What do dreams look like?
Do you often find yourself asking this question? Well, that makes the two of us.
The good news is that I have found the answer for you. Let’s read along!
To reiterate: Dreams occur when you are in your REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep. Paying attention to the details of these dreams can solve many of your real-life problems too. Thus, dreams are also capable of enhancing problem-solving ability.
Research suggests that dreaming is a hallucination that can be experienced in a relaxed state of mind. While dreams can be good or bad, let us start with understanding what the research suggests about dreams “looks”.
Summary in Infographics
What does a dream look like? – A research
Researchers found out that the same regions of the brain were active in the dream while in waking life.
Have you ever heard of taking images of your dreams? Do you think it is possible? Well, the researchers in Germany have made it possible and taken brain scan images.
These images explain dreams and how our brain tries to combine thoughts and connects the dots to build a narrative.
In this experiment, the dreamer was aware of the fact that he was dreaming. Instead, he was lucid dreaming. There was no movement in the body except for twitching in the eyes.
This happens even when a person is dreaming normally. This study was conducted by Czisch and his colleagues.
The group of researchers recruited six lucid dreamers for the experiment. They used fMRI to note the brain activity of these dreamers. This fMRI tracks the blood flow in a person’s brain and tells us which areas are presently active.
To do this, the dreamer has to sleep on a flat surface. After this, he is slid down a tunnel while the dreamer makes no movement.
The dreamer was then asked to dream inside the machine. These lucid dreamers were then asked to control their dreams. In sequence, they had to squeeze their left and right hands in dreams. Only one dreamer could do it successfully.
The researchers noted his brain activity at the time of dreaming and then compared it to the brain activity while he was awake.
He was asked to repeat the same activity. It was found out that the same regions of the brain were active in the dream as well as in waking life.
What do dreams of men look like?
Men dream about traveling to various places, sex, money, and superpowers. They dream in colors like blue, red, gray, green, and brown.
The study of dreams in men suggests that 37.9% of men usually dream of traveling to far-off places. These travel destinations can be a new planet, space, another country, or anywhere they can imagine.
At times, these dreams also provoke positive or negative emotions within them.
The next popular dream among men is of sex. If we compare this dream between the two genders, 15% of men and 8.5% of women dream of sex.
That means sex dreams are more common among men. Few believe that these dreams are because of what they consume in the media or because of their biological tendencies.
The third most common dream among men is obtaining superpowers. While 8.7% of men dream of superpowers, 8.4% of men dream about money.
There are also a few colors that occur frequently in the dreams of men. These colors include blue, red, gray, black, green, and brown.
What do dreams of women look like?
Women dream about travel, romanticism, money, and also flying. They dream in shades of colors like red and blue.
Just like men, travel dreams are common among 39.1% of women. This is because everybody likes to explore new places and live a free life.
Another popular dream among women is romanticism. Approximately 15.2% of women dreamt of falling in love. This number stands at 6.2% for women. But if we analyze the statistics, 15% of men dreamt of sex whereas 15.2% of women dreamt of love.
So there has to be a correlation here. When talking about love fantasy and dreams, most women answered that they dream of a love story just like it’s shown in the ‘Titanic’ movie.
A study showed that women think they’re successful if they have succeeded in their relationships.
On the contrary, men find themselves successful on the basis of their performance and finances. These different ideologies also define the drastic shift in the dream themes that both genders experience.
The third common dream among women is flying. 12.4% of women dream of flying whereas only 6.2% of women dream of money.
The colors that women usually visualize in their dreams are the shades of red and blue.
What do nightmares of men look like?
Nightmares of men often consist of falling down or being chased. They also reported nightmares of being attacked.
Nightmares are the bad dreams one experiences usually due to fear or anxiety. The most popular nightmare among men is falling down. 19.4% of men report dreaming of falling down and it leaves them feeling helpless and disgusted.
The second frightening nightmare is that they feel as if somebody is chasing them. This dream was reported by 17.1% of men.
It is not necessary that some human is chasing them but they also dream of reptiles or animals running behind them.
After these, 13.7% of men reported being attacked in the dream. When the same thing was asked to women, the numbers came out to be as low as 9.7%.
What do nightmares of women look like?
Nightmares among women consist of being chased by someone or their teeth falling down. They have also reported nightmares of being attacked.
The most recurring dreams in women are about being chased by somebody. This nightmare actually haunts the women in their waking life too. 19.6% of women reported this dream to be a frequent nightmare.
9.9% of women mentioned that they have dreams where they see their teeth falling down. After which, 9.7% of women said that they experienced dreams of being attacked whereas 8.3% of women said that their dreams include ending their relationship with their partner.
