Why Do We Dream?
Why do we dream? That's a question that has fascinated people since ancient times, even as far back as Aristotle and the early Egyptians. If you've ever woken up from a dream thinking "Whoa... what was ALL THAT about?", you've probably asked yourself the very same question.
Over the years, a significant amount of research has been done on the topic of dreaming. While scientists still don't have a definitive answer to to why people dream, there are several theories, as well as a concrete knowledge, about the physiology of how we dream.
Dreams occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep, which occurs about 20% to 25% of an individual's sleep time. Interestingly, brain activity during REM sleep is similar to the brain activity when people are fully awake.
Dreams can last anywhere from a few seconds to 15 or 20 minutes. Individuals cycle through five different stages of sleep and usually complete a sleep cycle loop five or six times each night. REM sleep is followed by periods of deep sleep, called slow-wave sleep.
Some scientists think that this stage of slow-wave sleep may have the effect of "wiping out" the memory of the dreams people have, which explains the different levels of dream recall that can occur once awake.
Why Do We Dream? The Theories...
There are many theories behind the question of why do we dream?, some are physiological, others are psychological, and some are a combination of different ideas.
- The relationship between daytime activities and emotions
Most research seems to confirm that daily activities, and the things that happen to us in our waking hours, have some impact on dreams, at least part of the time.In many cases, people can see the relationship between their dreams and their hopes, fears, worries, and experiences.
During different stages of sleep, the brain and body go through a "repair and tune-up" process where hormones are re-balanced, the immune system revitalized, and the pressures on the circulatory system are reduced.
Some researchers believe that dreaming is just part of the other function that takes place in our brains at this time - the re-arranging and processing of recent memories and experiences.
Emotionally charged or traumatic experiences seem to feature here, and dreaming could be a one of the mechanisms our brain uses to make sense of, and come to terms with, what happens to us during our waking hours.
- The Activation Theory
When considering the question why do we dream?, the Activation Theory suggests that dreams are a result of the brain trying to organize random signals, messages, memories, and activity into something recognizable. This theory believes there is no real logic or reason behind the way in which our dreams evolve.
- A Freudian Explanation
A theoretical answer to the why do we dream? question that was popular at one time, but has now fallen from favor, was put forward by Sigmund Freud.In his own words, Freud considered dreams to be "disguised fulfillments of repressed wishes."
In other words, he believed that we hold back certain emotions and actions in our conscious world because they may be socially unacceptable.Yet in sleep, the brain feels free to explore these actions. Although dream interpretation grew from this viewpoint, no research has proven Freud's hypothesis.
- Making Sense of Daily Life
This is a more recent theory about why we dream, which puts elements of different theories together to create a new one. During sleep, the brain takes the thoughts, ideas, and emotions that a person experiences during waking hours and mixes the information together in an attempt to interpret and organize it in a way that fits with each person's beliefs.
For more information on dreams, click on the links below or visit the International Association For The Study Of Dreams, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to promote an awareness and appreciation of dreams in both professional and public arenas.
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