We analyzed sleep data to identify what America’s most common dream subjects are. Through categorizing 106 dream-related search terms into related clusters, we determined the average monthly search volume per 100,000 residents in each state and looked to see what emerged as the top five in each one.
Is the Most Dream-Curious State
Nevada residents were on the average the ones most likely to search for answers to their dreams, with an average monthly search volume of 595.73 per 100,000 residents. Lucid dreaming had an average monthly search volume of 1005, while “Teeth falling out dream” had an averaged volume of 774.17 and “Dreams about being pregnant” had an average volume of 742.50.
On average, individuals in Nevada exhibited the highest likelihood of seeking answers to their dreams, with a monthly search volume averaging 595.73 per 100,000 residents.
The Peach State is next up, with an average monthly search volume of 568.85 per 100,000 denizens. Top trending subjects in the state are lucid dreaming, snake in dream, dreaming of snakes, teeth falling out dream, dreams about being pregnant.
Rounding out the top three is the Lone Star State, with an average monthly search volume of 559.61 per 100,000 of its citizens.
Iowa citizens were the least concerned about what their dreams might mean, with an average monthly search volume of 307.79 per 100,000 citizens.
Montana citizens are also not too concerned about their dreams compared to other states, with an average monthly search volume of 319.72 per 100,000 citizens.
Finishing up our bottom three states is Idaho, with an average monthly search volume of 328 for dream-related states.
We analyzed online search data to find out what were the top five most common dreams in each state. After examining 106 dream-related search terms, including ones like ‘what do spiders mean in dreams,’ we ranked potential dream subjects by determining their average monthly search volume per 100,000 residents in each state.
Understanding what the most common dreams are and what their meanings may be can help illuminate what issues and concerns sleepers are dealing with in the waking world.
“Lucid dreaming” and its less common offshoot “how to lucid dream” topped the search list in most states. The sole exception was Mississippi, where “snake in dream” was the top term, with an average monthly search volume of 555 per 100,000 U.S. citizens.
Questions about how to lucid dream continued to pop up in each state’s second most common dream topics, along with “snake in dream” and “teeth falling out dream.” Dreams like this about teeth are often associated with feelings of loss, such as a change in career or the ending of a relationship. Tens of thousands of people searched for information on teeth-related dreams in a month, with a roughly 34806.67 total search volume occupying the states’ combined number 2 spot.
Teeth, snakes, and lucid dreaming continue to populate the states’ third-most common dreams, with “dreams about being pregnant” joining the list. The generic term “nightmare” also makes its presence known here as a recurring search term, as does “intimate dreams” and these terms continue to comprise states’ fourth most common dreams.
Rounding out the dream topics in the fifth and final slot is “night terror.”
Topics people sought clarification on include:
How do different stages of sleep influence the content and nature of dreams?
Contrary to popular belief, dreams can occur during all the sleep stages instead of just REM sleep, with some differences. For example, dream reports from NREM sleep are often more thought-like and mundane, whereas dreams from REM sleep are more elaborate and vivid. Dreams are also more frequent during REM sleep than NREM.
Dreams are also more frequently reported during Stage 1 sleep (the transition between wake and sleep) compared to other NREM stages (Stage 2 and slow wave sleep), even though there’s debate on how we should categorize dreams from this stage, and they’re referred to as lucid dreaming, hypnagogic hallucinations, or micro dreaming.
How do external factors, like stress or sleep environment, impact the frequency and intensity of dreams?
External factors like stress can significantly affect the frequency and content of dreams. High stress can increase the frequency and intensity of emotions in dreams, potentially by activating a brain area named the amygdala that is important for emotion processing.
For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, those who were more affected tended to report more dreams and heightened emotions during dreams.
What role does neurobiology play in the occurrence and recall of dreams?
Different models have used neurobiology to explain the mechanism of dreaming. Brain areas involved in emotional processing and memory, including the prefrontal cortex and limbic system, could be central to dream content.
