This Is What Your Dreams Could Reveal About Your Mental Health, According To Science

by Julia Guerra

Dreams are tricky to define, but I always loved the way Tinkerbell's character described them in the 1991 Peter Pan remake, Hook: "that place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming." In this context, dreams sound incredibly romantic, but it turns out that those strange visions your mind conjures up throughout the night can reflect certain details about your personality. It’s fascinating to think about what dreams reveal about you as a person, because the act of dreaming, and even responding to those dreams, is really just one giant domino effect: Something happens in real life that, in one way or another, sparks the dream; then your brain processes this information throughout the night in a series of visions; and when you wake up, the way you react to those pseudo-realities can impact your entire mood. It feels almost fantastical, but in fact, there's some science to the whole thing.

Dreams can come off as totally abstract, and personally, there have been plenty of early mornings when I’ve woken up in awe of my own wildly active imagination and wondered where these visions even came from. But I guess, in order to understand why you dream about the things you do, you have to understand the concept of dreaming itself, and why your mind creates these mostly fictional, yet-sometimes-weirdly-factual fantasies in the first place. To find out, I asked dream expert Sansan Fibri, founder and CEO of the only AI-powered dream interpretation app DreaMe, to break it down. According to Fibri, dreams “explain and analyze events from our waking life,” and are "deeply tied to our survival instinct." By allowing you to “practice” and, in a way, put potential solutions to real-life problems the test, she tells Elite Daily over email, your brain creates dreams that can sometimes get a little carried away. What essentially happens, Fibri explains, is your mind tries to process something that is very emotionally real, in ways that are physically unreal and, sometimes, unconventional.

Emotionally charged dreams, aka the ones you endure out of fear or anxiety, are generally the ones you’ll remember most, Fibri says, but they're also the ones that point to “deep-rooted issues we need to address in our waking life.” In other words, these types of dreams are often subconscious red flags that something’s up with your well-being IRL. And while the National Sleep Foundation states that most people forget 95 to 99 percent of their dreams by the time they wake up, the results of a new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, show that the dreams you do remember are often a reflection of your mental state. And TBH, this makes perfect sense, in a kind of “what goes around comes around” way: what you think about is what you dream about, and you know the age-old saying “change your mind, change your world”? That was coined based on the notion that you are what you think. In other words, if you’re stressed AF, nighttime is the time for your brain to process all the anxieties you’re harboring. But, if you tend to stay cool, calm, and collected during the day, your dreams should be equally as chill.

For their study, researchers from the University of Turku in Finland began by recruiting 44 healthy participants between 19 and 40 years old to fill out a questionnaire that focused on their well-being, ScienceDaily reports. Following the survey, each participant was instructed to keep a dream diary over the course of three weeks, during which time they’d wake up every morning, jot down any details they could remember about their dreams from the night before, and document how they felt throughout that next day. The results showed that the less anxiety a person has, the more likely they are to have happy dreams. The more anxious you are, however, the more likely it is that your dreams won’t be so sweet, the research found.

Now, if you’re one of those people who sleeps pretty soundly most nights and generally wakes up on the right side of the bed, keep doing you, boo, because obviously your conscience is clear, and anxiety isn’t too much of an issue in your life. But, if you’re someone who frequently rises in a cold sweat come 6 a.m., and who typically has more nightmares than happy dreams, this could be your brain's way of sending out an SOS for you to seek some kind of help in order to resolve whatever it is you’re stressing about on the inside.

In the worst-case scenario, if you continue to have nightmares, difficulty sleeping, and/or violent dreams, Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, suggests seeing a sleep therapist or a psychiatrist, as these experts “can help you decipher the deeper meaning behind your dreams,” he tells Elite Daily over email. However, if your bad dreams are just kind of putting you in a bad mood, and you don't quite feel ready to take that next step to see an expert about it, there are some ways for you to interpret these anxiety-inducing dreams on your own and work through the very real emotions you might be feeling when you’re awake.

If the problem isn’t chronic, there are a few activities you can weave into your daily routine that might help you decode your dreams, and put a name to a face, if you will. Things like keeping your own dream journal, and asking yourself questions about how you feel about the "person, place, or action that took place in the dream,” Fibri says, are great strategies that'll not only help you identify recurring patterns, but also reflect on what these nighttime visions might be saying in terms of whatever’s going on IRL. And the better you feel when you're awake, the sweeter your dreams will be when you snooze.