Problem Solving While You Sleep

By Guest Blogger Layne Dalfen

Why stay stuck on the fence? Life is filled with decisions– our own, others’, and even those others telling us what decisions to make. But the fact is, deep down inside, we usually know exactly what we should do. The trick is getting in there to access that wisdom.

Working with dreams is a wonderful and very simple way to get to that deep-down place and consult our inner advisors for solutions to waking-life dilemmas. It’s not that dreams have some magical wisdom about the absolute right or wrong thing to do in any given situation. Rather, they let us know what we are most comfortable doing, what we really feel or need or want. Dreams give us the opportunity to tap into our intuition and to be in touch with our whole selves when making decisions.

Problem Solving While You Sleep

Although dreams can sometimes present very literal solutions to waking-life problems, they often illuminate aspects of ourselves that we need to develop in order to solve those problems. Meaning, sometimes, dreams shine a spotlight on other people as a way to pinpoint a behavior that is missing in our response to a current situation. For example, that screaming child in your dream, may be telling you that you need to speak up more about your concerns at work. Do you get it? In this way, dreams show us different possibilities for thinking, acting, and reacting that are unimaginable in our waking lives and provide us with a safe place to practice these new behaviors. Eventually we can bring the new behavior out of the dream scenes and into real life.

No one ever said that change is easy, but I am here to tell you, it most certainly is possible. All those behaviors you wish you’d possess are there for the taking! Shy and wish you were assertive? So accommodating you can’t say no? Your dreams are here for you every single morning giving you behaviors you can practice. Oh yes, I’m quite serious!

Problem Solving While You Sleep

You are in the powerful position to choose how you would like to respond to every situation in your life. Dream decoding is a great way to rid yourself of your habitual reactions to issues that come up in your life, and learn to replace them with new ones.

By practicing the following simple techniques for decoding your dreams, you can learn how to access your own deep wisdom, and also how to become more flexible and more imaginative in your responses to the predicaments that life tosses your way.

Here goes…

Decoding The Dream

Write the dream down!

When you wake up with a dream in your mind, write down the dream story, double spaced and with wide margins, on a sheet of paper—anything that gives you lots of room for jotting down notes and associations.

Problem Solving While You Sleep

1. Isolate your feelings.

After you’ve written a description of the dream, write down the  feelings you had during the dream on the left side of the page, alongside the scenes where those feelings occurred. Pay particular attention to any changes in your feelings over the course of the dream, asking yourself how you felt at the beginning of the dream, as different characters appeared and events passed, and then at the end.

2. Identify the symbols.

Now isolate and circle each symbol that appears in your dream description. Basically, any thing in a dream can be a symbol, including objects, animals, and people. This task is to discover what the symbol means to you, in your own unique and ever-evolving personal dictionary.

And the key to discovering your personal definitions of these symbols is to pay attention to the feelings that they conjure up in you. Take the common dream image of teeth falling out. For one person, this dream might signify a concern over growing older or entering a new phase in life. But for another, it may symbolize the inability to control her feelings in a love relationship. For a third it might be encouraging her to speak up… as the metaphor is in itself a rehearsal for something coming out of your mouth!

After circling the symbols in the dream description, ask yourself a few things that come to mind about each symbol, jotting these down next to the appropriate one. Describe the image in detail, as if to a child or a person who has never seen it, noting what it looks like and what it does in the dream.

Problem Solving While You Sleep

If the symbol is a person, ask yourself for two or three things that come to mind when you think about that person. Is she shy or straightforward, or especially kind or selfish? Sometimes a person brings to mind an incident, such as a shopping trip or an argument, rather than an adjective. Write everything down uncensored, and do not try too hard to figure out the symbol’s meaning if it does not come to you right away—stick to describing the object and your feelings about it.

3. Play on Words and Puns

Though dream decoding can be done alone, you may find it helpful to work with a partner because describing things aloud can help you click more easily on a dream’s meaning. (For this reason, even if you are working alone, you may find it helpful to talk out loud.)

The same as we do in our waking life, we constantly use play on words and puns in our dreaming minds. So if in conversation you use language like, “I was so embarrassed I thought I was going to die,” you might dream that you are dying and it won’t be that you are actually dying! It will simply be a case of our words appearing in the form of a metaphor. I often hear clients, in describing their dream say something like, “I was in a bathroom and I was stuck in a stall.” This description from a dreamer begs the question from me, “Is there anything you are stalling about in your current situation?”

Problem Solving While You Sleep

4. Plot the action.

Finally, notice what actually happens in the dream, putting a square around each action—or non-action—that takes place. I started running and I felt stuck and couldn’t move are examples of actions/non-actions. What are you, the dreamer, doing in the dream–are you in the action, or outside the action, observing? What are other dream-characters doing? Write any comments or associations you have about the actions in a side column or alongside the action noted.


Interpreting the Dream

After you map the dream, you can begin to interpret it. The way the dream story mirrors your current life situation is what I refer to as the first layer of meaning. The first step in interpretation is to try and see what specific situation the dream is mirroring. Dreams offer us suggestions and solutions to specific problems we are attempting to come to a conclusion about, and your solution will come to you regardless of whether you “incubate” a dream asking for a solution.