However, as for now, there are no agreed-upon biomarkers of dreaming experience, which makes it difficult to drill down the specific neurobiological changes during dreaming.
Are there methods to enhance dream recall and clarity for research purposes?
There are studies showing that one can improve dream recall and clarity by simply practicing. Specifically, by keeping a dream journal every day and actively working on recalling dreams, one can remember more dreams with more details.
There are also devices that help us recall dreams, such as Dormio developed by a group at MIT, that is used to help people improve dream recall during stage 1 sleep, which might help with our creativity.
What are the potential links between dreams and cognitive processes like memory consolidation?
There are studies showing that dreaming about a memory task helps with its performance. Plus, the ability to recall a dream might have shared mechanisms with memory consolidation.
I have a paper that’s in the process of being published that shows that dreaming helps us forget irrelevant experiences (less emotionally salient information) while retaining more emotionally salient events. The exact mechanism linking memory consolidation and dreaming is still a subject of ongoing research, and I hope to see more research on this.
During sleep, the brain is more active in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, showing activity similar to that seen during waking. This contrasts with the high amplitude slow waves seen during non-REM (NREM) sleep. The discovery of REM sleep, with its similar patterns of brain activity to waking, led to the suggestion that REM sleep was associated with dreaming – the vivid, conscious, internally-generated experiences we experience during sleep.
This view is supported by the fact that when subjects are woken from REM sleep, they are more likely to report dreaming than if woken during NREM sleep. However, later studies showed that up to 70% of NREM awakenings yield reports of dreaming. As such, dreams can occur during any sleep stage, though are more likely to be recalled after waking from REM sleep.
The study of dreams is challenging, as this depends upon test subjects reporting what the dream, rather than direct observation. Moreover, it is difficult to manipulate dream content experimentally (for example, by exposure to stimuli before or during sleep).
It is difficult to predict the content of dreams – so most research aims to relate neuronal activity to the general dreaming when the subject wakes up, rather than focusing on the specific content of dreams and trying to relate this to the activity observed.
Dreams often reflect a person’s interests and personality in the same way that mental activity during waking does. For example, personal anxieties – such as being late or inappropriately dressed.
However, a common feature is reduced voluntary control. Dreams are very visual, with color, shapes, and movement and they include features such as faces, places, objects, and animals. Sounds may also be experienced, and whilst rarer, touch, smell, taste, pleasure, and pain may also occur during dreams.
As we carry our daytime mental activity into our sleep, our prior experiences may affect dream content. Stresses during waking experience can therefore be incorporated into dreams. An example of this is when daytime activity involves ongoing repetitive tasks.
And some activities performed before sleep, such as playing video games, may influence the dreamlike experiences we have as we drift into sleep. The sleep environment may influence dream when this is sufficient to intrude upon consciousness, such as loud noises.
Some recent research on dreams has highlighted a ‘hot zone’ of posterior cortical regions (Siclari et al., 2017 Nature Neuroscience). Local decreases in low-frequency activity in this area is predictive of dreaming in both REM and NREM sleep.
High-frequency activity in this region was predictive of specific dream content. Monitoring this region may provide a way of telling whether subjects are experiencing dreams in real-time.
Studying dreams in the lab typically involves waking the test subjects every 15-30 minutes throughout the night to ask whether they were experiencing dreams. This is often combined with high density electroencephalography (EEG) and brain imaging.
Subjects can be trained in dream reporting too. And there is a lot of interest in ‘lucid dreaming’ – where the subject knows they are asleep but can influence dream content. This may relate to micro-arousals where subjects partially wake.
Whilst there is substantial research on the role of sleep in memory consolidation, the role of dreams in such processes are poorly understood. Some theories of sleep suggest that dreams may relate to creating simulations of the world or may occur due to replaying key circuits that were active during wake.
Alternatively, dreams may arise due to the brain attempting to interpret internally-generated stimuli, often from brain regions below the conscious cortex.
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