Why do we dream?
“Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives” Dr. William C. Dement
A lot of research has gone into the nature of sleep and dreams. In this article, I’ll talk about the results of some of that research. We’ll look at some of the benefits of good healthy sleep. And we’ll also address the question of why we dream.
During sleep, a number of things happen. For one, certain hormones are released that rejuvenate our bodies. Other changes take place that assist in cleansing toxins and help us process memory. There’s even a process that helps improve our mood.
To Dream or not to Dream
We mainly dream in REM sleep but can dream in other stages of sleep as well. However, dreams in REM sleep are usually more bizarre, emotional, and tend to last longer than non-REM dreams. Also, we become ‘paralyzed’ in REM sleep. This is so we don’t act out our dreams. Although, interestingly enough, we aren’t paralyzed while we dream in other stages. Additionally, women’s dreams are more focused on smell and taste; whereas men’s dreams are more sound and pain oriented.
And yes, blind people do dream. But, if they were either born blind or were blind before age 4-5, there aren’t any images in their dreams. However, those who became blind after that age do see images.
Also, we’re generally not aware that we’re dreaming when in fact, we are. However, there are times of lucid dreaming when we do become aware we’re dreaming. In lucid dreaming, we can actually manipulate our dream. In fact, some people can do this and get amazing results.
The Lucid Dream
For instance, I was talking to a guy awhile ago, and he was telling me about another guy who was able to manipulate his dreams. He was a skateboarder. He’d go into his dream and practice a skateboarding trick over and over. When he got up the next day, he’d go out and try that trick, and do it like he had actually been practicing it.
But is dream manipulation always a good thing? Or should I say, is there a reason we generally aren’t aware we’re dreaming and have no control over them? We know that dreaming is part of memory consolidation. So then, should we just let the dream play out and do whatever it’s supposed to? Or can we gain something by manipulating it? Which makes me wonder, do we mess with, or alter memories in some way by manipulating our dream?
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the benefits of sleep and dreams.
Dream and Mood Regulation
In 1960, William C. Dement, MD, Ph.D., did an interesting study on REM sleep deprivation. Test subjects were awakened right as they entered REM sleep, thus depriving them of dreams. The result?
‘Dr. Dement observed increased tension, anxiety and irritability among his subjects along with difficulty concentrating, an increase in appetite with consequent weight gain, lack of motor coordination, feelings of emptiness and depersonalization and hallucinatory tendencies.’ https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/your-dreams/page/0/1
In addition to this, there’s strong evidence that shows dreaming increases our mood. That’s why you actually do feel better the next day. Although, if your mood is really low, it might take more than one night to get you out of it. Interestingly, if you go to sleep in a fairly good mood to begin with, you generally don’t wake up feeling better yet. (wouldn’t that be nice!)
Also, nightmares decrease with age. And coping skill increase with age. So it seems that there’s even a connection between nightmares and the ability to cope with life situations.
Interestingly, people who suffer from Depression have more REM sleep and less slow wave sleep. It looks like their minds are spending extra time trying to boost their mood. The downside to this is that they get less slow wave sleep. And again, that’s the stage where hormones are released that rejuvenate and refresh our bodies.
Therefore, it does appear that dreaming plays a roll in regulating our emotions.
Sleep and Memory Consolidation
For most of us, we have a tendency to be forgetful. In fact, we tend to forget things quite rapidly within the first couple hours after learning a new thing. However, if we fall asleep immediately after learning, we’re able to remember more of it. So then, ‘sleeping on it’ is a good thing.
Furthermore, I once read a report that showed how memory is processed while we sleep. In this study, the same exam was given to two groups of people with similar I.Q.’s. The one group studied, slept, and then took the exam. The other group slept, then studied and took the exam. Interestingly, the group that studied then slept scored higher than the group that slept, then studied.
Not only do we process memory in our sleep, we are also capable of solving problems while we dream. Additionally, studies have shown that with problem-solving, more complex problems were solved better after sleep. With simple problems, there was no significant difference between the sleep and the no-sleep group. Many discoveries and inventions have come to people in a dream.
But something else quite interesting also happens while you snooze. Check it out.
A Cleansing Sleep
Did you know that sleep flushes out your brain? Brain scans on mice have shown something quite intriguing. When these mice fell asleep, the cells in their brains moved apart! This, of course, created more space between them. The result was that fluid between the cells was able to flow faster while asleep.
What happens is this. Toxic substances build up in the fluid surrounding the cells in your brain. Specifically, research has found that clumps of a protein called Beta Amyloid build up in your brain. Eventually, this substance blocks nerve signal transmission, which leads to Alzheimer’s. This chemical can build up while we’re awake but flushes out as we sleep. So a good nights sleep can also reduce your chances of getting this disorder as well.
It’s like your brain has a valve that opens while you’re asleep, and closes while you’re awake. Which leads to the question of ‘why doesn’t it just stay open all the time? One theory is that it simply takes too much energy flush the brain while it’s also processing the world around it. Or maybe similar to trying to run a program on your computer while you’re rebooting it.
In this article, we’ve seen some of the benefits of good quality sleep. How it not only helps us process memory, and even make new discoveries. But it also helps clean our brains out so that we can stay more healthy.
And although sleep and dream research has answered many questions, it also created many more. Clearly, more research needs to be done. However, the future sounds exciting!
Till next time…Blessings.