We know that the content of our dreams can help decode real-life emotions (e.g., dreaming of your teeth falling out is a classic stress indicator), but apparently the way we dream also says a lot about us.
Frequent lucid dreamers—those who recognize they are dreaming during a dream—are better at problem solving tasks than those who remain unaware they are dreaming until they wake up, according to a recent study published in Dreaming. The researchers believe that the insight experienced during a dream may relate to the same underlying cognition needed for insight in the waking state.
While this is the first empirical support demonstrating the relationship between lucid dreaming and insight, it makes sense considering what we already know about dreams, says Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., sleep expert, and author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan. There has been significant research over the course of this year showing that REM sleep—the stage of sleep in which 80 percent of dreams occur and also when you burn the most calories!—strengthens the memory of important information and weakens, or strips away, the associations with superfluous information. These factors may contribute to the success at problem-solving, he says.
"Who cares if I know I'm dreaming?" you may be thinking. Well, there's all kinds of fun stuff you can do if you recognize you're dreaming. You know, like meet Leonardo DiCaprio or teleport yourself to Europe. "It's definitely a place to try to work things out," Breus says. Good news: If you aren't a lucid dreamer, you may be able to become one. One studied trick is putting a symbol on the back of your hand, such as an "X" and looking down at it throughout the day. When you look down during the dream and see that it isn't there, you'll realize you are dreaming, he says.