When I was growing up, I had vivid dreams of flying. But starting in my 20s, those dreams faded. Instead, I would wake up feeling anxious due to dreams related to college - either I couldn’t find a classroom, hadn’t studied for an exam or still had to fulfill a requirement for my degree. And now, my dreams have changed again. Most recently, I dreamt that I was invited to play a doubles tennis match with Chris Evert and Billie Jean King (who in real life are way beyond my skill level).
Turns out changing dreams are common for women as they age. Research by Dr. Monique Lortie-Lussier found that women’s dreams change as they age, as reported by More.com. The adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa said, "Dreams have to do with discovering and anticipating identity changes. They help disclose who we are at different points in our lives."
That seems to hold true for a recent dream of one of my friends, who is about 50 years old. "I was diagnosed as menopausal a couple of months ago," she reported. "For the first time in a long time, I had a very vivid dream a couple of weeks ago. I dreamed I was pregnant, and I vividly remember feeling the baby move. I even woke up with my hand on my stomach. I always thought that was the best part of being pregnant." I interpreted her dream to mean that she was "giving birth" to the next phase of her life since she was recently divorced and had just moved to a new city.
Dr. Lortie-Lussier’s study found that participants, ages 25-39, dreamed about facing a threat, causing them anxiety, fear and a sense of failure. One friend who is now 60 reported, "I can remember being younger and dreaming about being naked in a classroom or large room full of people," one friend said.
Study participants who were age 45-55 reported dreams in which they were more powerful and in control, and often were the aggressor. Dr. Lortie-Lussier believes that this change is related to the women’s current life situation. "This is the period when a woman becomes her own person and grows more assertive," she said. In addition, changes in hormonal levels, depression and insomnia in mid-life also may cause more intense rapid eye movements (REMs), which is linked to higher levels of activity and emotionality in dreams.
Aggression while dreaming decreased while wisdom themes emerged in women age 55-65. After the age of 65, women’s dreams focused on memories of the past, according to the study.
Although not mentioned in the More.com article, a new prioritization of what is important in life seemed to emerge in my friend’s dreams as they aged. One friend near 50 also reported that she had been "dreaming more about family instead of parties, enjoying nature and the stuff that really matters."
A 60-year-old friend added, "Now I dream about home - that is losing my home and ending up in a really ugly house. Or I dream about my dogs. Just before one of my dogs got diagnosed with cancer, I was having a lot of dreams where he would be lost and I had to find him. My dreams are still affected directly by things that are going on in my life on a day-to-day basis. Security and living conditions for me and my family seem to be the key these days."
So perhaps the belief that dreams are a window into the inner self is true. Paying attention to the changes that happen in your dreams may help you see your life’s course as well as its evolution from when you were young.
Have your dreams changed significantly over the years? Share your thoughts with the community
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.