A few years ago, for instance, I wanted help in deciding whether or not to sell my house, and so I incubated a dream on this question. I closed my eyes and let the feeling of confusion, dashed with a fear of the unknown, surround me. Then I wrote out my query: Is this the right time to sell the house? Do I really feel right about selling? Am I comfortable moving on to a new space? Am I ready? Please give me a dream that helps me find the answer to these questions.

Soon after, I dreamed that I was in the office of my (real-life) financial advisor, but he was not there. Instead, there was a man wearing a cowboy hat that was way too big for him. The hat kept falling over his eyes, and the man looked and talked like a buffoon. I was very frustrated at having to deal with this stupid man, and I asked repeatedly to see the man I usually deal with. Finally I told the man I was leaving, and walked out of the room.

Looking at the first layer of the dream, I see that it took place in the office of the person who invests my money in the stock market. In my personal symbolism, a market is a market, whether it be the real estate market or the stock market, and so this dreamscape was reflecting my current concerns about selling my house.

Discovering the Solution

Problem Solving While You Sleep

Sometimes the solutions are so blatant and simple they smack you in the face. Other times, though, a dream’s wisdom is not so easy to find, and we have to delve into what I call the second layer of a dream, in which we look at each part of the dream as representing a different part of ourselves.

Using this approach, we can sometimes discover the solution in the dream by taking on the behavior of someone else who appears in the dream, and applying it in our waking-life situation. The solution, however, was hidden in the second layer of the dream, in which the other people embody different aspects of ourselves. Stay with me.

The man I wanted to see is someone I consider a smart investor. I could not find him in the dream because I could not find the part of myself that is a smart investor. In my waking life, I was acting like the buffoon in the cowboy hat, because I was too emotional about the house and unable to think about it logically. Realistically, the house (like the man’s cowboy hat) was too big for my husband and myself, now that most of our children are out of the house. The dream gave me an answer to my dilemma when it showed me walking out of the room. Symbolically, I was walking away from the side of me that was stopping me from making the appropriate decision. I was also walking out of my home. We sold the house soon after, and have never regretted it.

The most daunting part of dream work comes when we face those particularly strange dreams that we all have from time to time, dreams with a surreal jumble of locations, characters, and time periods. But I believe that by moving away from the dream itself, and focusing on our feelings about the people, places, objects and actions that appear in it, we can break through to the answers the dream holds for us. Dreams allow us get off the fence and improve our lives.

It is our emotions that provide our dreams with both power and wisdom. Feelings don’t just disappear, after all, and if we don’t let them out in our waking life, then they are bound to show up while we sleep. Fortunately, our dreams give us the chance to acknowledge these feelings, feel their power, and learn from their wisdom.


Layne Dalfen, Dream Analyst

Problem Solving While You Sleep

Founder of The Dream Interpretation Center, and author of Dreams Do Come True; Decoding Your Dreams To Discover Your Full Potential, Layne Dalfen has emerged as a speaker and guest on TV and radio programs in the United States and Canada.  She lectures at schools and universities and speaks yearly at  conferences all over the world.

Layne provides the tools needed to decode and understand why we have certain dreams on a particular night, and how that knowledge can potentially enrich our lives.

She is currently a part of a new Internet Social Networking Site called launching this month worldwide.


Tell us, do you have recurring dreams? Have you had dreams that have actually helped you make a real life decision? Do you remember your dreams or forget them? Share any experiences with our readers.


  1. I remember, I used to have a recurring dream that I bought a new waterbed, and it had no sheets. Just see-through clear to the water. Inside my waterbed, living a huge green crocodile (which I’m petrified of). I felt so afraid looking at it, but it just stayed there and wouldn’t attack me. I would go to bed fearful in this waterbed, but the crocodile never attacked me. Hmmm…

    1. Hi Erica. Thanks for posting my blog! At the first level the dream is about something that either happened to you yesterday or something that you thought about. You are attempting to come to a conclusion about an issue. A recurring dream that you have say 5 times in the last 2 weeks is there to grab your attention to an issue. But a recurring dream over a longer period of time that happen every now and then are like a favourite expression. As the metaphors we use are so unique to each of us, I can tell you that if this were my dream I would know that I am looking at whatever it is that is frightening me straight on. I see my fear clearly. The TERRIFIC aspect of your dream Erica is your healthy subconscious reminding you there is nothing to be afraid of. You give yourself the “rehearsal” of seeing something you are afraid of and realizing it isn’t going to get the better of you!

  2. There is a lot of great information here. I agree that we can use our dreams as a way to problem solve in our real life. I often go to bed confused about an issue and my dream will give me the answer. It’s very cool. I find this whole dream analysis very interesting. Great post.

    1. Thanks Julie. I am glad you liked the post. Interestingly, a great way to know if you have had progress on a particular problem, is to check in with how you feel upon waking. Typically when you wake feeling relaxed and refreshed, chances are your dreams helped you progress to some conclusions about what to do on whatever subject you are discussing with yourself. Similarly, if you wake exhausted, it could be a sign you are having more difficulty resolving the problem at hand in your current life.

