To sleep, perchance to dream? Aye, there’s the rub — and the abundance of myths about dreams proves it. Let’s rub out a few of those myths together, shall we?
Why do myths about dreams persist, no matter how unreasonable they may be? One possibility for the existence of these myths is because dreams are such a vital part of the one-third of our lives that we spend asleep. The more vivid they are, the more likely they are to lodge in our memories and prey on our thoughts.
The best way we can understand dreams is that they are only random impulses in the brain. These impulses are shaped by events that we encounter or remember during the hours we are awake. Think of them as a way of clearing out your mental filing cabinets. While that may seem rather mundane, it’s an attitude that can help you face the reality of dream myths.
Myth 1: If you die in your dreams, you’ll die in real life.
For most of us, all it takes is a few minutes of consideration to realize that this myth about dreams is false. There are very few among us who haven’t dreamed we are dying at least once — and that only counts for the dreams we can actually remember. As most people know, you forget many more dreams than you recall.
If you’ve dreamed of dying and you find yourself alive as you read this, obviously the concept is a myth. If you’ve never dreamed about dying (and by “dying” we include those sudden stops at the end of dreams about falling, too), then allow the rest of us to reassure you that it’s nothing to worry about.
Myth 2: You can’t control your dreams.
Actually, some people can control their dream. This is called “lucid dreaming.” For about 10 percent of us, this myth about dreams is belied on a regular basis. When we either deliberately determine what we want to dream or otherwise realize we’re dreaming, and then we redirect a
n existing dream onto a different path, you have controlled your dream.Most of us can control our dreams in this way only rarely, but it can be done if the dreamer is willing to question the dream and realize that it is a dream. The rest of us are doomed to follow our dreams from beginning to end, no matter
how illogical and surreal they may become.For example: Your Humble Writer often dreams about flying unassisted, seeing UFOs, or finding $200 bills lying around in quantity. When he then questions whether he’s having a dream, the answer is always, “No way! This is much too real!” No lucidity here! In this case, this myth about dreams really is fact.
Myth 3: You only dream during deep sleep.
Actually, the opposite is true. During deep sleep you don’t dream at all, and your brain waves slow down to about three per second. By contrast, when you enter REM sleep (due to the Rapid Eye Movement associated with it), breathing, respiration, and brainwave activity all increase substantially.
REM sleep occupies 20-25% of the average sleep period, and it’s during REM sleep that nearly all dreams occur. Your sleep state is light, and your brain is five times more active than when deeply asleep. Clearly, the idea that you dream only when really zonked out is yet another one of many misleading myths about dreams.