The answer to your problems may be found in your dreams. During sleep, dreams may offer solutions to difficulties within a week after the trouble starts, researchers say.

In a new study, 470 Canadian undergraduate psychology students recorded their dreams for a week. They rated how well they recalled their dreams, as well as their dreams’ intensity, emotions and impact.

The next week, participants took a closer look at their most recent, well-recalled dream. They noted any connections between the dream and events on a randomly selected day up to a week before the dream. They then rated both their confidence in recalling the event and the extent of the association between the event and dream.

After that, two independent judges were called in. Their job: Review the dreams and related events, and decide whether the dreams incorporated solutions to problems stemming from those events.

Dreams really do try to offer solutions, they concluded. The dream world apparently works quickly, churning out insights and advice the night after a triggering event, and also six to seven days later. They say that dreams serve social and emotional adaptive functions.

“This suggests an ongoing effort to resolve a problem in dreams during the week following the emergence of that problem,” says University of Alberta psychology professor Don Kuiken, in a news release.

“Something is going on up there that at least touches on and alters the resolutions that people come up with,” says Kuiken, who worked on the study.

The solutions that surfaced after about a week were especially significant for women. There weren’t enough men in the study to be sure about any gender differences.

Other research has shown that men and women dream differently.

For instance, young women (up to age 39) recall dreams more often than men of the same age. Women are more likely to remember their dreams after experiencing stress and to describe their dreams as more vivid, meaningful, and impactful. Dream content also tends to be different between men and women, say the researchers.

The study appears in the December issue of the Journal of Sleep Research.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Nielsen, T. Journal of Sleep Research, December 2004; vol 13: pp 327-337. News release, University of Alberta.