Vivid dreams are a fascinating subject. They can be alarming, disturbing, exhilarating, full of meaningful insight, and more besides, but what causes them, and how can you gain more control over your dream state? In this blog, we lift the lid on all the details.
What Are Vivid Dreams?
Arguably, there’s no clinically-established classification for a “vivid dream”, but the term tends to be used to describe a highly intense dream that convinces the dreamer that it’s real. Such dreams often include bright colours, strong emotions, and distinct sensory experiences.
Nightmares are generally classed as vivid dreams, but not all vivid dreams are nightmares! Some vivid dreams won’t be unpleasant at all, but can instead leave you feeling quite sad that you woke up to reality again. Often, a vivid dream will stick in your mind - potentially for a long time - after you’ve awoken.
Scientific research suggests that vivid dreams occur during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep. This is when the brain is at its most active, and when the most vivid imaginings are created.
To studiers of dream analysis and interpretation, vivid dreams can hold deep personal meanings for a dreamer, reflecting unconscious desires, anxieties, or repressed emotions. Some practitioners even believe that vivid dreams can be used for self-reflection and personal growth, offering insights into the dreamer's subconscious mind.
What Causes Vivid Dreams?
Vivid dreams still hold some mysteries within the field of science. However, most research points towards them being related to increased brain activity during the REM stage of sleep. REM sleep causes the brain to be highly active. The muscles of the body can actually be temporarily paralysed during this state, yet the brain certainly isn’t! This allows vivid and intense sensory experiences to occur with greater regularity.
The exact triggers for vivid dreams aren’t known, but they’re often attributed to increased brain activity and a combination of various elements that include psychological and physiological factors. The below states are all thought to increase their likelihood:
- Sleep deprivation
- Certain psychological conditions
If you’re going through a lot in life, then it’s perhaps quite understandable that you may experience heightened dream activity. Some scientists have also suggested that genetics could play a role in the likelihood of having vivid dreams (hereditary tendencies, etc). There’s even a viewpoint that claims that the more sensitive, creative and emotional souls among us may be more prone to vivid dreaming, as their connection to the subconscious is deeper.
How to Stop Vivid Dreams
While vivid dreams can be fascinating, they can sometimes get in the way of a good night’s sleep! Because of that, if you want to lessen the frequency of vivid dreams, you could try…
- Practising good sleep hygiene: Get sufficient sleep and follow good sleep practices. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule and stick to a bedtime routine that relaxes you. Don’t eat right before bed, and try to avoid getting too hot when you’re going to sleep.
- Managing stress levels: Try to incorporate relaxation techniques like breathwork, meditation, or exercise into your daily routine.
- Avoid stimulants before bed: Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine are known to increase the likelihood of vivid dreams. Avoid consuming them before bedtime!
- Keep a dream journal: Keeping track of your dreams could help you to understand what may be causing them, helping you to combat them. If your dreams are so intense that they’re trying to get your attention, then you can learn something from them!
- Rescript your nightmares: If you want to stop vivid dreaming because of a recurring nightmare, then try to imagine yourself in the nightmare when you’re awake, but focus on a more positive resolution. Doing so might help to lessen the frequency of the original nightmare scenario playing out in your subconscious mind.
- Seek professional help: If your vivid dreams cause significant distress, consider seeking help from a professional.
It's important to say that vivid dreams are a normal part of the sleep cycle for many people. They are not necessarily a cause for concern! However, if vivid dreams are affecting your quality of life, then addressing them (with a view to lessening their frequency) is advised.
What Are Vivid Dreams a Sign Of?
Viewed through the lens of dream interpretation, vivid dreams are often seen as a window into the unconscious mind, and offer insight into deeper psychological/emotional processes. They can sometimes reflect unconscious desires, repressed emotions, unresolved conflicts, and may even be useful for working through and processing such experiences.
Some dream interpreters believe that vivid dreams shine light into the dreamer's subconscious mind, and can therefore provide guidance or direction for personal growth and self-discovery. At this point, it’s important to clarify that vivid dream interpretation is subjective and highly personal. However, with that caveat in place, they are still powerful tools for personal reflection, and allow a tantalising glimpse into the inner workings of the mind.
