Everyone dreams. In fact, everyone dreams a number of times a night, mostly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Whether we remember them or not can change from day to day. According to Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, Matthew Walker, dreams serve a function for all of us. Occurring at a time in the night where we lose our grip on reality, dreams actually help us solve real-life emotions and problems.
Our fascination with dreams
For centuries, dreams have fascinated humans. In ancient times, it was believed that dreams were signs from god and those who experienced them were blessed with a special intuition. By the 19th and 20th centuries, these supernatural ideas were largely abandoned, replaced by scholars such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung who believed that dreams provided insights into the human mind. Freud especially believed that dreams occurred as a way for our subconscious to provide deep insight into ourselves.
Now, modern neuroscience believes that there is a strong connection between dreams and our lives. Many dreams are actually reflections of what is going on in our day-to-day lives, sometimes as current as the previous days. Walker believes that when dreaming, people are afforded the ability to digest experiences fully. In turn, this significantly changes the way they react. It has also been claimed that the more time people spend dreaming, the less stressed out they become. There has even been research conducted that involved veterans with PTSD revealing that those who were given special medication to encourage REM sleep experienced a reduction in nightmares and flashbacks. It has also been shown that people experience significant academic and creative breakthroughs immediately following REM sleep. On the flip side, if sleep suffers, the ability to recall information drastically decreases.
Are they worth interpreting?
Most experts will say that your dreams are based on what has happened to you in the lead up. Of course, those super vivid dreams where someone is breaking into your home are not reminiscent of what’s occurred over the past 24 or 48 hours. However, what you’re thinking about before you nod off into dreamland may have an effect on how your dream transpires.
A good way to look at dreams is as a filing cabinet of your personal thoughts. Most dreams occur during REM sleep, as this is the time your brain is most active. Your subconscious is deciding what you need to remember and what you can forget. It’s also a time for you to process your emotions and thoughts, allowing you to sort out everything without actually waking up.
According to some experts though, it is a good idea to have some sort of understanding about the types of dreams you’re having. Simply because it’s necessary to understand that while dreams mimic what’s happening in everyday life, bizarre or bad dreams do not necessarily mean you’re weird or bad in real life. Ian Wallace, a psychologist and dream expert, actually refers to these dreams as the ‘ultimate selfie’ – a way in which your brain is trying to get through to yourself. Dreams of being constantly chased are often associated with changes to your professional life. Are you achieving everything you set out to achieve? Alternatively, if you’re dreaming that you’re running away from someone or something, but you find you’re absolutely paralysed, it’s often the case of feeling like you can’t take the next step.
Serving a purpose
Dreams can completely weird you out. They can worry you and scare you. But they can also delight. And they serve a purpose – helping you process events or interactions that are occurring during your wake time.
The meaning behind why we dream still eludes most scientists and researchers. While some will say that dreams are an extension of our wake time, others will say they serve to help our minds work through our emotions or that dreams are biochemical changes.
While there is plenty of research being completed on dreams, there is not one simple answer or theory that explains the full role of dreaming. Perhaps there is merit in all of the theories? Or maybe we simply need to accept that we may never fully understand what happens when we sleep.