3 Questions About Dreams and What To Do With Them

Madelaine Weiss
4 min readOct 22, 2023

What is a Dream?

Is anyone else having a lot of dreams lately? I am, mostly about trying to help people who are not even in my life anymore. It is easy to see why, in these times, I might be wishing I could help people I cannot reach, but how are dreams about it supposed to help? And, if they are supposed to help, how can I help my dreams to help me more?

People ask these questions about play too. Like dreams, play is something we do separate from the more important things we do in life, as if dreaming and playing are pastimes that don’t really have any useful purpose in and of themselves. But that’s not right.

From an earlier post: “In fact, Harvard researchers have found that play not only relieves stress but improves brain function, stimulates the mind, boosts creativity, improves relationships, builds energy and resistance to disease.”

In the words of performance coach, Joe Robinson, on play:

“It’s the brain’s reset button. This tonic we write off as trivial is a crucial engine of well-being. In its low-key, humble way, play yanks grownups out of their purposeful sleepwalk to reveal the animating spirit within. You are alive, and play will prove it to you.”

Yes, that’s right, we sleepwalk. With the mind wandering all over the place 70% of the time, what else would we call it? Sleepwalking. Which brings us to dreaming. Dreaming is:

  • Hallucinatory experience common to all human beings. It occurs most often during the paradoxical phase of sleep, known as the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase.
  • Mental imagery or activity that occur when you sleep.

Dreams are a kind of fiction or make-pretend, like play:

Play may be a means by which individuals: practice skills that are essential to their survival and reproduction; learn to cope physically and emotionally with unexpected, potentially harmful events; generate new, sometimes useful creations; and reduce hostility and enable cooperation.

There is research to suggest that dreams are another great way for our brains to do more of the same, so let’s move on to that.

Why Do We Dream?

The threat simulation hypothesis of the function of dreaming holds that:

In the ancestral environment human life was short and full of threats. Any behavioral advantage in dealing with highly dangerous events would have increased the probability of reproductive success. A dream-production mechanism that tends to select threatening waking events and simulate them over and over again in various combinations would have been valuable for the development and maintenance of threat-avoidance skills.

Tufts researcher, Erik Hoel, mentions other theories on how dreams help us with memory, emotional regulation, and problem-solving — and adds one of his own. Hoel’s idea is that, since reptiles do not dream while mammals do, dreaming has something to do with a higher-level learning to survive.

His idea is that our dreams can help knock us out of what he calls “overfit” thinking, the routinized, locked in manner of meeting life challenges and tasks that is not particularly open to adaptive upgrades.

So, it’s good, then? Even if it is unpleasant, maybe especially if it is unpleasant, it is good when we dream? And is there something we are supposed to do with our dreams? I took a look at that.

How Can We Use Dreams?

I did something with mine that I want to tell you about. Before I get to that, I assume most if not all have heard about dream interpretation.

For this, here is a great article from the Sleep Foundation on what Freud and others have had to say, in case you are interested in that sort of thing. The article also offers guidance on 4 specific dream themes: Teeth Falling Out, Sex and Cheating, Natural Disaster, and Falling.

Other researchers are exploring something called Lucid Dreams, during which time the sleeper is actually aware of the dream, and can even exert control over the environment right there in the dream.

WebMD posted on the benefits of lucid dreaming, including reduced anxiety and improved motor skills, problem-solving, and creativity. But the same post mentioned that there are potential downsides as well, including sleep interruption, and confusion that can be serious enough to affect mental health.

So, I think I am going to pass, and recommend here that you do too, unless you work with a professional to help make sure there will not be more harm than good done.

Now, here is what I did with my own dream about trying to help where I cannot. Just for fun, I watch Instagram reels. There was one with a nice man who invited the viewer to do a visualization exercise with him, which typically I scroll past because I prefer the reels that make me laugh. Only this time I went with him.

His prompt involved a little bit of breathwork and then visualization of walking through a door, with a trusted other on the other side. I presented my dream theme to the trusted other, who said, “You take care of you; others will figure that out.” The weight of the world shifted off of my shoulders to where it belonged.

So, if you are noticing your own dream activity, this is something you can also try, then Practice, practice, practice…and let us know what you find. For help with this or something else, Contact Me at weissmadelaine@gmail.com



Photo by Freepik



Madelaine Weiss

Licensed Psychotherapist, Board Certified Executive, Career, Life Coach. LICSW, MBA, BCC