What are recurrent dreams? Do they have any connection with reality?

Recently, a global website on dream interpretation conducted an online survey. 71.8 % of 506 participants said that they had recurring dreams.

By Sulogna Mehta  Published on  13 Jan 2023 10:30 AM GMT
What are recurrent dreams? Do they have any connection with reality?

When we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another

– Salvador Dali, Spanish surrealist artist who created the masterpiece 'The Persistence of Memory'

How often do you dream, say for instance of appearing for an exam or failing or falling? Do you have the same theme for a dream time and again with minor or major variations? Are such similar dreams repeated every few days or every few months? These are said to be recurrent dreams, which a majority of people experience.

Global survey on recurrent dreams

Recently, a global website on dream interpretation conducted an online survey. 71.8 % of 506 participants said that they had recurring dreams. As per the findings of the website ThePleasantDream https://thepleasantdream.com, the most prominent theme was "Taking a test in school," followed by "Being chased or attacked" and "Falling endlessly."

Most of the participants of the survey were from the US (31.1 %) followed by Indian participants (20.9 %). Of the 506 participants, about 65.5% were female, 28.6% were male and 5.8% preferred not to reveal their gender. The participants mostly belonged to the age group of 18 and 30 years. In addition, 71.8% encountered recurring dreams, 7.8% denied having them, and 20.4% were unsure. The team collected data through an online survey on their website and on social media platforms to monitor recurring dreams and their effects.

Main themes of recurrent dreams

Some of the most recurring dream themes included taking a test in school (28.59 %), being chased or attacked (16.88 %), and falling endlessly (11.63 %). being surrounded by insects, flying uncontrollably, losing teeth, losing control of vehicles, arriving late for a crucial life event or appointment, seeing an ex or deceased person, and dreams of snakes, animals, and children among others. Most of the participants encountered their first recurring dream between childhood (37.8 %) and adolescence/teenage (35.1 %) while 27 % got their first recurring dream in adulthood.

Probable causes

Speaking about the causes, Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, reviewer and certified psychiatrist of ThePleasantDream, commented, "Some of the key reasons for recurring dreams are – unresolved conflicts, unmet needs, past life events that cause frustration, substance abuse, medication, and mental disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."

What psychiatrists and psychologists say

Neuropsychiatrist at KIMS Hospital Dr. Charan Teja Koganti said: "When one dreams, inhibitions are removed from all areas of the brain, it becomes a primitive brain and one can dream anything that may not be socially or morally approved. Usually, unfulfilled desires and needs, fears including fear of exams, insecurities, and childhood trauma manifests in symbolic images and appear as dreams.

Around 25 % of sleep and 80 % of dream takes place in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep while the remaining 75 % of sleep and 20 % of dreams occur in NREM (Non-REM) sleep. Usually, people have more logical, realistic dreams that are difficult to recall in NREM compared to the bizarre, emotional, complex dreams in REM, which they tend to forget as dream amnesia sets in."

"Also, experiments have shown that stroke patients who had lost their color vision, dream in black and white images, which indicates that dreams have links with one's conscious, personal life. Some people also have nightmares or night terrors when the transition from REM to NREM doesn't happen smoothly or they have episodes of flashbacks involving the five senses if they had been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Such people seeing nightmares and flashbacks vividly recall the traumatic episodes, wake up with palpitation, sweating, shaking, and shallow breathing, and require treatment. Those in substance abuse also see more dreams in REM sleep as they don't get much deep sleep. Certain antidepressants can also cause recurrent dreams," Dr. Charan Teja added.

Explaining the phenomenon of dreams, Anisha Basu, psychologist and counselor at YourDost said: "Dreams are where our subconscious thoughts come up in the form of symbols and storylines. Some of the most common recurrent dreams observed in our clients are, being chased, falling endlessly, and losing a tooth. Being chased and falling endlessly are indicative of the possible experience of being sexually abused as a child.

The underlying theme here is apprehension and confusion about the future, guilt, or death of a family member. Sigmund Freud was the first person to analyze dreams. Recent research on recurrent dreams states that 60 to 80 % of adults have recurrent dreams due to unresolved trauma from childhood or being abandoned and abused in childhood."

Key highlights:

Of the 506 participants surveyed, 71.8% encountered recurring dreams, 7.8% denied having them, and 20.4% were unsure.

Some of the most recurring dream themes included taking a test in school (28.59 %), being chased or attacked (16.88 %), and falling endlessly (11.63 %).

About the nature of their dreams, about 59.5% answered having dreams that are a mix of both negative and positive. Following this, negative dreams have takers with 27.6% and positive 13%.

As to the frequency of their recurring dreams, 25.8% admitted to seeing recurring dreams once a week, 24.2% accepted that they had recurring dreams once in two-three months, 16.3% had once a month and 14.2% had once in six months while 11.1% had once a year.

When asked about the reasons behind the recurring dreams, around 48.9 % didn't know the reasons, 18.1 % thought anxiety and depression were the reasons, 17 % attributed the recurring dreams to some life event while 11.7 % and 3.2 % thought it was due to some supernatural force and past life respectively.

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