The Reasons for us to Dream.
What are dreams?
If they occurred during wakefulness, they would be termed hallucinations. Things that are heard or seen even though they do not occur in reality, are called hallucinations. Dreams are termed so because they occur when we are sleeping. During dreams, our brain is active but our body is unresponsive to the happenings within. These are mental activities that include visions and images. The study of dreams has been continuing for a long time yet no consensus has been reached on it. We know that it occurs during the REM stage of sleep. During this stage, a person experiences REM atonia or body paralysis, i.e., motor neurons are inactive. This is the reason why the person does not act out the behaviors happening in the dream itself.
The scientific study of dreams is called oneirology. Yes, people are dedicating their time and mental currency to studying what happens within their brains as they sleep. Dreams are an important aspect of our lives and they can uncover significant thoughts and emotions. There are doubts that dreams are an effect and reflection of our lives within the waking periods but no proof has been discovered as of yet. Dreams do not appear to make much sense to an individual. They are remembered rarely and most often they do not make sense to the people who remember them.
Physiological mechanisms during dreaming:
The forebrain is responsible for dreams. The various changes that transpire within the brain after one sleeps lead to dreams. On the other hand, REM sleep takes place due to the brain stem. It was discovered that neurotransmitters acetylcholine and dopamine are elevated during REM sleep. Acetylcholine is responsible for keeping the brain active or in the waking state during sleep while increased dopamine leads to hallucinations.
The drop in the levels of serotonin, histamine, and noradrenaline is also experienced as these neurotransmitters keep the person awake. Therefore, the process of REM sleep and dreaming is found to be paradoxical as our brain is active but the body is sleeping.
Another concept of dreaming that has recently found significance is lucid dreaming. According to certain reports, lucid dreaming is a phenomenon in which the dreamer becomes aware that he is dreaming and can even control their surroundings. It also occurs during REM sleep but the neurological bases are still a mystery. A recent study implicated that anterior prefrontal, parietal and temporal cortex are involved with lucid dreaming. Successive and focused research is needed find the exact regions of the brain responsible for this occurrence.
Characteristics of dreams:
1- They are involuntary
The person who is dreaming cannot control the events within a dream. Its instances are without any conscious awareness and personal changes cannot be initiated.
2- They are in a first-person perspective
The dreamer sees the world of dreams from his perspective just like in the real world.
3- The content is incoherent and illogical
Some people say that dreams reflect the occurrences of waking life. But, it has been noticed that several dreams do not have any resemblance to real life and are often unrelated to it. As a result, they seem senseless and unclear.
4- They are not easily remembered
Most dreams are forgotten by the time a person wakes up. It is very rare for people to remember their dreams. Even when they remember the dreams, they are found to be strange or weird.
5- They include intense emotions
Dreams have emotions that are acute yet intense. These emotions could be embarrassing, painful, or fearful. The continued and increasing emotions could lead the dreamer to wake up from dreams. This could also take the form of nightmares.
Why Do We Dream?
1- Wish fulfilment:
Sigmund Freud was among the first people to get interested in the reasons behind dreams. He advocated that dreams reflect the wishes or urge that a person cannot fulfill in his waking life.
Socially unacceptable wishes are often suppressed from the real world. So Freud believed that dreams are a product of these unfulfilled urges and they find dreams to be a safe place to fulfill these desires or wishes. For example, if a person lives in an environment wherein wanting to be rich is considered bad, they will suppress these thoughts and then their brain expresses them within dreams.
2- To keep the brain working:
The brain is one of the most essential parts of a person’s life and existence. During sleep, the brain’s normal functioning is slowed down. There is no text to read, no environment to evaluate, or no other information to assess. It is essential for the brain to function so that it can keep the body within normal functioning. As a result, dreams occur to keep the brain working so that the body doesn’t shut down.
3- Aids in remembering:
Sleep has often been attributed to remembering information. It has also been found that dreaming can increasingly enhance the brain’s capacity to remember more information. Certain studies have also supported the fact that dreams increase the capability to increase our potential to solve mental tasks requiring more cognitive effort.
4- Works as therapy:
Dreams are seen as representations of our lives and experiences. But also, many people associate dreams with reducing our anxieties as it enables us to face our fears in a safe environment. It can often happen that dreams bombard us with happy memories of emotions as we are experiencing negative life experiences.
These dreams can work as reducing or eliminating the problematic thoughts and emotions that disrupt our daily life. They can fill us with hope and enable us to look at life with some positive regard.
5- Aids solving problems:
Many people have reported in their lives to have been motivated to choose a path or career as their dreams guided them. Similarly, many successful people have assented to the fact that a lot of revelations and discoveries that they have made were due to certain dreams that they had.
Dreams are not just any images or visuals, they can work as guiding forces for our lives and thoughts. They may be fulfilling our incomplete or unfulfilled desires but they also exhibit hope within ourselves. They help us deal with situations that we are frightened to face.
Dreams not only help our brain function as we sleep but also aid in remembering useful information and forgetting information that is unimportant to our existence. They influence our lives and provide insights that we may be unable to get during wakefulness.
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Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Why Do We Dream? https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-do-we-dream/amp/
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Martins K. 2022. Lucid Dreams. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/lucid-dreams-overview
This Blog on 'The Reasons for us to Dream' has been contributed by Arpita. She is a 3rd year BA Psychology (Hons) student. She just doesn't find humans interesting, but likes to analyse them and their interactions with each other. She has a heightened inclination towards learning why and how biases and stereotypes occur within us and how they can be managed. She is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP). GIRP is an IJNGP initiative to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.