Do Dreams Have Meaning?


Sigmund Freud was a neurologist that lived from 1856-1939, but well known in the psychology field. Photo: Getty Images

Clayton Schrimpf, Online Editor

Have you ever been sleeping, and woke up to a different reality? A world you just witnessed didn’t even exist? In other dreams, days can pass by and you’re still wondering what they mean. We all dream every night, but we often don’t remember our dreams. According to the National Institute of Health, about 80% of [humans] remember dreams, but in clinical practice young adults remember dreams upon awakening once or twice a week.”

Sigmund Freud, a neurologist in the late 19th through the early 20th century, believed that the majority of human behavior is influenced by unconscious memories and thoughts. Daniel Counsell, a psychology teacher at New Berlin West, described some of Freud’s dream theories. “Freud’s dream theory is called ‘wish fulfillment,’ it’s in our dreams we do things we could not do in our waking lives, and if we did, we’d get in serious trouble,” Counsell said. Not everything we can imagine can be done in reality, our dreams put the pieces together. Freud believed that all of our dreams, including nightmares, are collections of images from our conscious lives.

In every dream we have, objects represent something else from our waking lives. Sometimes we remember these dreams and say ‘what does this mean?’ Amy Adkins spoke in a TED-Ed talk and said, “[Dreams] have symbolic meanings, which relate to the fulfillment of our subconscious wishes.” Our brains create symbols for situations we endure in real life. This can span from friends, hobbies, or the events we do every day. If our brains didn’t take these distinct urges and traumatic events and turn them into symbols, then our dreams would be so horrific that we wouldn’t be able to sleep. Our brains turn them into symbols so that we can keep on sleeping. Interruptions like this make it hard to fall back asleep. 

“Freud came up with a theory of psychoanalysis, in which he believed we bury traumatic events deep down in our unconscious mind,” said Counsell. Freud theorized that everything we remember from when we wake up is a symbolic representation of our unconscious primitive thoughts, urges, and desires. Humans have passions that make people greedy and satisfaction-seeking creatures. Freud believed we bury passions in our conscious minds, and they come out in our dreams as past events. 

Dream interpretations are based on the idea that events in your dreams are meant to disguise the true meaning, known as the latent content. Counsell stated, “According to Freud, we have your manifest content [and the] latent content. The manifest content is your remembered storyline of the dream, those events symbolize something else. The latent content is the real meaning, it’s the underlined meaning.” 

Another main theory on why we dream is to solve problems, according to Adkins. “In your dreams, your mind can create limitless scenarios to help you grasp problems and formulate solutions that you may not consider while awake,” Adkins stated. In reality, we might not always have solutions for things. Our dreams sometimes try to give us solutions or ideas that fall into Freud’s “wish fulfillment” theory. 

According to Adkins, the most logical theory of our dreams’ meaning is “we dream to keep our brains working.” Our brains constantly create long-term memories in order to function the way it does. Adkins said, “your brain automatically triggers the generation of data from its memory storages, which appear to you in the form of the thoughts and feelings you experience in your dreams.” Our dreams keep our brains working throughout the night so it doesn’t completely shut down, our brains need to function 100% of the time to work properly. 

Many dreams have misconceptions. For example, a dream about falling is widely considered a dream most people experience that is misunderstood. In the early stages of sleep, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycles occur. The REM cycle is a recurring sleep stage where vivid dreams occur. Falling is an example of a vivid dream since you are not fully asleep. Our brains misinterpret this experience and think we’re in danger, it causes us to wake up. This isn’t always the case, as sometimes falling can happen and you won’t wake up. According to, dreaming about falling could mean that you feel insecure, inadequate, or overwhelmed in your waking life.  

Dreaming about rain is an example of a symbolic dream. Water is needed in our lives, it is seen to be a divine blessing. Water in these dreams are said to speak to our sentiments and wants. Nicholas Barber, an arts journalist & film critic for BBC, wrote on dreams about rain. He wrote, “Dreams about rain often signify positive and happy feelings about life in general.” He also said, “This dream should encourage you to move on with your life, no matter how things currently are.” Dreams like this are meant to have a positive impact on lives. For most dreams, they’re meant to make our lives better in the long run. 

Lots of dreams are scientifically proven on what they could mean. “So for Freud, he’d say that your dreams have a ton of meaning,” said Counsell. However, many psychologists in today’s society don’t believe in Freud’s theories. 

Michael Richards from Edge Hill University wrote on psychoanalysis. He said, “Freud’s theories are based on the ‘unconscious mind’, which is difficult to define and test.” He also said, “it would be difficult to say who would be qualified to make assumptions about this when nobody really knows what the unconscious mind is.” 

Many dreams are way too complicated to understand completely. Maybe as time goes on, we’ll get a further understanding on why we dream and these theories can become a reality. At the current moment, dreams still remain a mystery.