Have you ever had a dream that turned out to foreshadow the future? You wouldn’t be alone. Call it divination, or call it the power of the brain, but many people have experienced déjà rêvé—the feeling of dreaming something before it happened—at one point or another.
According to neuroscientist and author of The Oracle of the Night: The History and Science of Dreams, Sidarta Ribeiro, Ph.D., there could actually be some science behind this experience. Here’s what he had to say when we asked him about this strange dream phenomenon.
The science behind how dreams may “predict” the future.
Based on his research on dreams, Ribeiro thinks there is a very real chance they have a “predictive” function but not in the way you might think.
“It’s not a deterministic oracle that can predict what’s going to happen,” he suggests, “but rather it’s a very sophisticated, probabilistic, neurobiological machine that’s based on what happened in the past—and simulates possible futures.”
In other words, our dreams are constantly putting out potential scenarios for what the future could look like, based on what our brains know of the past.
Think of it like this: We know that dreams (and sleep in general) play a role in consolidating memories. In doing so, they help us learn and prepare for the future and are “a source of new ideas and creativity,” Ribeiro tells mbg. “On top of the neurological processes at play, you have the dream level that’s symbolic and related to your life in a predictive manner,” meaning that some of it may eventually prove true to your experience.
How to promote better sleep—and dreams.
If you want to tap into the probabilistic power of your dreams, one of the best things you can do is set yourself up for a good night’s sleep.
To do so, start with the basics: Get plenty of exercise, eat a healthy diet, and limit stress where you can. From there, don’t forget about the other factors that can promote sleep, like keeping your bedroom comfortably cool and dark, waking up and going to sleep at the same times every day, and avoiding eating or drinking alcohol close to bedtime. If you need a little extra support, try taking a relaxing sleep supplement before bed.* (Here are our all-time favorite ones for deeper zzz’s.)
The next time you’re struck by the realization that your dream foreshadowed something that happened in real life, give it up for neurobiology and the brain’s amazing abilities. While our dreams may not “predict” the future, per se, they seem to be pretty good at guessing what’s possible.