Exploring the Sleeping Mind

Dreaming to the Extreme

Why do our dreams seem to take situations to the extreme? I never dream about being mildly embarrassed and blushing; it would be a “realizing halfway through my workout that I’m naked and my coworkers are there” type of embarrassed. I never dream that I’m mildly afraid, flip the light on and realize it’s nothing; it’s usually a “being chased in the night by a faceless mass murderer with a rusty knife” type of afraid. Even my happy dreams become so enjoyable that I wake myself up out of my own incredulousness at my happiness.

If the purpose of sleep is to rest, why do dreams seem to take things up a notch instead? The simple answer is that there is more to sleep than resting. Yes, our bodies recharge as we sleep, but our minds do not simply power off for the night. Instead, they continue their processes throughout the night, in what we observe as dreams. The mind that produces dreams is the same mind that processes a math problem, chooses a career, falls in love, and decides what to eat for lunch; it just works in a slightly different way while we sleep—a way that might seem silly or extreme to us upon waking.

I sometimes think of dreams as a department of the mental processing plant of our lives. This department processes past events—recently I gave blood; that night I dreamed about needles. It processes emotions—maybe you feel you can’t keep up at work, so you dream that you can’t run fast enough to get away from a pursuer. It also prepares for future events—maybe you have trust issues, so your mind repeatedly dreams of being betrayed by someone. Our brains pick out those events, emotions, fears, hopes, and desires—and express them, process them, practice them, while we dream. This is often done in very abstract, concentrated, or extreme ways, which happens to also be what makes dreams so fascinating and insightful because we see what is really going on in our mind when it’s stripped of daily distractions like technology. The reason I love to analyze dreams is that we can use them to pinpoint, visualize, express, and improve on the things we’re dealing with emotionally that manifest themselves through dreams. By adjusting my self-confidence and expectations I place on myself, those embarrassing running-naked dreams fade; by dealing rationally with my fears in life, I am suddenly able to defeat that faceless pursuer in my dreams.

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