What Do Your Dreams Mean? Here’s How You Can Decode Them

New sleep apps promise to decipher the hidden meanings of your nighttime experiences. But how reliable are they?

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Scientists may still debate the meaning and purpose of dreams, but we ordinary dreamers seem to have an insatiable desire to parse the who, what and why of what happens when we doze off. It’s hard not to believe that at least some of our sleep-time scenarios are imbued with some sort of significance. And there are a slew of new websites and apps that are feeding that curiosity with the tantalizing promise of helping us to decode the messages that we might otherwise miss.

Some use algorithms developed by psychologists and cognitive scientists to create feedback. Some create communities of dreamers or even dream experts who will opine about their hidden significance. The techniques and the tools they use include everything from dictionaries of so-called dream symbols,  personalized dream interpretation keys, to journals that help you track your dreams over time. Some, like Dream:On, claim to influence what you dream about with personally chosen “soundscapes” that are triggered when you enter REM sleep. Shadow, currently in development, will awaken you gradually to increase the likelihood you’ll remember your dreams and will make it easy for you to immediately record them.

Why bother? Psychotherapists have long believed that our dreams give us insights into feelings and internal struggles of which we may not always be aware. Alicia Clark, a licensed clinical psychologist in Washington DC, says that dream analysis can be a powerful tool for self-understanding. “Evaluating dreams is alive and well in psychotherapy practice and training,” she says.

That means that dreams can also offer useful clues for people who aren’t in therapy as well. “If you wake up feeling disoriented and upset,” she says, “chances are you are feeling similarly in your waking life somewhere.” Thinking about how the feelings in your dreams relate to what’s happening in your life, she suggests, can help you better recognize and address your internal struggles.

As far as how symbolic dreams can be, she says the people in your dream can be who they seem to be, or represent people who are like them. They can also stand in for different aspects of your own personality. “For example,” she says, “ your mother in your dream can represent your actual mother, someone in your life that acts like your mother, and parts of your personality that are like your mother.”

For this reason, many therapists say, dictionaries of dream symbols are of limited use because they give universal meanings to symbols, while  the symbols may actually have unique meaning for each person.

Others aren’t so quick to dismiss online dream dictionaries (such as DreamMoods, Dream Dictionary-Dream Central, Dream Meanings, Way of Dreams and Dream Key). Roger Harnish, a psychology professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, says they can help people to take a more expansive lens to their dreams than they might without the cues from the dictionaries. “Because they give so many interpretations of so many words,” he says, “people are bound to find something that fits their dream in some way. In addition, we all tend to project our feelings into these interpretations and can find personal meaning in them.”

For example, DreamProfessor, an app Harnish created, focuses on the patterns of imagery and words in the dream. “Research,” he says, “suggests that many of our dreams appear to be about our unfinished business, particularly our emotionally unfinished business. Knowing what our unfinished business is can allow us to better understand and conduct our lives.”

Because DreamProfessor, like several other apps, keeps a log of dreams over time, it’s possible for dreamers to see similarities among what appear to be completely different dreams. For example, Harnish says. “If you keep doing the same things at work that stress you, you can keep getting the same dream analysis again and again even though on the surface, the successive dreams seem to be totally different.”

While Harnish is considering doing research based on his users’ dreams, other dream sites, like DreamBoard and Dreamscloud, are currently offering researchers a treasure trove of up to 200,000 dreams. The information the scientists are provided is aggregated and anonymous, but next year, the sites’ creators are planning to add specific research questions that users will answer, and give them consent forms that allow their data to become part of research studies. DreamBoard’s data includes information from each user’s dream journal, and in return for the material, the site’s experts give users feedback on their dreams that includes who or what they dream most about, when they dream most, and the colors and emotions in their dreams. Based on an algorithm designed by cognitive science professor Bruno Bara at the University of Turin, the site hopes to give people insight into what their unconscious is telling them.

DreamsCloud provides feedback from the site’s panel of experts, which includes psychologists, social workers and life coaches.

But how reliable is that analysis? Any time you tell your dream to someone else, says Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist and dream researcher at Harvard Medical School, those doing the analysis may end up projecting their own experiences, feelings, biases and other baggage on to your dreams. So it’s worth remembering that the same dream may not get the same interpretation from different people.

And some of the apps may promise more than they can deliver. You shouldn’t expect an app to turn your tumultuous dreams into more tranquil ones, for example, since, as Patrick McNamara, a neurologist at Boston University School of Medicine says, “There is no basis for believing we can change negative dreams to positive.” Plus, not everyone may be ready to have their dreams become fodder for public comment. Sometimes dreams are better left alone — and private.

