How do dreams get in your head?
Dr. Richard Barthel, medical director of psychiatry at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, said, “We think psychologically the dreams that are in a child’s head are what they observed during the day. The observations could be important or unimportant. You look at it, hear it, feel it or smell it and it gets in your mind through your special senses.”
While you are dreaming, the things you experience are changed in some way to reflect your feelings at that time. The scientific term for how those observations are changed into dreams is percept – a recognizable sensation received through the senses.
Why are some dreams scary? Barthel said that watching even a small portion of a scary movie or news program can trigger nightmares.
“You don’t have to watch the entire program to have scary dreams,” he said.
Stresses and difficulties encountered during the day can be relived through scary dreams.
If a child were to have disturbing dreams, someone like Dr. Barthel or a child psychologist can help a child with dream management.
“We can help them to choose the types of dreams they want to have – a good one if bad ones are present,” Barthel said.
Some people say they don’t dream. Dr. Barthel said these people do have dreams, they just don’t pay attention to them. Some people dream often. Children who try not to dream still seem to have dreams anyway.
For parents only, Dr. Barthel recommends the book “Your Child, What Every Parent Needs To Know” by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The book outlines average behavior and identifies problem areas and how best to address them. Ways to handle nightmares and night terrors are reviewed in the book.
When do kids start to dream?
“We know for sure that kids talk about nightmares around age 4. They probably dream earlier than that but can’t tell us about it,” Barthel said.
Someone can look at you and tell if you’re dreaming. That’s because there is only one phase of sleep in which dreams occur in entirety, that’s at the REM, or rapid eye movement phase. Your eyes literally can be seen moving back and forth through your eyelids. While you sleep, your brain processes different sleep phases on a continual cycle, with the REM phase gradually becoming longer each time you pass through it. The final REM phase, before you wake, could last as long as one hour. In your lifetime, you might have as many as 100,000 dreams.
Dreams mean different things in different cultures. Native American and Hispanic cultures place a great emphasis on the meaning of dreams. Ancient Egyptians left records of having documented dream symbols. Ancient Greeks believed some dreams could effect cures. Many famous physicians and social scientists have studied dreams and use dreams during psychological therapy.