From dream interpretation to dream journals — get all of your dream-related questions answered.

Chances are you’ve woken up from a dream where you were falling or late for something. Maybe you’ve even dreamt of your teeth falling out, flying, or being inside water and wondered what it means.

Perhaps you’ve also questioned the very purpose of dreams or the purpose of dream journals — all of which are common questions many people have about dreams. The average person spends 229,961 hours asleep in their lifetime, so it’s natural to wonder about your sleep state.

For all of your dream-related questions, PsychCentral has your dream answers.

Do humans always dream?

“Because the brain remains active even during sleep, it is believed that humans dream every night,” says Po-Chang Hsu, a medical doctor and medical content expert at SleepingOcean. “However, people often forget their dreams right after waking up, which has to do with how the brain works during sleep.”

“Studies show that the [part of the] brain responsible for memory formation (the frontal lobe) is inactive during the REM stage when we typically dream, which is why people often don’t recall dreaming.”

Do dreams mean good sleep?

Not necessarily, according to Hsu. “The human brain can dream during any sleep stage,” he says. “Therefore, a person can see dreams without entering the deep, most restorative sleep.”

With that said, we do know that research shows good sleep is vital for wellbeing. Several studies link the extraordinary importance of sleep for a thriving, healthy life.

What do dreams tell us about our mental state?

According to research, dreams may provide insight into your mental state, including your emotional well-being.

For example, one study from the NIH found that nightmares were more than two-fold more frequent in individuals with mood or psychotic disorders than those without.

Another NIH study also shows that those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often have recurring nightmares about their trauma. “This suggests that dreams may play a role in processing and coping with traumatic events,” explains Aúgusta.

What are common symbols in dreams?

“Most people mention dreaming of falling, running away from someone, flying, reliving childhood memories, working, dying, and seeing people they know,” explains Hsu.

“The meaning behind these symbols has to be discovered individually, as it’s largely based on the person’s current mental state and life circumstances.”

Can you control your dreams?

According to Dr. Nathan Brandon, a licensed psychologist, it is possible to influence dreams and have some control over their content through lucid dreaming.

“Lucid dreaming is a process where you become aware you are dreaming while still asleep,” explains Brandon. “Once you’re aware that you are dreaming, you can attempt to control the dream by changing the dreamscape or influencing the characters in the dream.”

How do you interpret dreams?

“Dreams are made up of a combination of images, thoughts, feelings, and sensations that occur during sleep and can be influenced by factors such as your mood, memories, and experiences,” explains Brandon. Yet, according to Brandon, interpreting dreams is highly personal and doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer.

“Often, the symbols and emotions in a dream are related to events or situations in the dreamer’s waking life,” explains Brandon. “In general, you can interpret your dreams by looking at the symbols and images in the dream and exploring your association with them.”

What’s the purpose of a dream journal?

“Dream journals are often used as a tool for self-reflection and understanding dreams,” explains Brandon. “By keeping a journal, you can track patterns in your dreams over time and gain insight into the symbolism and meanings of your dreams.”

You can use your journal to explore deep questions that arise from your dreams in a space you know is safe.

Dream journals can also be helpful during therapy. According to Hsu, “writing the dreams down often helps people process their emotions or dig deeper, for example, to discover what causes nightmares or recurring dreams.”

You could, in turn, consider bringing your dream journal to your next therapy session to discuss your dreams with your therapist.

What are some techniques for better dream recall?

On top of keeping a dream journal, Aúgusta offers a few techniques to help you with dream recall:

  • Keep your dream journal by your bed and write down your dreams as soon as you wake up.
  • Set the alarm for a few hours before you usually wake up and try to remember your dreams when you wake up.
  • Make a habit of thinking about your dreams before you go to bed.
  • Practice relaxation techniques before bed, such as deep breathing.

While more research on dreams is required, your dreams can still give you a lot of insight into your waking life right now.

Start noting and recalling dreams, and consider what they’re trying to tell you — either in your journal or with a trusted friend or therapist. You never know what insight you may find in your mind.

And whatever you do, don’t stop dreaming.

How do you improve sleep quality and get more REM sleep? Consider sticking to a consistent sleep schedule and adopting healthier habits (more exercise, less caffeine, limit screen time before bed, etc.).

How many times do you dream a night? Researchers have discovered that the average person goes through four to six sleep cycles each night, so it is thought that we dream around that number. However, experts are not fully sure.

How can you practice lucid dreaming? Practicing mindfulness meditation, especially a few hours before your regular wake-up time (and then go back to sleep), can help you get better at lucid dreaming. It can also help to keep a dream journal.

What stage of sleep do you dream the most? Dreaming occurs most during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage, considered the deepest and the most restorative sleep stage.