49 comments
DallasRickiStewart
DallasRickiStewart

I dreamed my mom and I stole a car from the dealership and then pushed it off a Cliff into the water and then went to my dead aunts house and saw two snakes there. It was crazy


GeraldineC
GeraldineC

I dream basically every night about my kid's dad even though we apart for 2 years now and has absolutely no contact and no feelings at all, why is it so?

GeraldineC
GeraldineC

I dream about my kid's dad basically every night even through we apart for 2 years now and I have absolutely feelings for him plus no contact with him, why is it so?

DebVerdone
DebVerdone

I dreamt that I could not breathe and there was 3 men in my dream that I did not recognize. And when I woke up they were in my room and then disappeared. Really don't know what this means?

francehill
francehill

i dreamt of a cat jumped inside my umbrella-cut skirt & had turned  like a whirlpool wrapping it with the cloth & i woke up with the feeling that my skirt pulls off my waist. 

paulpollix
paulpollix

what explanation do you have for me dreaming of an event which is going to happen tomorrow 

Portia123
Portia123

I had a dream that i was asked out by this boy i really like (Brandon felix) and then we got married the very next day and im only 13. then Austin Mahone found out and go jealous and killed him. then justin bieber found out then killed Austin Mahone. it was really crazy

HayleyBuchanan0
HayleyBuchanan0

I had a dream that I had sex with Spencer Matthews (from made in Chelsea) and then at the end he got shot by Chris Brown (the r&b artist).

Very weird dream!

simix1
simix1

I had this dream this morning which influenced my whole day. It was real and intense.

It seems to me it started in my bed room when i was playing and sleeping with a girl with beautiful hips.. I thought I knew her, but I wasn't sure. In fact she reminded me of my ex, an unreliable woman. After a while she left and another girl took her place. The new girl had an unfamiliar face, I'm sure I never seen her before. Had her clothes on, just smiling at me but I wasn't sure of her. I kept my distance and I lived.

I found my self in my mom living room. One of her friends was there. I never liked this woman in real.
I was trying to ignore her presence but it didn't work. All ended in a dispute between us. She took of and while my mom was trying to hold and calm her another friend enters the door.

It was another woman, a friend of my mom which died some years ago. All covered in black clothes. I was very happy to see her again. She used to be a very good person and very related to my mom since childhood. I welcomed her inside, trying to be gentile. She came but she didn't sit anywhere. I felt a presence of cold around her. She told me she came for having a message for me.

I had a strong bad feeling that she would tell something really bad. She said something like whispering but i couldn't understand so i asked her again. She repeat it but the same. The third time i heard this sentence...

Chose one of the girls and clean your house for ...
Somehow i knew the sentence was going to end... waiting visitors for your mother past away.
I looked at her blurred dark face and in silence i asked her if was this what she trying to explain me. That my mom was close to die ? She answered Yes making a sign.

I desperately cried out "NOOOO" and there the dream end.

Could this dream mean something ? Does anyone has an answer ?

jeanajr1
jeanajr1

I had a dream, that I was at a casino and I hit the jackpot.   when the bells went off I fainted.  what exactly does this dream mean;

hanabanana
hanabanana

i had a dream that my friend was possessed and i had to tap her head three times to turn her back to normal with the help of another friend, what does this mean!!

alaynaorsini2
alaynaorsini2

ok. so two nights in a row I had the same dream and I was like telling my best friend what happened in my dream and the hulk was in my dream and walle the little robot was in my dream and I could see myself like my hole body and we were in this building of mud and rocks  in the middle of the highway and then all of  sudden the hulk was really and im talking really nice . and then im like that's really awesome and anyways then walle kept hugging me and it wasn't funny it was cute. then we some how transported to walle`s movie called walle and then there were dead people in a hospital and then I shrunk and I almost got stepped on then the nurses were all creepy and creepily walking really slow but they were dead . then I woke  up and was like oh it was all a dream.

MichelleLEvansRoyer
MichelleLEvansRoyer

i have had two sisters passaway. they came to one of my sisters bestfriend  in a dream.  their was a white coffin and my sister told her friend that she couldnt or didnt know who was in the coffin. but that my mother my sister and i needed to get our self checked out.  and that everything happens for a reason and that is will all be ok.

Jewels
Jewels

im only 14 and I have awful dreams about arranged marriages.....  what does it mean, im worried

reissnathaniel549
reissnathaniel549

I had one where met nice Japanese people who spoke English the gave me a Japanese dress I was nice and then I had to use the bathroom and I found a very nice ghost completely visible and we became freinds we hung out around the store I was in and also in this dream I was a kid so back to my dream I had to go to a wedding I said by to the ghost and she cried when I left what does that mean  

Chaza12
Chaza12

I dream all the time about a guy i went to school with and i dont even talk to him or seen him since school??? Im 28 now

rs73
rs73

Dreams are probably related to our daily stressors, but these apps are childish. 

nagendra.k
nagendra.k

Nice Post, Its real some times dreams become real because what we dream night it will happens in the morning on that day. Dreams are more powerful. 


https://www.evaidya.com 

mahmoodadvocate
mahmoodadvocate

I think that dreams always depend on our mood, our mind situations, our health, weather conditions, or lot more things which are related to our self if are mentally and physically fit and healthy then you will see good dreams and if you are not mentally or physically fit then you will see horrible dreams

http://www.consumerspk.com/damages-of-rs-28000-on-faulty-sofa/

SidLane
SidLane

& cue Snowden release of NSA's monitoring of "dream library" searches in 3, 2, 1...

