Dreams – we all have them. And they come in a variety of styles. They’re short and long. They’re memorable and forgettable. They involve things we think about when awake and things that are crazy and nonsensical and leave us wondering where in the world they came from. They’re scary and funny. They’re vivid and dull. They’re all sorts of things rolled into one night of glorious (GLORIOUS) sleep! In short, dreams are things we don’t really understand.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t know anything – we know, for instance, that dreams occur during any type of sleep, from the light to the heavy. But the most vivid dreams occur during REM sleep (rapid eye movement); that’s when the mind is the most active.
No one really knows why we dream but theories exist. Most people agree that dreams have no meaning, which helps explain the sigh of relief we have when we wake up realizing that a nightmare was just a dream. But scientists also insist that, even if they’re meaningless, they are necessary. Certain studies suggest that people who don’t dream are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, concentration problems, hallucinations, and weight gain. While many of these things can be tied to lack of sleep (and not necessarily lack of dreams), scientists still believe that dreams are paramount to well-being. They can help us solve problems, process our memories, and deal with emotions.
It used to be thought that dreams revealed our deepest motivations and desires, but not everyone agrees with that theory. And, while some people believe in the ability of dreams to predict the future, others insist that dreaming something actually means the opposite will happen.
What do People Dream About?
Everyone dreams of different things and whatever is going on in our lives certainly plays a role – if we’re stressed out about work, we may dream about showing up at an important conference completely nude. If we’re stressed about school, we may dream about oversleeping and missing a final. If we’re stressed about our future, we may dream about an unplanned pregnancy with sextuplets.
Nightmares often reflect the underlying stress we have
But there can be other causes as well – trauma, medications, conflict, and illness can play a role. So can nothing; you can have the worst nightmare of your life for no obvious reason at all.
Some people also experience lucid dreams – these are dreams where you’re aware that you’re dreaming. This may allow you to control your dream, making sure that you don’t wake up before you win the lottery or finish eating that giant piece of chocolate cake.
However, while dreams do indeed differ from person to person, per the Huffington Post, there are common things we dream about. And they come with underlying meaning.
Some of these include: being chased (it may represent anxiety or fear), school (it may represent a lesson we need to learn, which is why people continue to dream about school long after they graduate), falling (it may represent either letting go or something in our life that feels out of control), and nudity (it may represent emotional or physical exposure or a feeling of vulnerability).
Dreaming of teeth falling out is also a common theme. This can represent anxiety, insecurity, or concerns about worth and ability. It can also represent the fact that you’ve only been pretending to floss your entire life.
How Cannabis Impacts Dreams
Interestingly, most people report wilder dreams after they quit cannabis than when they’re on it. According to Herb magazine, this probably has to do with REM sleep. As mentioned above, REM is the stage when the mind is in activation mode – dreams are louder and prouder and ready to rock and roll. Cannabis suppresses REM sleep, which means you dream less when you consume weed.
Another factor is timing: when you don’t consume cannabis, you’re more likely to fall into REM sleep as morning approaches – this increases the odds that you’ll not only dream but remember your dreams.
So, then, what happens when you wean off the weed? People who were ardent imbibers and then quit (that’s madness!) have found that their sleep changes. It no longer has a lead-like texture to it; instead, it’s filled with dreams. And these dreams aren’t ordinary – they’re Alice in Wonderland, opium-trip-like adventures.
One reason this happens is because as described above, consuming cannabis tampers dreams – thus, your brain is trying to catch up on all the dreams you missed out on. This is why many of the crazy colorful dreams are only temporary – once you’re all caught up, your brain returns to its regularly scheduled REM program.
Scientifically, this is known as the “rebound effect” and is described as suppressed dreams returning in all their glory
It’s akin to a snowball that rolls down a hill, collecting the dreams you should have dreamt as it gains steam and increases in size.
This isn’t to say people have a quota and God or the universe requires them to dream a certain number of times a week (and, if you don’t, they complain about not enough sleeping on the job). But the brain, for reasons unknown, is wired to dream and suppressing these dreams – or so it appears – doesn’t mean they go away. They just bide their time until they can put on a spectacular show.
The idea that “dreams never die” is a popular concept – it’s the lyrics to many a song and surely on hundreds of unrolled posters hanging in college dorm rooms as I type this. But, it turns out, it’s not merely a platitude, at least not when Mary Jane has her way. When she has the mike, “Dreams never die…they just get bat-shit crazy.”