The Science of Dreams: Why Do We Dream?

Why do we dream? Why do we forget them? Do they mean anything? From Aristotle to Freud, dreams have fascinated all.

3 min read
The Science of Dreams: Why Do We Dream?

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I don’t know of anyone who isn’t fascinated by dreams. Bewildering, explosive, imaginative, terrifying, inspiring; our dreams can run wild, but do they mean anything? Are they a nonsensical by-product of the sleeping brain or a window into our unconscious mind, rich with revelations?

I’ve always been prone to bizarre, far-out dreams — think isolated cliffs, casual strolls on the moon, endless oceans or psychedelic caves. So are these the irrational fears of an anxious mind or is there more to it?

Why Do We Dream?

After more than six decades of research, scientists are still not 100% sure why we dream. That’s how weird dreams are! Though still a mystery, there are two popular theories about why we dream:

We spend a third of our lives asleep. We sleep for survival, yet science is still wrestling with a fundamental question: Why do we dream in our sleep? (Photo: iStock)

1. Dreams are not supposed to mean anything:

The electrical activity in the brain when you learn a difficult task; a new instrument or solve the rubix cube, is the same in the night as well when you’re sleeping. And you thought your brain sleeps at night! The unconcious part of your brain is busy organising memories and strengthening connections from the day before that you need in the future, while getting rid of the junk that would clog the brain.

So the theory goes, these electric impulses are detected by our conscious brain and our cortex freaks out; it doesn’t know what it means, so it tries its best to create a cohesive story by creating a dream.

This would explain why my dreams are totally random. They are not supposed to make sense. Dreams are just the results of our cortex trying to synthesise the noise coming from all the work being done back in the unconscious.

One popular theory is that dreams are just accidental; the result of some more important processes going on in the backend (Photo: iStock)

2. Dreams prepare us for the real world:

Some scientists have a theory that dreams take place to prepare us for threats. They think this because the most prevalent emotion in dreams are mostly negative: abandonment, anger, fear and anxiety. Back in the primitive times, when there was no clue as to what could happen during the day, the brain would stimulate the anxieties when we slept, to make us better prepapred for the coming day. Under this notion it is believed, people who have terrifying dreams are better off dealing with anxiety in the real world and have a stronger nervous system.

Why Do We Forget Most Dreams?

When you wake up, do you remember your dreams? What causes us to forget most of them? (Photo: iStock)

I wanna chase my dreams, if only I can remember what they were!

It’s not that we are not having dreams every night. Everybody dreams but more than 95% of the times we forget them! After about an hour of sleep, REM or the Rapid Eye Movement kicks in. It is the fourth and final stage of sleep.

So why is it so difficult to recall a dream? The truth is, nobody knows for sure, but again, there are theories.

One idea is that memories are formed through association and repetition, because dreams are so random, the brain doesn’t store them in long term memory and they quickly fade away. This is why recurring dreams are so easy to recall. The more often we see them, the more familiar they become.

Why does recalling dreams feels like chasing smoke rings? The study of dreaming is called oneirology and even that does not have an answer to this (Photo: iStock)

It’s also possible that rolling sleep cycles and changes in your brain-wave speed inhibit your normal ability to form memories. It’s said that when people do remember their dreams, it is generally the last one, which makes sense because towards the end of the night, you spend much more time in REM.

Sidenote: This is why staying up all night to cram for a test is a bad idea. You retain information you studied much better if you get a full night’s sleep.

(This story was auto-published from a syndicated feed. No part of the story has been edited by The Quint.)

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Topics:  World Sleep Day   Sleep   Dreams 

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