Dreams are more than bizarre movies you watch while you sleep. They are necessary for your continued well-being, along with quality sleep. Dreaming can help boost your creativity and solve problems you have during the day. Even nightmares can encourage you to understand issues hiding in your subconscious.
Humans continuously wondered why we dream for centuries. Ancient civilizations thought dreaming exists as a link from the earth to their gods. Romans believed it foretold future events. In the mid-19th Century, psychoanalysts Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud introduced scientific theories about the subject.
The Psychological Side of Dreams
Freud thought people dreamt to express repressed wishes. On the other hand, Jung believed they dreamt as compensation for thoughts or emotions unreachable to consciousness.
On a physiological basis, some researchers offered reasons why we dream. This comes from your brain’s cortex attempting to find meaning in the signals received during REM sleep.
The REM and Your Dreams
REM (rapid eye movement) signifies a sleep phase where the eyes move in different directions. It occurs within the first 90 minutes of falling asleep. This repeats throughout the night.
During REM sleep, your brain gathers and filters all the thoughts and information from the previous day.
Your cortex interprets information from your surroundings when you’re awake. Dreaming occur when the cortex tries to make sense of these signals during REM sleep. Conclusively, this creates a story from uneven brain activity.
Why do we sleep? Scientists offer not a conclusive reason. However, sleep helps rest the body in preparation for another day and reorganizes our brain. We spend one-third of our life sleeping.
Lack of sleep eventually kills you. Likewise, sleep deprivation appears as a form of torture. The longest recorded time anyone has gone without sleep is 11 days. This lack of shuteye impacts concentration, cognitive function, motivation, and perception.
A study in the Journal of Neuroscience explained the right sleep quality. It shows that as little as 24 hours without sleep induce psychotic symptoms in otherwise healthy people.
The Personal “Movies” We See During Sleep
Studies offered indirect evidence that cats and other mammals dream. We know that dreaming provides solutions to waking problems, inspire artists, or predict specific events in our lives. The “movies” we see in our sleep serve a purpose besides entertaining. Sometimes it scares us and we snooze.
Researchers offer various theories about why we dream. Some scientists claim dreams remain necessary for our health. Otherwise, some dismiss it as an inconsequential activity. We bring few explanations for all those interesting or just plain bizarre visions you own each night.
The Bizarre Visions
Surprisingly, these exist as a way to process memory and aid in consolidating short-term memory. These go for the same as to what we learn and stored as a long-term memory. Also, these helps the mind work through difficult emotions, thoughts, and experiences.
Furthermore, it helps you achieve psychological balance. When you fall asleep thinking about problems, you wake up with an answer to your dilemma or at least feel better about it.
The Electrical and Biochemical Processes
Scientifically speaking, our dreams occur as a way for the brain to respond to electrical impulses and biochemical changes during sleep. Dreaming reflects your experiences during the day. It arrives as an extension of your waking life.
It prepares your brain for threats, problems, and danger. Some people that you see when you sleep foretells future events. If this happens, it stays usually as a coincidence or an unconscious compiling of information.
Our waking lives influence what goes on in our brains as we sleep. Research shows 48% of the people in our sleep images which gets known to us. Moreover, 35% gets identifiable by their social roles (doctor, police officer, teacher, etc.). Only 16% of characters live fictional or unknown to the dreamer.
Your dreams come as partially determined by your age and gender. Women report having colorful dreams, with glittery or glowing colors during menstruation. They identify the partners in sexual dreams and see their faces and hands.
On the other hand, men’s dreams appear less colorful or in black and white. During sexual dreams, men rarely remember seeing the faces of their partners.
The Subconscious Realm
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books and websites dedicated to deciphering the meaning of what we see as we sleep. Some experts believe dreams have nothing to do with our waking thoughts or real life.
Other scientists believe they delve into our most profound thoughts, fears, and concerns. These feelings seem unacknowledged or hidden in our subconscious.
