Most of us dream as we sleep. Some dreams are more vivid than others, and some dreams can seem so real that we wake up convinced that we experienced reality instead of a dream.
Some dreams even have the ability to allow us to communicate with loved ones who have passed. Dreams often give us answers to questions we may ask about which direction our lives need to take.
But have you ever wondered how a person dreams? What causes us to see pictures, hear sounds, and even feel sensations in our sleep?
Read: The Ultimate List of Dream Quotes
The answer lies in oneirology.
Oneirology is more than just studying and interpreting dreams. We will be diving into the pronunciation, definitions, science, and psychology that goes into oneirology so that you understand the difference between interpreting dreams and what actually causes dreams.
How to Pronounce Oneirology
At first glance, oneirology appears to be a difficult word to pronounce, but once you break it down into syllables and phonetics, it is simple.
Oneirology has 5 syllables that are broken up in the following order: On/eir/o/lo/gy.
Knowing where the syllables break up the word oneirology will allow you to look at the pronunciation of syllable individually so that you can put them all together, so let’s get started!
Oneirlology = Ŏn/Ɛrr/ŏ/lɘ/d3ē = Ahn/ur/ah/luh/jee
Oneirology: Beyond the Definition
Oneirology is defined as the scientific study of dreams, but what does that mean? What does it mean to scientifically study dreams? We are going to break this down and go beyond the definition of oneirology.
Oneirology and dream interpretation are not the same. While studying dreams and interpreting them may seem the same, they are very different. Oneirology is more than interpreting dreams; it is scientifically studying them.
To scientifically study dreams, you have to look at the brain and what the brain does as you sleep.
Stages of Sleep: The Science of Dreaming
To study how your brain creates dreams as you sleep, you have to understand each stage of sleep and what they mean.
The stages of sleep are divided into four categories: awake, light sleep, deep sleep, and REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep.
Awake is more than just being awake and coherent. Being awake during sleep means that you have made significant physical movements that likely increased your heart rate. You may remember events when you were awake, or you may have only awoken for a quick period of time and immediately fell back asleep.
This is the most prominent stage of sleep. Light sleep prepares your body for deep sleep. When you are awoken, you typically reenter light sleep before entering deep sleep or REM sleep. This is what makes light sleep the most prominent stage of sleep each night because it is the stage in which you spend the most time.
Deep sleep is incredibly important for your body. This stage is when your body repairs, regrows, and strengthens. If you are sick, deep sleep will help you recover. If you have an injury, deep sleep will help your body repair. Deep sleep also makes you feel groggy if you are awoken quickly during deep sleep.
REM stands for rapid eye movement. This is exactly what it means. Rapid eye movement means that your eyes are rapidly moving underneath your closed eyelids. REM sleep happens relatively quickly once you have fallen asleep, usually within the first hour to two hours. REM sleep is when your brain is the most active.
Your heart rate is elevated, your breathing has increased, and your eyes are constantly moving. This causes a drastic increase in brain activity, and the more brain activity you have the more likely you are to remain in REM sleep and have frequent dreams.
Psychology Meets Science
It is no coincidence that our dreams are often associated with events, locations, and interests that are personal to us. This is where the science of dreaming intersects the psychology behind the dreams.
Oneirologists are scientists who study why we dream, and they have discovered that the brain goes through a process during REM sleep called synaptic efficacy refreshment. Synaptic efficacy refreshment is when the brain cycles through consolidating both recent and old memories at a slow rate.
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During this refreshment, science meets psychology. Memories are stored in the brain and we typically remember events that are significant in our lives. When REM sleep occurs, memories are consolidated by the brain and the brain sends these memories as waves of images as we sleep. While there is science behind how we dream, there is a psychology behind why we dream what we dream. The dream is essentially a result of this biological process that occurs almost every night as we sleep.
Oneirology and REM Sleep
Oneirologists who have studied REM sleep have also discovered additional properties associated with REM sleep. REM sleep may produce dreams that only last about 10 minutes, or the dreams may last up to an hour. Dreams that have occurred later in the night are more likely to be remembered than dreams that have occurred at the beginning of the night.
REM sleep also occurs multiple times throughout the night. High brain activity during sleeping typically occurs every hour to 90 minutes. This means that you enter REM sleep every hour to 90 minutes and can last for 10 minutes to a full hour.
Different Types of Dreams
To study how we dream, we also have to look at the different types of dreams we have. Dreams can be normal, lucid, false awakenings, recurring dreams, and nightmares.
These are dreams that have no real significance or defining characteristics. They may contain outlandish things that you wouldn’t normally do in real life, or they may resemble a typical day in your life. Either way, they feel like a dream and have no real significance as you dream or after you wake up.
These are probably the most enjoyable dreams to have because you are actually in control of the dream. Have you ever been in a dream and realized this is a dream and subsequently been able to control your actions throughout the remainder of the dream? This is known as lucid dreaming. There are different theories that are debated about lucid dreaming, but all agree that lucid dreaming occurs during REM sleep.
False awakenings occur when you are in the middle of a dream and sudden believe you have awoken when, in fact, you are still asleep. Your dream has convinced you that you are awake so you will go throughout the dream performing daily routines as you would if you were awake.
Only when you awaken, you realize that you have been asleep and dreaming the entire time. False awakenings are frustrating and may occur when you are in the middle of a bad or recurring dream when you want to wake up but can’t.
These are dreams that happen over and over, maybe not night after night, but once a month or even once a week. The circumstances may be different each time with the setting remaining the same, or the circumstances may be the same each time with the setting changing during each dream.
Unfortunately, these are the dreams that are upsetting, intense, and downright scary. Typically, nightmares feel extremely realistic and almost impossible to escape from. Nightmares may include feeling like you cannot outrun a predator (or even run at all), fighting an assailant, or witnessing the injury or death of a loved one. Nightmares often feel so real that it may take a few minutes to decompress from the intensity once you have awoken.
The Dreams You Have and Why You Have Them
As we mentioned, the most common dreams are normal dreams, lucid dreams, false awakenings, and nightmares. If dreams were meant to be a natural, biological process that is caused by the firing of the brain, then everyone’s dreams should be similar. Just as we all breathe by inhaling and exhaling, the firing of the brain should produce the same results among us all - but this is not the case. This is where psychology intersects science.
Read: 40+ Carl Jung Quotes (Dreams, Shadows, and Myths)
Nightmares are possibly the most psychologically-driven type of dream because nightmares tap into our biggest fears, insecurities, and stressors. Nightmares tap into those deep, dark places that we may have experienced in life, or we fear we are going to experience in life, both of which are directly related to psychology more than biology.
Oneirology: The Bottom Line
Oneirology is the scientific study of how we dream with an understanding that psychology plays an active role in the process. If you find that your dreams are deeply related to personal events, fears, or lost loved ones, you are tapping into a psychological side of your mind that your brain feels is important.
Pay attention to your dreams. Record your dreams. They just may be telling you something that you need to know.