The colors that women observe the most in their nightmares are gray, brown, and black.
Now that you know how dreaming occurs across genders, let’s now understand.
Dreams across Generations
Just like dreams
1. Baby boomers
Baby boomers are the people born between the year 1946 and 1964. This means, they are somewhere between 57 – 75 years of age and also constitute a major part of the world’s population, especially in developed nations.
Our baby boomers like to explore new things and places, have fun and create more memories. That’s why their dreams are also filled with such elements.
You’ll find the baby boomers dreaming the most about visiting a new place. 44.8% reported visiting tropical destinations and creating youthful memories.
While having this dream, they experienced the feelings of “satisfaction”, “curiosity”, “love” and “excitement”. A few also experienced fears of taking up the challenge of exploring something new.
Their dreams include flying as the second popular dream. 17.9% said they dream about flying and find it soothing, exciting, fearful, and euphoric at the same time.
Hardly 7% dreamt of love whereas 6% mentioned money and test-taking. Their last priority was to dream about sex and food.
The colors associated with their dreams are blue, gray, and green.
18.2% experienced the frequent nightmare of being chased by somebody and 16.2% reported that they dreamt of falling. When the Baby Boomers mentioned being chased by somebody, this ‘somebody’ included zombies, strangers as well as monsters and animals.
These nightmares gave them a feeling of fear that they’ll not be able to escape the situation.
The third nightmare that occurred frequently was feeling lost and lonely. This was experienced by 14.1% of them. It had different ways of occurring like being lost in an unknown place or on mountains, buildings, or a hallway. Usually, these dreams appeared in shades of black.
2. Gen Xers
Gen-Xers were born between 1965 and 1980. This means they are somewhere between 41 – 56 years of age, precedes Gen Y or the millennial generation, and if followed by the Baby Boomers generation.
Like all others, our Gen Xers also love traveling and exploring new places. This was reported by 42.1%. After this, 17.9% of them dreamt of flying and called it a “joyful” experience.
These vivid dreams are often what they want to experience in their real-life too.
Gen Xers often find blue, green, or red colors in their dreams. Now, if we talk about the sleep quality among different generations.
Gen Xers have a very poor quality of sleep, followed by the Millennials and then Baby Boomers. This is why their dreams are also impacted and it becomes difficult for them to recall all sorts of dreams.
Similar to the Baby Boomers, our next generation also got the nightmares of being chased by somebody. The statistics show that 15.1% of Gen Xers experienced this dream.
Following the line was the dream of falling that was experienced by 10.9% of them. After this, 10.5% experienced the dream of being attacked. 9.2% also mentioned that they often had nightmares of reaching late at a particular place. And, 8.4% reported that they dreamt of feeling lost.
Our Gen Xers also observe the dark color black in their nightmares along with the shades of gray, brown, and red.
The Millennials or Gen-Yers were born between 1981 and 1996. This means they are somewhere between 25 – 40 years of age.
They are found to be the biggest generation in American history and have a very modern approach towards all worldly or non-worldly aspects.
You’ll experience different characteristics in Millennials depending upon the one you ask. These different characteristics are the reason why Millennials have diverse dreams.
Just like in every category, 36.1% of Millennials also dreamt of exploring new places. But this time, flying did not occupy the second position. Instead, 14% of Millennials dreamt of sex.
When sex dreams were compared, it was noted that these dreams decrease with age. Sex dreams were highest among the Millennials, followed by 10% in Gen Xers and 4.5% in Baby Boomers.
Then the pattern is followed like their older counterparts. 23.1% remember dreaming about love and romanticism. These dreams are also found to be decreasing with age.
The Millennials have similar nightmares to its other two generations. The topmost nightmare in all generations remains the same. 19.9% of Millennials also fear being chased by somebody.
Since the second popular dream among Millennials was about love, the second common nightmare is about their loved one leaving them. Such dreams are common among 6.4% of Millennials.
Further, Millennials are so depressed than their older generations that their third popular dream is about their death. This has not been commonly found in the other two generations.
What do Lucid Dreams look like?
Lucid dreaming is difficult. It is the process through which we can attain a degree of control on our own dreams. This way we can also control what we see in our dreams.
You might want to see your crush or yourself achieving goals in dreams and this is only possible via lucid dreams.
Not everyone is a lucid dreamer and this sort of control over your mind can only be obtained through regular practice.
There are parts of the brain that control our dreams. In fact, the study of dreams suggests different techniques to control our brain during Rapid eye movement (REM sleep), the stage of sleep when a person is found dreaming.
According to studies, the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for our imagination. With the help of various techniques, we can control it and see whatever we want in our dreams.
