7 Surprising Facts About Dreams

While we know very little about dreams such as where they come from and what they mean, there are some things that researchers have found out about dreams that you may find surprising and helpful. So be sure to read up on these facts before you head to bed tonight.

Dreaming can help you Learn

If you’re studying for the final exam or trying to learn a brand new task, you may want to consider taking a nap or heading to bed early rather than hovering over a textbook all night. That is because when your brain drams, it helps you learn and solve problems, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School. Their recent study showed that dreams are the brain’s way of processing, integrating and understanding new information.

Men (and Women) can experience an orgasm during Dreams

Contrary to popular belief, men are not the only ones who experience this phenomenon. Barbra Bartlik, MD a psychiatrist and sex therapist in New York stated that “Women have orgasms during their sleep, just as men do,” she says. “These orgasms often accompany erotic dreams, but they also may occur during dreams of a nonerotic nature.” When women dream, she says, it’s common for their genitals to become engorged and lubricated. “This occurs during REM sleep, which happens several times during the night,” she says. A similar thing happens to men. “Men get erections during REM sleep, whether or not the man is having an erotic dream.”

The Most Common Dream? Your Spouse Cheating

If you have ever woken up in a cold sweat after dreaming about your husband’s escapades with another woman then you are not alone. Dream expert Lauri Quinn Loewenberg says “The most commonly reported dream is the one where your mate is cheating,” She conducted a survey of more than 5,000 people and found that the infidelity dream is the nightmare that haunts people the most.

You Can Have Several Dreams Per Night

You don’t have just one dream per night, but instead dozens of them, according to dream experts. You may just not remember them all. We dream every 90 minutes throughout the night, with each cycle of dreaming being longer than the previous,” explains Loewenberg. “The first dream of the night is about 5 minutes long and the last dream you have before awakening can be 45 minutes to an hour long.” It is estimated that most people have more than 100,000 dreams in a lifetime.

You Can Still Linger in a Dream After Waking Up

Have you ever woken up from such a beautiful, perfect dream that you wished you could go back to sleep to soak it all up? You can! Just lie still—don’t move a muscle—and you can remain in a semi-dreamlike state for a few minutes. “The best way to remember your dreams is to simply stay put when you wake up,” says Loewenberg. “Remain in the position you woke up in, because that is the position you were dreaming in. When you move your body, you disconnect yourself from the dream you were just in seconds ago.”

Even the Strangest Dreams Can Be Interpreted

While it can be hard to believe that an oddball dream about your mother, a circus and a snowstorm can have any bearing on real life, there may be symbolism and potential meaning to be mined in every dream—you just have to look for it, says Harvard-trained psychotherapist Jeffrey Sumber. “The meaning of our dreams oftentimes relates to things we are needing to understand about ourselves and the world around us,” he says. Instead of shrugging off strange dreams, think about how they make you feel. “We tend to dismiss these dreams due to the strange components, yet it is the feeling we have in these dreams that matters most,” he explains. “Sometimes the circus and the snowstorm are just fillers that allow us to process the range of emotions we feel about our mother and give us the necessary distraction so we can actually experience that spectrum of emotion.”

You Can Control Your Dreams

The premise of the new movie Inception is that people can take the reins of their dreams and make them what they want them to be. But it may not just be a Hollywood fantasy. According to the results of a new survey of 3,000 people, dream control, or “lucid dreaming” may be a real thing. In fact, 64.9 percent of participants reported being aware they were dreaming within a dream, and 34 percent said they can sometimes control what happens in their dreams. Taking charge of the content of your dreams isn’t a skill everyone has, but it can be developed, says Kelly Bulkeley, PhD, a dream researcher and visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkley, California. The technique is particularly useful for people who suffer from recurring nightmares, he says. Dr. Bulkeley suggests giving yourself a pep talk of sorts before you go to sleep by saying: “If I have that dream again, I’m going to try to remember that’s it’s only a dream, and be aware of that.” When you learn to be aware that you are dreaming—within a dream—you not only have the power to steer yourself away from the monster and into the arms of Brad Pitt, for instance, but you train your mind to avoid nightmares in the first place. “Lucid dreaming enhances your ability to learn from the dream state,” says Dr. Bulkeley.