  3. I always dream of someone chasing me through a forest. I wake up in a sweat so convinced it’s real. My dreams would make an amazing action film. LOLOLOL!

    1. Hi Dreamer. The dreams are always calling our attention to something….and typically, nightmares are there to grab your attention to a situation you might be avoiding in your waking life. We are self-regulating. If we under-react to the situation at hand, the dreams will over-react, hence the nightmare! When I dream I am being chased, it is typically when I am feeling under pressure. The dream is there to inspire me to discuss the matter in waking life. Is it that someone in particular is making me feel pressured? Do I want to express that feeling to that person? Or is it a situation that I am under pressure about, like a deadline. If that’s the case maybe it is that I need to clear my schedule and make the time to accomplish the task so that I can relieve the pressure!

  4. Very interesting stuff! I began working at a research lab in 2009 and became exposed to various projects happening at the university. I was a participant in a study that was trying to show that the state between sleep and awake is the best for problem solving. By inducing that state with LED glasses and sounds I was supposed to focus on the problem at hand and found myself “traveling” in space that felt like a realistic dream. Needless to say the problem which had plagued me for years was solved within a year of that project. Coincidence possibly, but I have to say it was a very powerful process.

    1. So true! Dream analysis is definitely a powerful process. And the thing is we are getting the solutions regardless of whether we are decoding the dreams or not……It’s just that if you do make a conscious effort to recall and record the dreams and take the few steps it takes to decode the meaning, you can propel your problem-solving. It’s like that annoying fact that once you know something you can never go back to not knowing? Annoying, but true, and in this case in a positive way. You discover something and it moves your process along faster that it would if you were not taking the time to analyze the dreams. Interestingly, in response to the study you were involved in, the closer we get to morning the more time we spend in Stage 1 sleep, and it is there that we have the most vivid and longest dreams that are the easiest to recall because we are also so close to wake. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Very interesting post Layne. My dreams are vivid and I always remember them in the morning. I didn’t realize my dreams could be analyzed to this degree. That is fascinating.

  6. I had a dream that my husband, youngest daughter and I were on a ski lift. It was extremely high off the ground. It started going faster and faster and became a zipline. My husband let go and was shouting while he dropped to let go. I couldn’t at that point it was going so fast but so high and I could see the end. My daughter yelled let go (I was holding on to her hand really tight) and I I’d just before it hit. I felt myself falling and that weightless feeling, and woke up.


    1. Hi Krista. Since the dream is about working through something that is bugging you this week, you want to ask yourself some questions that will help you decode what specific problem the dream is addressing. if this was my dream, I’d be asking myself what situation in my life is moving too quickly. It’s like I am on a ride and can’t get off…..Let me try and take this dream and decode an example of what the waking life issue could be about….This reminds me for example, when I used to focus in on how much my kids were studying in school. I’d be after them all the time…..Never “letting go.” Now we all know that expression “You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” Try as we may, the truth is we are powerless to change someone else. Change has to come from within.

      So if you are having trouble letting go of some issue, your healthy subconscious might easily create a scenario for you and put you into a situation where you MUST let go! And that seems to be exactly what your dream did for you. In fact the VERY positive and healthy CLUE your subconscious assures you of is that when you DO finally let go, you will have a feeling of “weightlessness” as you describe in the dream.

      True. True. True Girl! That is what it feels like when we let go of trying to change something or someone we can not change! Now that’s what your dream would be about if it was my dream. What about you? Do you think the dream has anything to do with you having to let go of something?

      Hope that helps!


    1. Hi Brenda. While the fathers of psychology may have disagreed on many theories, they DID in fact agree on at least this one; that being that all the parts of the dream represent different aspects of the dreamer’s psyche. Carl Jung said that it’s your dream. You are the writer, the director, the producer and all the actors. That being said, what you’ll want to do when you dream about someone famous is ask yourself what associations you have to that person. Another good one is to name the character traits you associate with that person. Is he or she strong? Weak? Funny? A survivor? Assertive? Shy? That may give you a clue as to the reason you have that person in your dream. Is the person’s character something YOU need to get closer to or tap in to at this time of your life in your current situation? Those are some of the questions you might ask yourself to bring some clarity to your choice of “players” in your dream……And you can always book a private session with me in person or over the phone by going to I hope that helps. Layne Dalfen

  7. I was diagnosed with depression and acute stress syndrome due to work stress. It took a while to start sleeping well (months, really), and finally losing the scary dreams that woke me in a cold sweat. I will be returning to work in a few months; perhaps analysis will help me handle the difficult dreams.

    1. Hi Daisy. YES! Understanding what a dream is about and learning how to decode the solutions and suggestions your subconscious gives you is a tremendous help. You will find yourself in a more powerful position when you find you can choose your reactions to different situations that come your way. Your dreams offer up those suggestions every night. Good idea and good luck! You can find more at:

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