Reviewed by Dr Nurul Aishah Jamaludin
Dream Interpretation According to Science and Chinese Medicine
Published | 4 min read
Your dreams may represent the state of your health or illness. See what yours are trying to tell you.
Over the course of human history, dream interpretation has always been a subject of interest and mystery. Ancient inscriptions or documents from early civilisations show how deeply societies regarded dreams and their meanings. For example, the people of Mesopotamia and Egypt deemed dreams as messages from the gods and oracles of the future. In Babylonia, people appoint priests or seers to professionally interpret dreams.
Meanwhile, in China, dreams were studied in the ancient medical text, The Spiritual Pivot (Ling Shu). The text wrote that “our dreams are a representation of our health or the lack thereof”.
Dreams continue to fascinate modern-day psychologists and scientists. They have conducted multiple studies to analyse dreams, and made several theories about their occurrence.
So, what do our dreams mean? Read more as we discuss dreams and how they relate to your body and health based on science and Traditional Chinese Medicine’s (TCM) perspectives.
What are Dreams?
Sleep Foundation defines dreams as images, thoughts or feelings that happen during sleep. Dreams can appear in all four stages of sleep, but they become longer and less cohesive during rapid eye movement (REM).
Most of the time, our dreams consist of images of the things or situations we’ve encountered in our daily lives. They can either be realistic or illogical and obscure, especially when they occur—as mentioned above—during the REM stage.
The Science of Dream Interpretation
Like the spiritual priests of the olden days, modern psychologists and neuroscientists have been trying to make sense of dreams for centuries.
From a psychological point of view, the most famous theory is probably the one belonging to Sigmund Freud. According to Freud, dreams are a manifestation of repressed human desires.
Likewise, scientists have shared their theories on dreams, their mechanism and their purpose. There is a suggestion that dreams are related to memory consolidation (the process where long-term memory is formed). Several studies seem to have backed this claim.
For instance, in 2010, a study discovered that vivid dreams are linked to the amygdala and hippocampus, the two parts of the brain that play an essential role in a human’s memory. Another study was conducted on a Charcot-Wilbrand Syndrome patient whose symptoms included the loss of ability to dream, as the patient suffered a lesion in the right inferior lingual gyrus. Dreams link to that part of the brain, which associates with visual processing, emotion and visual memories.
In addition, the book The Secret World of Sleep: The Surprising Science of the Mind at Rest talks about other possible purposes of sleep. One hypothesizes that dreams function as rehearsals that prepare us to react to real-life threats.
Another suggestion is that dreams influence our mood or basic bodily states. This is especially true for nightmares, which often links to low-quality sleep and poor daytime performance. Recurring nightmares are a symptom of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and link to other psychiatric illnesses.
Dream Interpretation According to TCM & Its Relation to Health
Similarly, TCM thinks that our dreams or nightmares represent the state of our body. It believes that dreams sometimes happen to people with low-quality sleep, caused by a dysfunction in the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Kidney or Gall bladder. Therefore, just like disturbed sleep, our dreams may also indicate an imbalance within the organs in our body.
Below is a list of dreams and how they are related to your health, according to TCM:
1. Being angry
Interpretation: Qi excess in the Liver.
2. Forests in the mountains
Interpretation: Qi Deficiency in the Liver.
3. Having a large meal
Interpretation: Qi Deficiency in the Stomach.
4. Open fields
Interpretation: Qi Deficiency in the Large Intestine.
5. Crying, worrying, flying and being afraid
Interpretation: Qi excess in the Lungs.
6. Being immersed in water
Interpretation: Qi Deficiency in the Kidneys.
If you have been having one of the dreams listed above, you may want to pay your doctor or physician a visit. It doesn’t hurt to always be mindful and take extra care of your health. And remember to sleep well. After all, sleep is the best medicine.
Dream interpretation is as unpredictable as the dreams themselves. There are different theories and suggestions surrounding dreams. But no matter what they symbolise—whether it’s desires, memories or illnesses—our dreams are our body’s way to communicate its needs to us, and perhaps we should listen.
This is an adaptation of an article, “What Sleep Patterns & Dreams Tell You About Your Health?”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.
- Sleep Foundation. 2020. Dreams [online] [Accessed 10 April 2022]
- Research Gate. 2000. Dream Interpretation in Ancient Civilizations [online] [Accessed 10 April 2022]
- Wiley Online Library. 2010. Amygdala and hippocampus volumetry and diffusivity in relation to dreaming [online] [Accessed 10 April 2022]
- Wiley Online Library. 2004. Total dream loss: A distinct neuropsychological dysfunction after bilateral PCA stroke [online]. [Accessed 10 April 2022]
- Scientific American. 2014. What Is Dreaming and What Does It Tell Us about Memory? [Excerpt] [online]. [Accessed 10 April 2022]
- Pubmed. 2000. Nightmares and disorders of dreaming [online]. [Accessed 10 April 2022]
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