MikeBauer
MikeBauer

This suggests that our waking life isn't the dream. What program might I use to decode my life? If it's put this way, then the discussion is clarified: typical solutions to 'decode my life' are 'religion', 'psychotherapy', 'hobbies'. It'd have to be the same with 'dreams'... a 'dream' only exists as an interpretation... 'any' interpretation.

JamieChastain
JamieChastain

Every day we see millions of images. Dreams are the brain's way of going to the bathroom, nothing more. They emerge in a jumbled mess.

LynBarTri
LynBarTri

"Dream interpretation" is an abused concept.  There is really nothing to decode within a dream itself. The language used to describe dream content however is rich with meaning. Using a computer program I wrote for myself, I have recorded over 2,000 of my own dreams and have not detected any symbolism that sheds light on daily activity or thought. However, the language I use to describe a dream has a very distinct pattern of repetitiveness. Websites that offer dream dictionaries or symbol analysis are a waste of time. Only you know what your dreams "mean" and generally they are simply emotional content abstracted into pictures and "word pictures".

theirmind
theirmind

Dreamer needs to "unlock the dream of man" - himself.

Mina73
Mina73

“There is no basis for believing we can change negative dreams to positive.”


I do.  All the time.  You just have to reach a certain level of consciousness. It's not easy. Takes practice.You can see the movie on the screen, maybe reach out, brush it, breathe on it, just enough to cause a small ripple, and then sit back and enjoy the rest of the show. Sometimes dreams mean something, sometimes it's just a great show, but I don't think they are meant to be taken too seriously.

DavidMassey
DavidMassey

I dreamed that I ate a big bag of marshmellows, and when I woke up my pillow was gone.

fawmeopfw
fawmeopfw

Dream interpretation is a bunch of crap.

RaydioClowers
RaydioClowers

The Good Lord decipher's my dreams! I dream them and the lord gives me the wisdom to decipher them.It's strange but it's true.

JamesOlson
JamesOlson

There is no scientific basis for dream interpretation.  None.

vividalgebra
vividalgebra

I am dreaming I am typing a reply to this article and when I wake up I find it is there.  Spooky or what?

LizFenimore
LizFenimore

I need a hip replacement, and I am going through the process...but I have been having dreams of walking normally lately.  I originally thought it was because I watch people walk and feel a little envious.  I'm 59...kinda early for a hip replacement.

So, back to my dream.  I've had  this dream several times in the past 6 months.  I am walking normally, no pain; I think I have had my hip replacement.  But I see no scars!  So, does this mean there is another way to fix my hip without surgery?  I wake up from these dreams RELIEVED, and then bummer when I get out of bed and try to stand.

Anyone have ideas what this means?

joehonick@gmail.com
joehonick@gmail.com

This "dream" commentary is one of the worst pieces of journalism for a top flight magazine I've seen in a long time....almost as if there was space that needed to be filled.

twocupsofjoe
twocupsofjoe

years ago, my grandma, my mom and I had the same dream! We all dreamed of trying to sweep cats out of our house with a broom. Let me tell you how I found out. Afterall, it's not like I spoke to my grandma every day and I certainly don't sit around talking about my dreams to people. 

I work with my dad and my sister and I overheard a telephone conversation that my sister was having with my mom about the pastor coming to my mom's house to interpret a dream she and my grandmother had that was about sweeping cats out of their houses. Curiously, I asked my sister what their dream was about that needed interpretation. She then explained that my mom and my grandmother had the same dream. She said that my grandmother had called a week before complaining of cats in her house and that she needed someone to come sweep out the remaining cats in her house because she wasn't able to do it all herself. My mom asked to speak with the social worker that would visit my grandmother on a daily basis and asked her about the cats. The lady shrugged it off as grandma having a dream because there were no cats in the house. My mom told my grandmother that she had the same type of dream only that she was sweeping cats out of her house and my sister's house as well. Freaking out by the sheer coincidence, i asked my sister when they had that dream because i remember the day i had the same dream! I dreamed of cats in my apartment, sitting and running on my sofa and i got a broom, opened the door and shooed them away. we all that dream on the same day! How weird that we all had that same dream. 

