What was your last dream about? Was it bad or relaxing? We spend roughly one-third of our lives sleeping. While sleeping, all of our dreams are created. There are so many theories out there explaining why we dream and what our dreams are about. But no one has still come up with any definite reason or have fully understood the purpose of dreaming.
Researchers have the idea that we all dream every time we fall asleep. Dreams can be funny, exciting, scary, true, weird, or just plain.
Dreams are a common phenomenon. Recent studies help us understand why we dream. Strange incidents and combinations of dreams may make us more productive or give us ways to fix problems. Memories repeated through our dreams become stronger. So, together dreams and sleep are vital for performing at our level best when we are awake.
Everybody dreams. The activity of the brain continues all night, with certain brain activities in the forebrain and midbrain during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when we dream. Adults and babies dream for around two hours per night, though they may not remember it upon waking. Researchers have found that people dream for between five to 20 minutes every night.
For centuries, people have wondered the meanings of dreams. During early civilizations, dreams were considered a medium between our earthly world and that of the gods. The Greeks and the Romans believed that dreams had certain prophetic powers.
There always has been a great interest in the interpretation of human dreams, however, it wasn't until the end of the nineteenth century that Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung disseminated some of the widely known modern theories regarding dreams. Freud proposed that dreams and specifically, the meaningful content of dreams are related to mental functioning. The tenuous and misunderstood nature of dreams made the proposition of empirically providing support for, or falsifying, this claim very problematic.
Freud's theory centered around the notion of repressed longing—the idea that dreams help us to sort through unresolved, repressed wishes. Carl Jung, who studied under Freud also considered that dreams had psychological importance, but proposed other theories about their meaning.
Since then technological advancements have allowed other developments of theories. One prominent neurobiological theory of dreaming is the "activation-synthesis hypothesis," which posits that dreams do not mean anything. They are simple electrical brain impulses that pull random thoughts and imagery from our memories.
With the vast documentation of realistic aspects to human dreams as well as indirect experimental evidence that other mammals also dream, psychologists have theorized that dreaming does have a reason. The "Threat Simulation Theory" suggests that dreaming should be considered a biological defense mechanism that serves an advantage because of its capacity to stimulate potential events repeatedly. As a result, it enhances the neurocognitive mechanisms required for efficient threat perception.
The University of Rome had a successful analysis for the first time explaining how humans remember their dreams. The scientists hypothesizedthat the likelihood of successful dream recall is based on a signature pattern of brain waves.
95% of our dreams are forgotten after waking. The changes in the brain that occur during sleep do not support information processing and the storage needed for memory formation to take place – thus we forget our dreams easily.
A 2016 study in the journal, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, found the fact that forgotten dreams can also be due to the changes in levels of certain neurotransmitters, especially acetylcholine and norepinephrine during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the point at which dreams occur.
Dreams can be of different types based on people's point of view and their experiences. Some of them can be nightmares too. Nightmares are dreams which make the dreamer feel several disturbing feelings. Interpretations are the results of what we think before going to sleep. Our dreams are affected by what our mind goes through.
When dreamers tend to be aware of what they are listening to, they are called lucid dreamers. Some may have control over their dreams too. Lucid dreams occur in the middle of a regular dream when the dreamers realize that they are dreaming. The extent of control varies between lucid dreamers.
Many people think that only humans dream. But animals do too. When dogs wag their tail while sleeping or sleeping cats swat their paws, they are dreaming. Animals may not feel about dreams the way humans feel. However, they do go through deep sleep phases including REM that suggests that they do dream.
Similarly, blind people also dream. Those who are blind from birth seem to be experiencing more visual imagery dreams and also have certain eye movements. They have dream sensations too.
While many people report that dreams are in color, roughly 12% of people claim to be dreaming in black and white. In a study where dreamers are told to choose the colors of their dreams after awakening, soft pastel colors were the most frequently used.
Researchers found that men and women dream differently. Studies showed that men's dreams tend to have physical activities and aggressive behavior. Women's dreams showed more conversation than physical activity.
Dreams support memory and vice-versa. Researchers found that sleep is important for memory. Memories travel from temporary shortage in the hippocampus, a brain structure which is very essential for short-term memory, to permanent storage of memory. Thus, it is easier to remember memories later. They improve with sleep, as memories are replayed during sleep. During non-REM sleep, most of the objects and people from recent incidents are replayed. Bizarre dreams can be created in REM sleep may come from a combination of contact with memories that were played in non-REM sleep. Memories move to the permanent storage if we do not dream.
Overnight therapy is caused by dreaming.REM is the only phase in our sleep when our brain is free from the anxiety-triggering molecule noradrenaline. Keyemotional and memory-related structures of the brain are seen to be activated during REM sleep. When we are dreaming, it helps us to re-process upsetting memories in a safer, calmer environment. Dr. Matthew Walker at UC Berkeley found that REM sleep influences our ability to understand complex emotions of daily life.
"It's said that time heals all wounds, but my research suggests that time spent in dream sleep is what heals," said Walker.
Dreaming enhances creativity and problem-solving abilities. Our moods regulate through dreaming. Dreams seem to be improving our overall sleeping experience which consequently serves us better in life. These dreams help us to remember things, be more creative and process our memories. It is important to be aware of our sleeping time and understand our dreams.