Why Are Dreams So Weird?
There’s a biological reason. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, responsible for logic and reasoning, is inactive during sleep, thus allowing all sorts of crazy images to evolve uncensored. And as your dreams are linking new memories to old ones, those associations often turn out to be a little kooky. “Dreams use so many bits and pieces of our memory, but not in a logical, linear way,” says Cartwright. “It’s more of an associative conglomeration of things.”
Still, while the associations sometimes seem unconnected, if you look at the images symbolically, they might start to make sense. For example, a dream that combines flying, a childhood swim meet, and your college graduation seems outlandish, but upon closer inspection, you notice that the images all relate to feeling confident. Perhaps this theme pertains to a current challenge you are facing and your desire to be brave.
Or maybe not. Some of our dreams may be a haphazard mishmash of thoughts. “In the same way that we have lots of silly, trivial, bizarre thoughts during the day, we shouldn’t expect all our dreaming thoughts to be especially profound,” says Barrett. “Some of it might just be nonsense.”
Hormonal changes, like those during pregnancy or the postpartum period, can also make your dreams crazy, as can some antihistamines and most antidepressants. (Both can be sedating, altering sleep patterns, and antidepressants change the brain’s chemistry.) A fever can also affect sleep and dreams, as can a stomachache, which is why some people believe spicy foods or eating right before bed causes wild dreams.
Can Dreams Be Predictive?
Perhaps. According to legend, Abraham Lincoln told his wife that he dreamed he had been assassinated just days before he was killed. But no one really knows whether dreams can act as crystal balls, because it’s nearly impossible to study the phenomenon. Researchers would need to track thousands of people’s dream journals for many years to come to any conclusions. “My guess is that the majority of ‘predictive’ dreams are purely coincidental,” says Delaney. “Without evidence, it’s impossible to say for certain. But I’d be willing to leave the door open to the possibility.”