On the morning of June 2, 2003, Stephenie Meyer awoke from a vivid dream involving a sparkly vampire and an average teenage girl. The couple’s intense conversation, involving lust and blood but not bloodlust, lingered in Meyer’s mind as she fed and dressed her kids for their first day of swimming lessons. With her chores complete, Meyer sat down at her computer to write. The bestselling novel Twilight was born three months later.
Anecdotes about dreams inspiring fiction are well recorded. A night terror turned into the villain of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And horror icon Frankenstein made his first appearance in a waking dream by a teenage Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who penned the monster’s tale.
But can dreams also inspire reality? According to the Baylor Religion Survey, 1 in 1.92 (52.1%) American adults believe that “dreams can sometimes foretell the future or reveal hidden truths.” During the survey, 1 in 2.33 adults also reported having a dream that later came true.
A series of studies conducted by psychologists Carey Morewedge at Carnegie Mellon University and Michael Norton at Harvard University found that dreams regularly shape our waking thoughts. According to the authors, if you dream of being in a fiery plane crash the day before getting on a cross-country flight, you may experience some anxiety about your trip. Or if a friend betrays you in a dream, you may not have the most positive outlook about him or her when you wake up the next morning. According to a paper they authored in the February, 2009 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, many people deem thoughts they have in dreams as even more credible than those they have in waking life.
Experts don’t agree on the function of dreams. Some scientists argue that dreaming has no function, that it is a byproduct of brain activity during sleep. The view that dreams reveal hidden truths or are “the royal road to the unconscious” comes from Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. Many modern psychologists regard dreams as a kind of emotional litmus test—a higher frequency of nightmares, for example, may indicate a person is experiencing increased stress or anxiety. Religious and spiritual interpreters see even deeper meanings in our dreams, often regarding them as messages from a higher power.
Stephenie Meyer continues to dream of the sparkly vampire. In 2009, the character—named Edward Cullen—visited Meyer to send a terrifying message. “I kind of got the sense he was going to kill me,” she told MovieFone. Fortunately, this dream has not come true.