How to Have Vivid Dreams
If you're more interested in promoting vivid dreams than you are avoiding them, then it’s more tricky to offer specific advice. Many tips that are offered to assist vivid dreamers can actually be applied to those who wish to avoid them, so there’s a large amount of disagreement here! However, here are several tips that we know of if you want to increase your chances of having intense dream experiences:
- Think about dreaming: The simple act of thinking about dreaming may actually manifest vivid dreams on a more regular basis.
- Listen to ambient music: Some vivid dreamers report that background music results in their best dreams. However, keep any soundtrack ambient, as you don’t want to distract your higher order brain functions.
- Pleasant odours: Small studies have suggested that pleasant odours within a room can promote good vivid dreams, and bad smells can yield bad vivid dreams.
- Wake yourself during REM: Try waking yourself up around 2-3 hours before you’d usually rise. Basically, the idea is to wake yourself up during REM sleep, when there’s more chance of you having vivid dreams. Not only will you therefore be more likely to remember a dream that was already ongoing, but consciously renewing your intention to dream vividly at that point may allow you to plunge back into the dream world.
- Suppress your thoughts: Trying really hard not to think about something at bedtime may actually increase the chance of your subconscious pulling it into a dream!
- Sleep on your stomach: Sleeping on your stomach is not recommended if you want to sleep soundly, but it may actually increase your chance of experiencing certain types of vivid dream.
- Consider melatonin supplements: Always ask your doctor to determine whether it is safe and appropriate for you to take supplements! Studies into melatonin usage have produced conflicting data. Sometimes, it seems to dampen the ability to dream vividly. On other occasions, it can increase REM sleep, and therefore vivid dreams.
- Practise lucid dreaming techniques: Lucid dreaming is like a subcategory of vivid dreaming. It’s a state in which the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming and can control their dream experience! Practising various lucid dreaming techniques, such as reality checks (i.e. asking yourself whether you’re dreaming or not during waking hours), visualisation, and becoming more self-aware in your waking life may boost the likelihood of having vivid dreams. That said, being aware that you’re dreaming can also temper the intensity of a dream, so this may not be what you’re looking for.
What Do Vivid Dreams Mean?
As we’ve said, dream interpretation is subjective, and the meaning and significance of vivid dreams can vary greatly from person to person. However, some interpretations are certainly more widespread than others, so we’ve compiled some of the most common insights that these dreams can provide:
- Unconscious desires and needs: Vivid dreams are often thought to reflect unfulfilled desires, repressed emotions, or needs that aren’t being met. They can therefore help the dreamer to shine a light onto an area of their life that isn’t working for them.
- Processing of emotions: Vivid dreams may allow the unconscious mind to process and work through particularly difficult emotions. Emotions can be repressed, so a vivid dream can show a dreamer that they need to face what they’re avoiding head on.
- Personal growth and self-discovery: Vivid dreams offer a glimpse into the dreamer's subconscious mind, and can therefore be analysed for guidance that might lead to personal growth and self-discovery. Perhaps we’re unconsciously spreading our wings!
- Problem solving: Sometimes, vivid dreams have very little hidden meaning, but instead give us a helping hand when we’re already aware of an issue. They can provide a scenario where the unconscious mind can work through and solve complex problems. It’s almost like a trial run for real life!
- Past experiences and memories: Vivid dreams can simply reflect past experiences and memories, and can show us how these experiences have shaped our lives.
Diving into the dream state to unravel inner meanings is a subject that’s fascinated mankind for thousands of years, and if it’s something that interests you then we have the ideal teaching resource.
Simply by applying the discount code from the link in this blog, our Dream Analysis & Therapy Diploma Course is available to you for just £29.00.
The course unpacks the most common dream interpretations in much greater detail, and also explores the background of dream analysis, tracing the subject from its Freudian roots right the way through to modern psychoanalytics. It’s a must-buy for anyone who wants to learn more about analysing vivid dreams, or even for those who are interested in psychology, the mind, and human emotions.