The Atlantic

The Dreams You Can’t Remember Might Never Have Occurred

Is it possible to dream of nothing?
Source: Mark Makela / Reuters

Where do our minds go at night? For more than a century, discussions of dreams have tended to revolve around the interpretation of our dreams’ contents. Do they reflect our unconscious anxieties? Are they an attempt to simulate threats, training us to cope with future challenges? Or are they simply the result of our mental housekeeping, as the sleeping brain reactivates our memories and processes them for long-term storage? In each case, the focus has been on the more immersive, surreal flights of fancy that occupy the sleeping brain.

Yet our most puzzling dreams may not have contents at all. Have you ever woken up with the certainty that you had just been dreaming, yet you were unable to recall even a single detail of the scene your mind was playing out? Various sleep studies have found that approximately , participants wake up with the sensation that

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