Sleep and Wellness

Why Do We Dream? What We Know So Far

Dreaming is not an alien concept to us. We have all experienced this, even if it doesn’t stick to our memory. We may woken up crying, screaming and sometimes angry because of our dreams. Our dreams may have even attached itself to our memory, amusing us till it slowly fades away. Though the concept of dreaming is so common, not a lot is known about this phenomenon. So why do we dream? Here’s all that we know so far. 

woman lying on flowers and dreaming

What are dreams?

Dreams are basically stories that our mind makes up while we sleep. It is a virtual world, created by the mind in the absence of sensory input. It can occur at any time during the night but most often, it occurs during the REM phase of our sleep.

What is REM Sleep?

REM sleep, or Rapid Eye Movement Sleep, is the most important stage of our sleep cycle. It occurs roughly 3-5 times at night and is the stage where our brain is most active. The activity during REM sleep can be well seen in the flutter of the eyes. This stage is critical to our functioning as it is during this stage that processes like learning and memory formation occurs. REM sleep occurs about 90 minutes after you have fallen asleep. This critical sleep phase is also called ‘dream sleep’.

So, why do we dream?

There are so many theories of why we sleep but we don’t know for sure. Some experts say that dreams and nightmares have no meaning, that it is a bunch of nonsensical thoughts grouped together to form a story that makes no sense. Others say it is the way our brain processes information, events and important relationships in our lives. With no definitive proof of what part dreams play in our physical and mental health, we cannot make declarations of the same.

Here are some theories about dreaming that you might find interesting:

It helps us create memories

While there is concrete evidence that sleep is an integral element in creating memories, some researchers believe that dreams are also a part of this process. This theory suggests that because memory fragments can be found in both REM and NREM sleep, there has to be a link between dreams and the creation of memories. However, since memory fragments can be found in awakened states, there is no clear link here. The biggest obstacle to establishing this theory is that it is impossible to find people who never dream. Without evidence collected from such individuals, it can be hard to make any scientific proclamations.

Dreams are creative outlets

Often, waking up with a dream stuck in our minds can leave us amused about the creativity of our brains. Even if we experienced a nightmare the night before, once awake, the dream can seem trivial and fascinating. We might leave our vivid dreams to flutter away into the haze but artists often find their inspiration from dreams. Be it nightmares or illogical fragments, artists have found their muses in their dreams. For example, Hieronymus Bosch and Henry Fuseli’s work can be attributed to dreams.

Dreams as emotional processors

While there might be so many emotions going through our daily lives, we might not have the time or ability to process these emotions well. Some researchers attribute dreams of helping us process emotions that have been left unfinished during the day. Freud said that dreams represent the desires in our subconscious mind. However, there has been no concrete evidence to prove this.

What About Nightmares?

Nightmares are merely dreams that tend to scare us. These nightmares can be caused by stress, emotional difficulties or unhappiness in our lives. Persistent nightmares can be classified as a sleeping disorder, especially if they continue to disrupt your sleep and you get frightened to sleep.

What Do Your Dreams Mean?

While experts have not been able to give a concrete idea about the meaning of dreams, there are tons of interpreters and analysts who suggest that dreams have meaning. These interpreters take the common dreams people tend to have and assigned meanings to them. For example, a dream of falling is a pretty common one. Interpreters say these dreams mean that there is an aspect of your life that isn’t going well. Dreams of being naked in public are said to mean that you are afraid of showing your faults. However, these explanations are vague and have no concrete standing.

Lucid Dreaming

A lot of people have experimented with their dreams, consciously. This is called Lucid Dreaming. Lucid dreams occur when the person has realized that they are dreaming and have taken control of the narrative. It is the process of knowing that one is dreaming and begins to influence it. While when these dreams occur or how much control one has varies from people to people, many people clearly remember experiencing this type of phenomenon. There are many benefits of being able to dream lucidly. It can help overcome phobias, persistent nightmares and even serve as a source of entertainment. While more researchers are spending time on the study of dreams, lucid dreaming and unlocking the mysteries of the mind at night, there has yet not been any concrete proclamations from the scientific community.

There are many unanswered questions of why we dream, what it means, can you control it, can you avoid it. The mystery behind dreams can often lead us to believe they are warnings or they are a gateway into the future. However, it is imperative to know that the brain is a powerful element and we are yet to fully understand the abilities it possesses.

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