If you are willing to dream at your will, you must think about that specific thing before bedtime. If needed, keep talking to yourself about it.
For instance, if you want to see your crush in your dream, then repeat their name before going to sleep. You can also take the help of visual aids like their photographs.
This tells our brain that it has to focus on that particular person.
Another way to attain lucidity is to be in a relaxed state of mind. You can never control your mind when you’re stressed because the thoughts will keep interrupting your dreams.
Other FAQs on what does dream look like
Even after dreaming almost every day, there are so many questions that are still unanswered like what are the purpose of dreams, function of dreams, etc.
All of us dream different but there are a few similar characteristics in our dreams that force us to find the answers to the questions like:
1. Do we dream in color?
The majority of the people reported dreaming in color. These people largely belonged to the age below 25. The same study concluded that 12% of people reported that they could see the dream content in black and white.
These people were majorly above the age of 55. The above results make us believe that the color of the television has impacted their dreams.
The older generation has always watched television in black and white, so they always dream in those two colors.
On the flip side, the newer generation has watched color television, so they are able to find color in their dreams.
2. Do blind people dream?
Yes! Blind people can dream. The research on blind people shows that they can experience visual imagery while dreaming.
The results also portrayed that blind people showed eye movements that are linked to visual dream recall.
However, the eye movements in blind people are not as much as the sighted people. But blinds can also experience dream sensations and visual content just like normal human beings.
The important thing to note here is that usually, blind people experience more bad dreams or nightmares than pleasant dreams.
3. Do men and women dream differently?
Research suggests that men and women have different dreams. When studies were conducted on their dream content, it was found that men usually dream of weapons or aggressive activities.
Their dreams are more about violence and intense physical activities.
On the other hand, women have dreams of a softer tone. Like, they dream about clothes or rejection. They see themselves enjoying a conversation more often than indulging in any physical activity.
Women have longer dreams than men. But men dream about other men more often than other women.
4. Do animals dream?
Many researchers, experienced in dreams, believe that when a dog wags its tail while sleeping or a cat twitches, it is an indication that they’re in its REM sleep. This means they’re dreaming.
Animals land in the REM stage more often than humans. About every half an hour, animals get their REM stage. This means they dream more than humans.
The studies also state that mammals, reptiles, fishes, and birds also go through different sleep cycles and end up dreaming.
But there are certain differences in the dreams of animals than humans. While humans can remember part of their dreams and attach a narrative to them after waking up, the animals cannot do that and forget dreams.
5. Are dreams real?
The answer can be both: Yes and No.
Dreams seem real because we actually see them happening yet unreal because it is all in our imagination. We get dreams in REM sleep when our minds are active even though we are in deep sleep.
This phase occurs every 1.5-2 hours of sleep and that’s when we get vivid dreams. In these dreams, our subconscious mind tries to provide us with a solution that we have been trying to solve in our real life. At times, these solutions may also seem bizarre.
A hypothesis also says that since dreams try to process the bits of information we have gained from our real life, there are grains of realism in dreams. Our mind tries to correlate the real facts in the dreams and that’s why some dreams may seem real.
6. Why do my dreams feel so real?
Dreams feel so real because while we are asleep, our brains are still capable of making images in the form of imagination.
Hence, people easily believe the part of the brain that shows them the blurry images while being inactive.
Sigmund Freud mentioned that dreams indicate our desires and wet dreams are the way to express those desires.
If we study contemporary dreams, we will also find that we often dream about fighting against our enemies.
There are different dream themes but this one has been the most common one. You are also likely to dream of incidents or threats you face in real life.
Long story short, dreams feel so real for the same reason, life feels real.
Thus, every person gets different dreams based on their individual emotions and experiences.
Researchers are trying their best to identify some commonalities and generalize dreams for everybody. But this seems a little difficult.
So many studies are being conducted to understand various concepts of dreams but we haven’t been totally successful yet.
Many people go through frequent nightmares or disturbing dreams. The best thing to do is to seek medical advice from a sleep consultant and keep your mind relaxed to achieve pleasant dreams.
Give time to yourself to process your emotions in real life so you don’t have to face the trauma in your dreams.
Surabhi wakes up every day with a drive to craft words that can create a soulful impact. Creatively adventurous, she is always seeking to learn new skills and acquire new experiences. With a hidden soft corner for languages (especially Urdu), she writes poetry occasionally, binges on romantic shows, and LOVES to talk. A hustler, admirer, chaser, Surabhi is just another-someone who refused to give up on her dreams. She says, she is just somebody who’s trying to make herself a writer and for now, she’s just writing...