By Kasey Doyle/Accent editor

You’re standing on a ledge overlooking a deep ravine. There are voices behind you, and as you turn to look you lose your balance. You are falling…Then you wake up, and realize it was just a dream.

Dreams come in many forms. They may be pleasant, they may be scary, or they may be weird, and many people wonder if their dreams reveal something in their lives.

Crystal Mitchell, 24, considers herself to be clairvoyant. She specializes in tarot card readings, palm readings, aura cleansing, aura readings and crystal readings at her business on Big Hill Avenue in Richmond.

Mitchell said dreams are a very important part of revealing the future and people should pay attention to their dreams.

“I believe in the vision,” Mitchell said. “If you dream of some things, it is usually the opposite. If you were to dream of death, I do believe that it follows into a marriage or a new beginning because it is the ending of a beginning.”

History lesson

Steve Falkenberg, professor of psychology at Eastern, said dream analysis can be traced back to Sigmund Freud.

During the early 1900s, Freud thought dreams revealed secret information about a person’s personality that would not come out any other way.

Freud believed humans had animal passions that were suppressed but were allowed to come out during the dreaming process.

Falkenberg also said Freud developed much of what is now in dream dictionaries.

“Psychologists today just think it is all baloney,” Falkenberg said. “We don’t think there is anything to that.”

Falkenberg said humans go through a biological process while they sleep, and dreams are stories humans make up during this process.

The biological process

“When people sleep in the deepest stage of sleep, their eyes become immobile, their muscles become stiff, the systems are all shut down,” Falkenberg said.

About once every hour and a half, the brain starts producing random output, stimulating all the various systems of the body, Falkenberg said.

“If (your brain) didn’t do that it would take you a terribly long time to wake up, and in case of an emergency, you would not wake up soon enough to deal with the emergency situation,” he said.

This process is called rapid eye movement.

This cycle occurs about five times per night, and the brain does 10 to 30 minutes of REM cycle each hour and a half, then the person returns to a deep sleep, Falkenberg said.

During this cycle, the brain stimulates the memory system, the muscle system, the heart and breathing.

“We make up stories to try to explain why our heart is pounding, why we are breathing heavy,” Falkenberg said. “We try to explain to ourselves why our bodies are acting that way.”

Random memories

Dreams occur during REM and non-REM cycles of sleep, and they are caused by electrophysiological stimulation of the memory system.

Nerve impulses are sent to activate sections of the memory system.

“Your brain stimulates your memory system and starts memories flowing too, but it is random what memories you get and how you incorporate them into the dream,” Falkenberg said.

He said the stories people make up during sleep depend on personality, important things going on in their life and traumatic, interesting, and exciting events.

“Random little bits of movies that you’ve seen, and video games that you’ve played, and novels that you’ve read and television shows that you’ve watched … all that stuff gets in there,” Falkenberg said.

While dreaming, the system that copies information from short-term memory to long-term memory is shut off.

The stories made up while dreaming are assembled in the working memory, which is a part of short-term memory.

“Working memory only lasts 20 to 30 seconds max, so you wake up, and you remember … and it just fades away from you like a television screen going to black,” Falkenberg said. “You are trying to hold on to this dream, and you can’t because it is fading out of working memory.”

Remembering dreams

Falkenberg said people make up six hours of stories a night, but they only remember fragments of their dreams.

“People remember very little of what those dreams are probably because they don’t have any adaptive significance,” he said. “Remembering those dreams are not particularly useful; they tend to be just random garbage.”

Falkenberg said a person is less likely to remember their dreams if awoken by an alarm clock because the sound of the alarm interferes with the working memory.

“You are more likely to remember your dreams on a day when you don’t have an alarm clock going off and you can wake up when you get ready to,” he said.

He said dreams that occur during the REM cycle are easier to remember.

Dj… vu

Falkenberg said the memory for dreams gets mixed up with memories from everyday life.

The dream fragments are stored up, and when they appear in real life they trigger a memory that you dreamed.

This phenomenon is called dj… vu.

“Human memories are constructed, so we put our memories together out of bits of fragments,” he said. “We’re so used to doing it, we don’t even notice that we’re doing it.”

He said dreams are not reliable indicators of what a person is thinking about or concerned about.

Dreams do not foretell the future, and there is no scientific evidence to prove that they do.

Mitchell said her dreams have come true.

“Dreams mean something,” she said. “I have seen it happen. Most of the things that have come to me have happened.”

Interpreting dreams

Falkenberg said dreams can be interpreted because they reflect the person’s personality and what is going on in that person’s life, but he said dreams are not an indication of what will happen in the future.

“There is nothing the matter with doing that dream interpretation stuff and having fun with it,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean anything.”

Mitchell does not agree.

“Most of what people go through are signs either for them to change their life, to face their fear or to accomplish what they need to,” Mitchell said.

“If you really sit down and think about your dreams, you’ll find out they do come true,” she said. “They are … a vision … they show you things.”

Dream Guide

Dream dictionaries explain the meanings of certain symbols in dreams. What do your dreams mean?

immaturtity and inexperience

true friends and faithfulness in love

cleverness and resourcefulness

wealth and many successful and pleasant adventures

truth, courage, love, and romance

evil, disaster, and extreme misfortune

sensuality, sex, love, and romance

the unknown, unconscious, danger, mystery, darkness, death, mourning, hate or malice

truth, wisdom, heaven, eternity, devotion, tranquility, loyalty and openness

love, joy, sweetness, happiness, affection, kindness

force, vigor, passion, aggression, power and courage

Reach Kasey at