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The defining moment of your career: You’re about to give a presentation to the top executives of your company. All eyes are on you.

And you’re naked…

It may only be a dream, but people who study dreams say it could mean you feel exposed in real life.

Why we dream and what those nighttime travels can tell us about ourselves have occupied scientists, psychologists, self-help gurus, and shamans for centuries. Sigmund Freud believed dreams were a “royal road” that gave clues to our repressed desires. Today many dream studiers, from credentialed scientists to those of the more metaphysical ilk, believe dreams are inspired by actual events of the day and can provide insight into how well we’re managing. Others think dreams are essentially random images your brain flips through.

The reasons behind why we dream remain elusive. Studies show that the most vivid dreams tend to occur during the rapid-eye movement (or REM) stage of sleep when the brain is most active. Dreams are thought to be a by-product of all that electrographic activity. We also dream during other stages of sleep; however, those dreams generally are less vivid and emotionally charged than the REM-stage dreams.

While scientists try to crack the mystery of dreams, people continue to be fascinated by their weird and often frightening dream world. And there’s a whole cottage industry of dream analyzers out there to assist you in understanding them.

Making sense of your dreams

“The more bizarre the dream, the more it really contains more of the juicy information from your daily life,” said Bob Hoss, executive officer for the International Association for the Study of Dreams. “Dreams borrow a bunch of images that spell something out.”

But “because the rational parts of your brain are off at night, dreams are speaking a different language,” said Hoss, who wrote the book The Language of Dreams: Working With Imagery and Color. “It’s speaking in metaphor," he said. "It’s a language of analogy.”

Of course, to analyze and learn from your dreams, you have to remember them. Researchers believe most adults dream for up to an hour and a half each night.

Hoss suggests putting a piece of a paper and a pencil beside your bed at night and going to sleep by telling yourself that you’re going to dream and have memories of it. Then, upon waking, pay close attention to any emotions you are experiencing or images you are thinking about. Keep your eyes closed and try to resist the urge to jump right out of bed and start your day. Dream recall may work better if you don’t wake up to the sounds of an alarm or radio.

Then, to break the symbolic code of dreams, Hoss recommends focusing on the most prominent features or objects in a dream and figuring out what they really mean to you. For example, if scissors play a major role, think about what you associate with them. One person may associate scissors with a memory of a childhood accident where as another person may see them as a toolused in his or her occupation.Consider how this association relates to what occurred in the dream. Each person can have a unique interpretation of the objects and symbols that appear in dreams.