Do you like adventurous experiences, maybe with a dose of shock that startles your tranquility? If so, there is no need to visit an amusement park.

Instead, rely on your dreams. You will find plenty of action without leaving your home: thrills, anxiety, terror, romance, and the pleasure of superhuman endowments that you don’t experience during waking hours.

Sleep researcher William C. Dement describes the phenomenon this way: “Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives.”

It is less terrifying to dream in our advanced years than dreaming in early childhood. Some dream analysts have a theory that evolution has given children nightmares to prepare their subconscious for the shocks that will occur in later life.

The word mare in nightmare comes from Old English (450-1100 AD). A mare in Old English was a mythological demon that violates the peace of sleep. Nightmares are uncommon among children under 5 years of age. They are most common among young children older than 5. Among adults, nightmares significantly diminish in occurrence from age 25-55.

Not all dreams are nonsensical. Famous people have reported prophetic dreams. Abraham Lincoln allegedly told friends, days before he was assassinated, that he had a prophetic dream.

In his dream he heard crying in the White House. In his dream state, he arose from his bed, entered the east wing of the White House, and saw there a casket guarded by a soldier.

Lincoln asked the soldier: “Who is dead in the White House?”

He was told it was the president, “killed by an assassin.” Lincoln reportedly said he slept no more that night.

King Henry III of France had a dream, three days before his assassination (1589), that he had been bloodied by monks. He actually was stabbed to death by one monk. Mark Twain related that he had seen his brother in a casket. A few days later his brother died in an accident.

Albert Einstein was asked by Edwin Newman, the radio journalist, when it was that Einstein had the initial concept of his theory of relativity. Einstein replied the idea came to him years ago when he was an adolescent in Germany. The dream was particularly memorable, Einstein said.

“I knew that I had to understand that dream. You could say, and I would say, that my entire scientific career has been a meditation on that dream.”

Einstein did not disclose to Newman the nature of that special dream. In an edition of Scientific American (September 2015), an article states that Einstein “traced his realization of light’s finite speed—the core idea of special relativity—to his teenage daydreams about riding beams of light.”

Recalling our dreams becomes less frequent as we age. Recall is most frequent among those aged 10-29. For males, the decrease in recall begins in their mid-30s; for females, the decrease begins in their mid-40s. Dream recall drops significantly for both sexes in their mid-50s, and even more for those over 60.

Dr. Ernest Hartmann, who died in 2013, spent much of his professional life trying to determine the significance of dreams and nightmares. He concluded that “after all my years of trying, I do not completely understand dreaming.”

If scientists have no answers, the meaning of dreams has been left to the musing of poets and songwriters. English poet Thomas Hood, who died in 1845, expressed his view when he wrote:

Some dreams we have are nothing else but dreams

Unnatural and full of contradictions

Yet others of our most romantic schemes

Are nothing more than fictions

Hood is telling us that our most romantic schemes during wakeful hours can be no more real than dreams during our sleeping hours. But, as children, we knew that, for a song reminds us to “row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”

Walt Sonneville, a retired market-research analyst, is the author of My 22 Cents’ Worth: The Higher-Valued Opinion of a Senior Citizen and A Musing Moment: Meditative Essays on Life and Learning, books of personal-opinion essays, free of partisan and sectarian viewpoints. Contact him at

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