed only a dream. While not very frequent in normal circumstances, some people develop nightmare disorders. This usually means the individual is having repetitive nightmares happening on a regular basis. It is considered a sleep disorder and may require a visit to a specialist to resolve.

The Purpose and Functions of Dreams

Memory Consolidation

During the dreaming period, we are likely assimilating information that we've gathered throughout the day. As a general rule, it is important to maintain a healthy amount of sleep to allow your mind to achieve its full potential on a daily basis.

Emotional Processing and Regulation

Our dreams can also be the way that our brain attempts to go through all the emotions and feelings we’ve experienced during the day, to help us assimilate the information.

Mental housekeeping

Dreams are also particularly useful as a way for our minds to do some "self maintenance." There's a lot of information we're processing on a daily basis. Dreams are a way for our brain to go through them to "sort out" and get rid of the unnecessary excess information.

Dream Interpretation

Symbolism in Dreams

Symbolism is an important part of our perception of the world. We associate innumerable things with each other. Some associate the sun with positivity, the rain with sadness, green with health, and red with anger. These are merely examples that can mean completely different things to different people. Could dreams also use symbolism to give us a glimpse into what our mind is trying to tell us on a subconscious level?

Common Dream Symbols and Meanings

Just to list off a few common symbols found in the dreams and their potential meanings:

  • Falling - often dreamt when we feel overwhelmed or out of control but also when we're "letting go" of something.
  • Teeth - oddly quite a common dream. It can be both a representation of our strength and confidence, but also vulnerability and weakness. We often associate it with our fear of ageing and the loss of our youth.
  • Being Trapped - a common dream when we are feeling unable to change our current life circumstances or feel deep dissatisfaction from being stuck in an unpleasant situation. Our natural desire is to seek out freedom so our dreams are providing us an outlet to express ourselves and a way to understand and identify what the problem is. Essentially our mind is speaking to us from within to help guide us..

It's important to note that the context is very important whenever taking dream analysis into account. A person in dire financial need may have different reasons for dreaming about falling than someone who just won the lottery.

Personalised Interpretation

While there's no obvious direct link between our dreams and what we're going through in our lives, it's hard to disregard that our emotions and dreams affect each other. So it's not invalid to attempt a more personal interpretation of your dreams with the help from a specialist. A deeper look could be very beneficial, whether it's to get to a better understanding of what is causing unpleasant nightmares or simply a chance to develop and understand ourselves better.


There are many known cultures who have spoken about and explained dreams such as the Vedic’s in India or the Tibetan monks. Many have explanations that are not necessarily a part of “modern” medicine and may neglect to consider the power of the mind and our connection with a greater world that surrounds us everyday. We believe that through exploration of our dreams, we can gain a greater understanding of both ourselves and the world we live in. It’s important that we try to further our goals for growth and development and to continue on our paths for greater enlightenment too. What we see is that our subconscious is a powerful component of our minds that both helps and hinders us at times. More importantly, it's entirely possible that we are still at such an early stage of understanding our minds, our subconscious and our connections that we simply can not fully grasp the power of information that is being transmitted to us or assimilated by us. Perhaps there is more to Dreams than meets the mind's eye, and that is to see the world differently, or as it really is…

About Dreams Quest

Dreams Quest is a diversified entertainment company building fantasy and dream-like content that is both breathtaking and adventurous, driving the soul to learn and explore even more. Through mythology and lore, we tap into your aspirational dreams to build a thriving ecosystem, community and world which is shared through game, film, tv, books and music. We help you see the world differently, or as it really is…

Origins: The Fall of Azoria

You find yourself falling and land into a world that has been torn asunder. What has caused this disruption to take place? And what role will you play in determining the future of Azoria?

Origins is an open-world RPG mobile game full of quests, exploration, challenges and secrets which lay ahead of you. Collect and earn valuable organic matter, crystals, and artefacts in your inventory while seeking the knowledge necessary to unlock hidden secrets long since forgotten. Discover how to wield and master Weka, the life force energy that both influences and sustains the world.

Origins: The Fall of Azoria, is the first experiential fantasy and action-based open-world mobile RPG game where your dreams and subconscious intertwine into an immersive experience.

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