Interpreting what happens in our night visions appears as a key to solving daily problems or complex emotional issues. Some psychologists ask patients about their sleep images. We interpret them as a way to help solve the individual’s problems.
Nightmares, Night Terrors, and Lucid Dreaming
Why do we dream the way we do? Many factors determine the type and intensity of activity in our brains while we sleep.
These appear frightening and wake you up in the middle of the night. Most people experience nightmares now and then, with only five percent of the population having them once a week.
Stress and traumatic experiences trigger nightmares. They occur due to certain illnesses, medications, or drug abuse. Nightmares disturb sleep and make you fearful of falling back asleep and return the distressing images. They also cause fatigue, anxiety, and depression during the day.
Night terrors are more intense and frightening than nightmares. They can make you scream, flail around in bed or fall off the bed. Sleep terrors occur during non-REM sleep instead of REM sleep, like nightmares.
These exist commonly in children than adults, with six percent of children between three and 12 experiencing them. Night terrors often run in families and may indicate enlarged tonsils or adenoids in children.
In lucid dreaming, you’re aware that you’re dreaming and may even control the plot of the dream. Lucid dreaming indicates higher brain wave activity and more activity in the frontal lobe.
You experience dreams every night, even as an infant. Memories of these images disappear within a minute or two of waking up. After which, they’ll be gone forever unless you write them down upon waking. In one experiment, adults who woke up during REM sleep remembered at least a few of their dreams.
The dreams you have during SWS often involve old memories or are frightening or troublesome. Nightmares, sleepwalking and night terrors occur during this sleep phase.
More about REM Sleep
The images you see when you sleep can occur in any one of the five stages of sleep and can be as short as a few seconds or as long as 20 minutes. They are most common during REM sleep right before you get up in the morning. Sleep visions during REM sleep are easier to remember and often more bizarre and involved.
You have no muscle tone or skeletal activity during REM sleep, a condition known as atonia. This temporary paralysis may be a mechanism to stop you from acting out the vivid or violent parts of the visions that take place during REM sleep. Atonia may be responsible for the feeling that you can’t move during certain sleep stories.
In one study, researchers woke participants just before they entered REM sleep. These study subjects experienced anxiety, depression, difficulty focusing, more stress, and lack of coordination when compared to subjects who were able to enter REM sleep and experience images and sensations as they slept.
REM sleep and the dreams that occur during it have been shown to be vital for forming long-term memory and fostering creativity. A 2004 study showed that people who were allowed to sleep (and have dreams) in the middle of a difficult cognitive task performed better and had more creative solutions to the problems presented.
Sleep Disorders and Their Causes
Sleep disorders can cause nightmares and have consequences for your physical and mental health.
REM behavior disorder (RBD) occurs when the paralysis that normally accompanies REM sleep doesn’t happen. People with RBD can physically react to what’s going on in their dreams. The movement may be violent and can make the person fall out of bed or injure their partner.
There’s no clear cause for RBD, but it may be prompted by alcohol or drug withdrawal, neurological illness or the use of some anti-depressants.
Drugs and Alcohol
Taking drugs (including over-the-counter drugs) or drinking alcohol can affect dreaming.
Alcohol causes fragmented sleep and can make you wake up several times during the night. Alcoholics often have intense nightmares, and people withdrawing from cocaine or marijuana use are also prone to vivid or disturbing dreams.
If you drink alcohol close to bedtime, you’ll spend less time in REM sleep. Marijuana also disturbs REM sleep.
Final Thoughts on the Dreams We Hold
What are dreams? Simply put, they are a way to “blow off” steam from the events of your day, your thoughts, and even your subconscious mind. Experts have different theories about why we dream.
Research shows we need to have several dreams each night to consolidate and make sense of our waking lives. The images we see and the messages we receive during sleep may seem nonsensical in the morning (if we can remember them), but they do serve a higher purpose.