The pastor analyzed it as having people in our lives that were either bad influences or that were jealous of us. He said we need to weed out our bad influences and friendships or family members that wished us harm. what do you think?



wangyutzu
wangyutzu

I am sort of envy those people who actually remember their dreams, I forgot most of them after I woke up.....I know some people consider their dreams have meanings that dreams can really tell them something important, that is nice. However not all the dreams should be treated seriously, sometimes they are just dreams. We all know you can not find all the answers to all the questions, so why make all the dreams have the interpretations? Some silly dreams are relax to me, so I am not worry to find the proper interpretation to my dream, just dream on would be nice to me ! 

NW
NW

We cannot rely on "anyone to interpret our dreams" for us.  Each experience is individual ... I am so tired of things being written to tell people how to think, interpret or analyze.  A number of years ago I began dreaming in Sanskrit, then I began dreaming in a Native American language ... Hopi ... I've dreamt of participating in ceremonies; Living in Egypt when it was still green with lots of water as a Scribe. I had never been exposed to these languages or people who spoke them before.  I keep a notepad by my bed in order to research the words or experiences the next morning.  I quit watching TV a number of years ago, rarely listen to the mainstream radio, etc., which has made a difference in cleaning out the garbage.  I occasionally read the news because it has less impact on my psych.  The effects of the crap we're bombarded with on a daily basis deeply impacts our subconscious and therefore makes most dreaming unreliable..  By cleaning it all out, meditating regularly, etc., we can reach whole new levels of communication, consciousness and dream states. 

TMaraya
TMaraya

@MichelleLEvansRoyer

HI MICHELLE , THE DREAM YOU HAD WAS A SIGN THAT THERE IS A SPIRIT OF DEATH IN YOUR FAMILY ROAMING. THE FRIEND THAT HAD THE DREAM HAS A GIFT IN DREAMS AND WAS SHOWN THIS REVELATION TO PRAY AGAINST IT . COFFIN ALWAYS MEANS DEATH,  ARE YOU A BELIEVER OF CHRIST? JESUS LOVES YOUR FAMILY SO MUCH THAT HE WANTS TO SET YOU ALL FREE, HE USED YOUR FRIEND TO WARN YOU. AS IN GALATIANS 3:13  CHRIST HAS REDEEMED US FROM THE CURSE OF THE LAW.  GIVE YOUR LIFE TO CHRIST AND HE WILL RESTORE  AND SHOW GREAT MERCY TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY.


TMaraya
TMaraya

@Jewels

THE MARRIAGES MEANS COVERNANT, AN ENTITY IS MARRIED TO YOU IN THE SPIRIT. WHAT RELIGLIOUS BACKGROUND ARE YOU? AND DO YOU SEEM TO HAVE ISSUES IN RELATIONSHIPS?

alaynaorsini2
alaynaorsini2

@reissnathaniel549 wow that is awkward and this is coming from and eight year old. sorry if this doesn't help you I just need some friends to talk to.....anyways happy valentines day. by the way im a female.


Mina73
Mina73

You wish you could walk, pain free, without surgery. Anyone in your position would have the same dream.

KhashiRahmani
KhashiRahmani

@LizFenimore


I think your subconscious is telling you that you may be afraid or worried about the surgery. "What if it doesn't fix?" "What if I am still in pain" I think your dream is seeking a way to avoid the worry be imaging out the ideal solution. Remember that dreams simply manifest your thoughts/ideas/activities. If you spend an entire day looking at cats, playing with them, experiencing different emotions with them...odds are you will have a dream about them in some form or fashion. Freud was a big believer and very interested in how dreams reflect the actual lives of those who experience them. Source = Opinion and I have a B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Physiology. 

TMaraya
TMaraya

@NW

WHEN YOU READ THE BIBLE, THERE IS MANY INTERPRETATIONS OF DREAMS. SOME ARE STANDARD TYPE OF DREAMS AND SOME ARE COMPLEX. SOME DREAMS COME BECAUSE OF WHAT WE FEED OUR MINDS TO WATCH, BUT YOU NEED TO KNOW AND DECERN WHAT IS A MESSAGE.

bluelinegraphicdesign
bluelinegraphicdesign

Really? I believe in the more Spiritual explanation. You now see yourself as healed...but I believe the dream means that you will go thru the surgery fine and will be free of pain that way. No ill effects so to speak. THAT YOU HAVE NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT...Thats the Holy Spirit comforting you


source: The Bible and my own beliefs. I do not know your beliefs, but those are mine. I am not some bible thumper, just someone who believes and has faith.


I will pray for you.




TMaraya
TMaraya

@NW

GIVE YOUR LIFE TO CHRIST AND HE WILL RESTORE  AND SHOW GREAT MERCY TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY.