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BYU information systems professor James Gaskin comes from a long line of dreamers: People who dream often and remember them, too.

PROVO — BYU professor James Gaskin comes from a long line of dreamers: His grandparents kept dream journals, his parents could easily recount their dreams and he remembers some of his from when he was as young as 3 years old. In a given week, he notes, he could tell you five of his dreams.

But while dreaming comes easy to Gaskin, he also realizes that more is not known about dreams than is known. What does it mean if you dream you're flying? Who are people most likely to dream about? And why do dreams even matter?

The naturally curious Gaskin and some colleagues have come up with a free app for Android and iPhone that lets people detail their dreams, compare their dreams to those of others who use the app and even find popular, possible interpretations of common dream elements to untangle meanings.

This is a screenshot of the UDreamed app. | Lois M. Collins, Deseret News

The app, called UDreamed, asks dreamers to check boxes to describe their dreams, which are then sorted in a searchable database. Besides providing some fun and possible insights, Gaskin hopes the app will create a rich database from which to learn about dreams.

"As soon as you start collecting hundreds of thousands or tens of millions of data points on people's dreams — all sorts of people across every demographic and every geographic — you start to see some real interesting patterns on how things are viewed and how mood impacts people, how society shapes mood and how mood shapes action," said Gaskin, an information systems professor at Brigham Young University.

But rest easy: The dreams are not associated with the dreamers, as the dream data is anonymous.

Why dream?

In America and Great Britain, dreams don't have the same power they're granted in other parts of the world. In some cultures, dreams can drive marriage and other decisions, Gaskin said.

We're not quite sure what dreams are about, so a lot of research has focused on what dreams are and the function they serve, he said. Some suggest dreams are how the brain organizes or archives all the information and impressions it takes in. Or maybe dreams help people problem-solve. They might provide insights.

While that's all possible, there is no consensus nor empiric proof. "I think there are different kinds of dreams — and some that are just odd compilations of events and reactions one recently had," said Gaskin, who also noted that some dreams may be very meaningful to the person having them.

A 2005 study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences "suggested that people who remember many dreams are generally interested in dreams, in trying to understand them, increasing their dream recall frequency and tend to have an overall positive attitude toward dreams." It cites a half-dozen studies that see an association between dream recall and positive attitudes about dreaming, as well as interest in understanding dreams. People who can't remember their dreams or don't know if they have them are less apt to see great value in dreaming.

This is a screenshot of the UDreamed app. | Lois M. Collins, Deseret News

In 2009, British researchers looked at the validity of dream memories, noting that failure to record details and the changes that occur when one recalls the memory at different times can alter the dream and its perceived meaning. There's no one perfect way to store or recall dreams, noted the study in Imagination, Cognition and Personality, nor is it clear if there are subsets of people who don't store dreams or recall them at all.

The UDreamed app takes a lot of the guesswork out of recording details, guiding the app user through a series of questions that ask who was in the dream and where it occurred, among other things. It asks how people felt during their dreams — so far, said Gaskin, surprise has been the most common single emotion, followed by anxiety. The least common on the list is enlightenment.

The app knows

People using the app so far are much more likely to dream about their spouses or mothers. Fathers appear much less often. They often dream about being outdoors. They seldom seem to reach a real resolution to whatever dilemma the dream appears to pose.

UDreamed lets people look for insights and share their dreams. They can find other people who dream about the same things or compare their dreams with that of friends. They'll be able to find dream professionals to share insights, if they want, said Gaskin, who claims no expertise in dream interpretation. He said he is interested in how the app might help people build bridges between the things they dream and aspire to and their real lives.

Ultimately, Gaskin said, the only person who can accurately interpret your dream is you. But the app creators are happy to jump-start the process by providing information about common interpretations of dreamy scenarios.

While individual dreams won't be interpreted through the app, the developers launched a YouTube channel where videos explore some of the most common dream elements. Right now, there are five topics that are pretty common in dreams: Falling, flying, being naked, feeling lost and being chased. You can click on one and see an aggregate of the thinking about why so many people dream they're naked at a job interview, for example.

The ideas to explain this "very common dream" are varied, focusing primarily on vulnerability of some kind. The suggestions cover a range of notions, from positing that the naked person is embarrassed or ashamed to suggesting that he might be seeking attention — "maybe the wrong kind of attention."

UDreamed provides some interesting insights on dream trends, based on the data it has collected so far from the 600-800 people who are already using the app. For instance, "about half the times someone dreams at a hotel, they experience physical inhibition," like inability to move fast. Often in those dreams, people can't get to where they're trying to go.

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Interactions with dead people in dreams tend to be cordial, based on data collected on UDreamed.

At least half of the interactions recorded so far in app-user dreams have been friendly.

People who are curious can drill down to see how they compare to other dreamers. Gaskin was pleased to find that he scores higher on happiness and lower on anxiety than the app's average user.

As for remembering dreams, research suggests that the best way to do that is just to tell yourself that you are going to remember your dream when you wake.