SINCE everybody dreams, and since sleep is necessary for the needed repair of our physical energies, a point of great practical importance concerns itself with the question: What is the use of dreams? What is gained by dreaming?

It can be shown through dream-analysis that dreams subserve a definite function in our mental life in that they really act as protectors and not as disturbers of sleep. This guardianship of sleep by means of dreams is due to the persistent dynamic action of the censor.

In sleep the censor is exceedingly active, and its function is to protect sleep from the mass of repressed emotions which threaten to overwhelm the sleeper in the shape of a dream. This is done by means of the dream mechanisms already discussed, in which the dream thoughts are fused and displaced, thus undergoing such disguise and symboliza-tion as to be unrecognizable to the sleeper and consequently not disturbing to him. When the censor nods or is evaded, when the literal dream thoughts bombard and invade consciousness in an undisguised form, sleep is disturbed and insomnia results.

This is the origin of many types of so-called functional insomnia, sleep being troubled by a series of anxiety dreams. Only when the dreams are completely analyzed, and the unconscious mental processes thereby become stilled, when the censor is once more allowed to stand guard over the portal leading from the unconscious to the conscious, will refreshing sleep again result. Such a cure can be brought about only through psycho-analysis.

It is these two mechanisms of psychical repression and censorship which prevent the egotistic and savage wishes of childhood from reaching our daily consciousness, and which only occasionally appear in certain typical dreams, such as the death of a parent or the dream of nakedness. These "typical dreams" will be taken up in detail in the chapter devoted to that subject.

Thus the wish in the dream need not be present in the consciousness of the adult dreamer, but may have existed from early childhood, and it is the censor which, except on certain occasions, prevents these unconscious childhood wishes from reaching consciousness in the form of a dream. The dream also protects sleep by frequently making the latent dream thoughts unrecognizable, even if these thoughts should escape the censor's vigilance. Thus the repressed thoughts enter the dream consciousness because of a disturbance of what is called in international parlance a balance of power: either the repression is not strong, or the censor is lax or temporarily off guard. A kind of a compromise or psychological treaty takes place between the censor and the unconscious thoughts, through which a certain portion of the latter are allowed to pass into the dream consciousness. For instance, in certain erotic dreams, this compromise takes place by investing the beloved object with the form of an individual to whom the dreamer is indifferent, a real process, for the purpose of disguise, of both condensation and displacement.

An example of the protective function of a dream is the following:

A highly cultured woman, in the midst of some difficulties with her husband, dreamed that she was lying in bed asleep, while her husband was awake, and she laughed sarcastically at him. The analysis of this simple dream revealed an interesting compromise with her wishes. In the dream she realized that it was all a dream and not reality, a kind of a reinforcement of the fact that it was nothing but a dream fantasy. Therefore, if it were a dream, there could be no truth in their strained relations, and the whole dream revealed the unconscious, repressed wish of the dreamer that a reconciliation or welding together of the affections might take place. If she laughed, the laugh signified that the strained relation was all a joke and not reality; in fact, so unreal was it all that she was able to sleep peacefully as in the dream.

When we awake from a dream, and the relaxed censor resumes its sway, the resistance again prevents the unconscious thoughts from reaching consciousness, and everything is once more repressed, sometimes very rapidly after awakening. It is this renewed strength and activity of the censor which in part explains the rapid forgetting of dreams. Forgetting dreams, in fine, is due not so much to the fact that the vagueness of the dream was such that it left no traces in memory, for some of the most intense dreams are quickly forgotten and vague ones persistently remembered, but rather to an unconscious wish to forget. Sometimes only a portion of the dream is forgotten, and these forgotten fragments, which contain dream material so strongly repressed that their forgetting is an intentional act, usually are recalled during the course of a dream-analysis, provided the resistance is not too great. Thus the disguised dream increases the ability to sleep peacefully, it quiets the energy which would tend to keep us awake, and leads to those two great essentials for refreshing sleep, viz.: relaxation and disinterest.1 When the unconscious thoughts continually escape the censor, either through their emotional strength or due to a weakness of the censor, insomnia results. The treatment of these types of functional insomnia, therefore, must be by psycho-analysis, whose purpose is to still or quiet the disturbing, unconscious thoughts. This is accomplished by the analysis of the dreams, since the dreams best reveal the unconscious and disturbing emotions. In fact, dream-analysis in these cases of insomnia acts like oil upon the troubled waters of the unconscious. Sometimes the sleeplessness is due to fear or anxiety on account of the distressing dreams which disturb sleep or which awaken the subject with a start as soon as he falls asleep. In these cases the sleeplessness becomes an act of defence, the subject forces himself to remain awake to prevent the occurrence of the distressing dreams. It is such types of sleeplessness, with the resulting emotional tension, which cause also severe states of fatigue. In one striking case of anxiety hysteria with insomnia, such a process as described above took place. As the dream-analysis proceeded, the anxiety dreams gradually disappeared, the unconscious emotions were stilled, and sleep resulted.

1 For the experimental evidence and a discussion of these two essentials of sleep, see my papers: "The Nature of Sleep," Journal of Abnormal Psychology, vol. VI, no. 5, and "The Evolution of Sleep and Hypnosis," ibid., vol. VII, no. 2.

This answers the question as to why we dream or what is the necessity of dreaming? Obviously to protect sleep, to make sleep undisturbed, and thus give us the needed rest for the repair of our broken-down physical and psychical energies. This is contrary to the popular idea that dreams disturb sleep, for the dream is in reality the guardian of sleep. Thus a dream is not a trifle, neither does it deal with trifles. It fulfills a wish of great personal importance to the dreamer and acts as a kind of safety valve for the successful escape of our repressed emotions.

A pretty illustration of this latter mechanism was seen in the case of a young woman, a sufferer from hysteria, in whom a series of vivid and highly dramatized dreams occurred very frequently. Suddenly, without any apparent cause, the dreams abruptly ceased, and a few days later she developed an hysterical delirium which contained all the characteristics of her previous dream life. In this delirium, the mental condition was that of a dreamy state of consciousness. What had occurred was this: the delirium had replaced the dream, because dreaming had ceased, and the delirium itself acted as a safety valve for her repressed, pent-up emotions which were formerly subserved by the dream. Thus the numerous dreams protected her sleeping consciousness, and when dreaming ceased, consciousness became again protected by the delirium.

Dreams are always egotistic; they refer to one's own person or some elements of one's experience. Sometimes, if the ego does not appear directly in the dream, it may be concealed behind some other person in the dream. Hysteria and dreams, as already shown, and as will be explained in more detail later, have thus the same mechanism: in the dream the repressed emotional complexes escape in the form of the vivid hallucination of the dream itself; in hysteria in the form of bodily symptoms or the mental state of the hysterical subject.