Have you ever woken up in the dead of night after just having the craziest dream? We've all been there. What if your dreams were more than just illusions pieced together by your brain? Are dreams more than just bizarre reflections of our everyday life?
To answer these questions, I began researching the psychology and physiology of the brain while you sleep. Turns, out, there are so many more benefits to dreaming than we realize!
Why Do We Dream?
There are several renowned dream theories that have been developed over the past hundred years.
Psychoanalytic Dream Theory:
Developed by Sigmund Freud, this theory states that dreams represent our unconscious desires, thoughts, and motivations. Things that we would normally deem unacceptable or inappropriate in everyday life are occasionally showcased in our dreams. Freud suggested that this mostly pertains to aggression and sexual drives. These thoughts are hidden from us by the conscious mind in which we repress or cope innately by ignoring the information altogether. This act is completely out of our control but allows our brain to manifest these obscene ideas into our dreams.
One of the most recent dream theories is that of J. Allan Hobson and Robert McClarley in 1977. This explains dreams as being the results of electrical impulses in our brains. Dreams occur during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) which allows many parts of our brains to become active like those involved in emotions, sensation, and memories. Hobson claims dreams are "our most creative conscious state, one in which the chaotic, spontaneous recombination of cognitive elements produces novel configurations of information: new ideas. While many or even most of these ideas may be nonsensical, if even a few of its fanciful products are truly useful, our dream time will not have been wasted."
Information Processing Theory:
This theory argues that dreams are created based upon memories and our interpretations of events happening in our everyday lives. Our brain activity allows us to process all of these aspects as a way of thinking through problems and understanding factors that the conscious brain cannot comprehend.
There is no definitive proof that one theory or any of them are correct. We do know that there is more proof for the activation-synthesis theory than either of the others, though there is also evidence hinting to the validity of the other theories as well.
Dream Symbolism: Is it real?
You've probably seen articles online that discuss certain symbols you can look for in your dreams that provide a bigger picture as to what you may be unconsciously thinking. There is no scientific validity to dream symbolism since it cannot be tested but the history of how these meanings came to be is intriguing.
Many ancient societies such as the Egyptians and the Greeks used dream symbolism as a way to interact and interpret proclamations from the Gods. Being a dream interpreter was a legitimate career in society and those who possessed the ability to do so were said to have spiritual powers. This supernatural association was vital to the interpretation of dreams as pertaining to divine intervention.
Though these symbols cannot be proven, they're interesting to consider. There's a multitude of .org websites that claim using their interpretations of dream symbolism can solve all your problems and improve your overall understanding of life. This just goes to show you can't trust every .org website. Say it louder for the students in the back!
If you're interested in learning more about dream symbolism and interpreting your own dreams, check out the link below!
The Health Benefits of Dreaming
In 2017, Berkley University released a study claiming "research is not just a byproduct of sleep, but serves its own important functions in our well being."
Dreaming is like overnight therapy. Because we often analyze events in our lives during our dreams, dreams often provide us with closure or resolution, causing us to wake up feeling renewed and often optimistic. This is suggested by an experiment that was done in which participants were shown the same disturbing image twice but one of the groups was able to sleep in between the showings. After analyzing brain activity in response to these images, scientists concluded that those who slept felt less emotional with their second confrontation than those who stayed awake.
Simplified, this means that sleep and dreams are often accompanied by emotional desensitization. This is helpful in solving waking problems as well. The next time you feel stressed or upset, get some sleep!
Another amazing result of dreams is the creativity that is sparked by our imaginations.
There have been countless artists and authors that credit their inspiration to a dream. For example, did you know the Twilight book series was written based on a series of dreams?
Dreaming also exponentially improves your memory. Some may wonder, how do we know this is due to dreams and not sleep?
In another important experiment, participants were split into 2 groups, one who was woken up during stage 1 sleep and another group woken up during REM. Both groups were shown a snippet of the same puzzle before sleeping that they would have to fully solve later on. Dreaming happens in the REM stage of sleep, and REM has been said to process information and improve memory. After awakening, the groups were then faced with puzzles in which they were timed to see how many they could solve in a given time. Those who were woken up during REM were able to solve 15-35% more puzzles than the latter.
This research suggests dreams allow for better memorization. This could be beneficial for those who study right before bedtime.
Another unfavorable form of dreaming is called a nightmare. I'm sure we're all very familiar with nightmares though they mostly affect children.
Nightmares are often confused with night terrors which is a disorder characterized by screaming and other symptoms similar to a panic attack.
Causation of nightmares is attributed to unconscious/conscious fear, sadness, or anxiety. In 60% of patients, major life events that cause stress often lead to nightmares. Alleviating this stress often rids of these nightmares.
Other ways to eliminate nightmares include avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, relaxing before bed, controlling room temperature, and lying in bed awake.
Have you ever been in a dream where you feel as though you can control the circumstances around you? If you've seen Inception, you know what I'm talking about.
This awareness of dreaming is referred to as Lucid Dreaming.
Though you feel you have control, sometimes it's more difficult for people who have just begun to lucid dream. People with this experience have been able to test the limits of our reality and transport themselves to another world where they can do things that we can never imagine.
According to Psychology Today, there are actually ways to increase our chances of being able to lucid dreaming.
"The best technique for becoming lucid is to actually become more aware and look and listen and pay attention to details because when you see things that don't fit, that's a clue that you're dreaming. To facilitate the process you can form the habit of examining the environment or your state of awareness during the day." - Berit Brogaard
We're still not sure exactly why lucid dreaming happens. I found a really interesting article on lucid dreaming from the perspective of someone that does it almost every night. Some of her discoveries are amazing, I highly recommend it!
Why Do We Run Slow In Our Dreams?
This is something that I've personally experienced and have always wondered why it occurred.
Have you ever been trying to run away from something in a dream but you feel like your moving in slow motion but everything around you is at its normal speed?
Why does that happen?
This may be due to something called REM paralysis.
This is a form of sleep paralysis that occurs while you dream instead of while you're partially awake.
There's so much we still don't know about dreaming.
It's said that we don't remember 90% of our dreams.
Also, even if you believe you don't dream, you actually do, Everybody dreams but the memory of our dreams varies between people.
I hope you learned something significant about dreaming! I know I did!