Why we dream and what dreams mean remains one of science’s most perplexing questions. And today, as technology tries to find answers and patterns to everything in our lives, there’s absolutely an app for that.
But can these apps help us understand our inner workings and our dreams and should they?
Daniel Love, a lucid dream educator based in Truto, England, told Wired.Co.UK he has tried nearly every dream device on the market. And even though they first emerged in the ‘90s, the technology behind these types of devices hasn’t changed much. He explained the science behind these devices is “very, very primitive.”
The oneirologist said, “It’s a bit like strapping an alarm clock to your forehead – the idea is that it will interrupt your sleep. Sleep is absolutely vital to one’s general health, but the producers of these devices rarely respect or acknowledge this.”
For years, researchers have believed that dreaming mediates memory consolidation and mood regulation, “a process a little like overnight therapy,” according to Psychology Today. A new study from the University of Bern in Switzerland, published in Science identifies how the brain triages emotions during sleep.
Researchers found dreams can consolidate the storage of positive emotions while dampening the consolidation of negative ones. Why is this important? A more in-depth understanding of how the brain helps to reinforce positive emotions and weaken negative during REM sleep can bring on new therapeutic pathways for mental health problems.
Doctor Julia Kogan, who offers stress and anxiety coaching with her Master Stress Method said because dreams are responsible for processing information and helping us regulate emotions, it can be helpful to monitor for themes and recurrent dreams since they can symbolize conflict, stress, anxiety, or depression.
“Dreams that people remember usually occur during the REM portion of sleep. REM is thought to be involved in emotional processing and memory, so unresolved issues, trouble managing stress, or other emotional distress is often processed in recurrent dreams,” said Dr. Kogan. “If we do not cope well with emotional distress or problems in our lives, we are likely to process these things while sleeping, which can result in various types of recurrent dreams.”
She points to research that has indicated up to 65 percent of dream elements are associated with things that have happened while people are awake.
“Dreams are thought to be subconscious residue from our experiences. Many believe that dreams are closely related to the way we feel emotionally. For instance, nightmares can be directly tied to traumatic experiences from the past that might not even show up during the day. If we are more stressed at a particular time, we may be more likely to have stress dreams or more vivid dreams.”
That is how Annie Miller, LCSW-C, with DC Metro Sleep and Psychology explains our overnight thoughts, AKA dreams.
“Dreams may be related to various themes and emotions, events occurring while individuals are awake, and bizarre dreams that are difficult to understand. They can be interesting, entertaining, confusing, or at times, scary,” said Kogan.
When Do Dreams Indicate Problems and What Can Help?
“If [you] are waking you up overnight and if you feel the emotional impact of your dream or nightmare throughout the day,” explained Miller. “Also, if you have recurrent stress dreams or nightmares that are disturbing, it is something you can address with therapy.”
Kogan adds, “Treating mental health conditions is an important aspect of overall health and reducing the frequency of nightmares. Nightmares can also be caused by sleep deprivation. Therefore, improving overall sleep quality is important.”
“If your dreams are positive and you are curious about them, it may be interesting to explore them further or put emphasis on them, but if they are distressing or recurrent, it’s important to try to work with a therapist to get treatment for nightmares,” Miller explained.
If someone is looking to work through their stressful or reoccurring dreams, Miller explains there are two types of therapy that can help.
“They are based on very similar techniques. One is called IRT (image rehearsal therapy), and it is a brief therapy focused on rewriting the nightmare to have a different ending. The other therapy ERRT (exposure, relaxation, and rescripting therapy) also involves rewriting the nightmare but adds elements of relaxation.”
She said both therapies are clinically proven to be effective.
“While the dream content may not always be a direct reflection of what is going on in our lives, the emotions evoked in the dream may give us insight into poorly managed emotions,” explained Dr. Kogan. She went on to explain, “while I would discourage people from spending too much time directly analyzing their dreams, I would encourage them to monitor recurring themes, especially related to feeling stressed or anxious in their dreams.”
Dream Apps and What They Do
If you are looking to analyze the thoughts you have while snoozing, more and more dream apps are popping up for you.
Let us start with “Dream Journey Ultimate.” The app says it has a personal “dream cloud” where you can securely track and store your dreams. A fun trick? You can easily share your interesting dreams with other users and visit the “dream wall” to read and comment on other shared dreams.
The app developers say it is the largest dream database in the world. If you have a particularly interesting dream, you can have it analyzed for common themes.
Another option is the app “Lucidity – Lucid Dream Journal.” The goal of this app is to learn how to master the art of lucid dreaming. Does the idea of reaching full consciousness in your dreams sound appealing? Then this is the app for you. Creators say if you become a lucid dreamer, you can start controlling where your dreams take you.
It has tools like morning and evening reminders, a dream journal and much more.
Lastly, you might check out the Sleep Cycle app. It tracks your sleep cycles by listening to your sounds. How does this play into dreaming? It is all about setting yourself up for the best shot to have pleasant dreams.