General Health

Theories to Help Understand the Meaning of Dreams

Dreams often slip away like minnows when we wake up and try to grasp at them. However, some remain vivid in our memories, so clear that one may wonder if they dreamt them more than once.

Even if one doesn’t remember his dreams, one still has them. While experts have plenty to discover about dreams, they agree that dreams are part of the human experience. Whether dreams are dull or peculiar, one might want to know if they have more profound significance. Experts have not come up with a clear-cut answer, but there are a few theories that discuss the reason behind dreams.

Freud’s theory of unconscious wish fulfilment

Psychologist Sigmond Freud suggested that dreams helped protect people from waking up early when light or sound disrupted their sleep. Moreover, he also believed that dreams pointed to buried desires. Also, one’s brain can create a manifest dream from snippets of images, experiences, and memories. The manifested dream simplifies, reorganizes, and masks the latent dream or repressed wishes.

Jung’s theory of compensation and self-portrayal

Carl Jung believed that dreams have meaning. He focused on specific patterns that appear symbolically in dreams, thus stating that dreams can explain daily events and balance aspects of oneself that one is unaware of.

Other theories

Calvin Hall has considered dreams part of the cognition process or a type of thinking that happens when one sleeps. The images in the dreams offer an essential insight into how one view oneself and others, problems and conflicts, and the world in general.

George Lakoff believed dreams offered a glimpse into the daily challenges and life events. The abstract symbols appearing in the dream represent real hardships.

Rosalind Cartwright believed dreams are tied to significant life events and emotional experiences. Therefore, dreams play an essential role in regulating emotions and creating memories.

A few other researchers believe that dreams do not have much meaning. A few theories surrounding these beliefs are:-

Threat simulation theory

According to this theory, dreams offer the chance to practice identifying, avoiding, and dealing with potential threats. Research conducted in 2009 supported this theory by comparing the dreams of children who had experienced trauma with those who hadn’t.

Activation synthesis theory

According to this theory, dreams are nothing more than a collection of random images and thoughts projected during sleep. Moreover, these images usually don’t follow any narrative structure.

Continual-activation theory

One’s brain doesn’t shut down when one goes to sleep. Instead, it carries out essential functions like transferring short-term memories to long-term storage. When one sleeps, one gets rid of unnecessary information. As the unconscious mind focuses on processing memories, the activity of the conscious mind slows down.


No one knows for sure what purpose dreams have. But at the end of the day, their true toke doesn’t matter. If one finds them meaningful, then they have value to them.


Tuhina Mishra

Dr. Tuhina Mishra completed her MBBS from Grant Government Medical College in the year 2021. She has published several research papers in Indian and international journals. She is a recipient of the ICMR-STS award in the year 2019. She is a staunch believer in making research an integral part of the medical curriculum. She has volunteered in several NGOs, healthcare startups, and awareness programs.

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