Why do We Dream?


Stages of Sleep
Stages of Sleep

Why Do We Dream?
Dreams are series of images, ideas, emotions and sensations that occur involuntarily in the mind during sleep. Dreams have been subjected to discussion since ancient times but only recently have they been subjected to empirical research and scientific study. Scientists have been wondering for centuries that why do we dream? Do dreams serve a purpose or are these just abstract images and feelings experienced during sleep. Ancient civilizations considered dreams as a portal for receiving wisdom from the gods. Shamans view dreams as a means of diagnosing illness. In modern psychology, Sigmund Freud theorized dreams as a royal road to unconscious.

Scientists have been involved in studies to understand dreaming, but we are still unsure about the purpose of sleep. It is not clear whether dreams have a physiological, biological or psychological implementation. There has been many theories proposed to explain dreaming but no consensus has emerged. There are two contradictory types of views on the purpose of dreams. Some researchers suggest that there is no real purpose in dreaming while others argue that dreaming is essential to mental, emotional and physical well-being.

The two major and most prominent theories on the purpose of dreams are ‘Pyschoanalytic Theory of Dreams’ and ‘Activation-Synthesis Model of Dreaming’. The Pyschoanalytic Theory of Dreams was put forward by Sigmund Freud. He suggests that dreams are a depiction of unconscious desires, thoughts and motivations. There are aggressive and sexual instincts within the mind repressed from consciousness. As these thoughts and feelings are not expressed during the wake state of mind, they are expressed in form of dreams. They are just disguised fulfillment of repressed desires. It is a mean by which the brain protects us from disturbing thoughts and memories.

The Activation-Synthesis Model of Dreaming proposed by J. Allan Hobson focuses on the function of neurochemicals in the brain. He suggests that during the REM sleep, the brain becomes active which causes the areas of the limbic system responsible for emotions, sensations and memories to become active as well. The brain processes and interprets the internal activity of the brain and tries to find meaning which in turn results in dreaming. Hence, dreams are merely a subjective interpretation of signals generated in the brain during sleep. But dreams are not without meaning or significance. Dreaming is our most creative conscious state, in which information is configured to produce new ideas.

The aforementioned theories may be the most prominent work on the subject but there are many other theories which attempt to explain the reason behind dreaming. One possible reason for dreaming is to organize information in our brain. Each day our brain receives information from all sides, both consciously and unconsciously. Hence, it is important for our brain to be de-cluttered and fresh for the following day. Dreams, therefore, is a way of retaining important information and discard irrelevant data. It keeps our brain organized and optimized.

Dreams, according to a number of researchers, are problem solving mechanism of the mind. It enables our mind to acknowledge the subtle hints that are unnoticed during the day. Yet another theory states that sleep enables us to consolidate and process information collected during the wake state and dreams are just a by-product or an active part of the process. As our mind deals with bombardment of information and memories, it creates images, impressions and narratives to manage all of the activity.

Dreams may be a coping mechanism for trauma. Researchers suggest that due to the intensity of our emotions and situations we experience, we generate dreams to deal with it. When we face a trauma, dreams helps us to come in terms with it during sleep. One theory proposes that dreams results from the attempt of our brain to interpret external stimulation during sleep. Dream, according to another theory, enables us to make connections between different thoughts and emotions in a safe environment. Interestingly, there are few scientists who believe that dream s serves as rehearsal to dangers and threatening events by stimulating them, whereas others argue that dreams stimulates situations and help us select the best emotional reactions to them.

Despite our serious and devoted attempts to understand the phenomenon of dreaming, we are still far away from the answer to the question ‘why do we dream?’ The fact that we spend one third of our lives sleeping supports the notion that there is some purpose behind dreams. Scientists generally agree that dreaming is a form of thinking during sleep, resulting from random electrical impulses. They, more or less, agree that dreams have at least some psychological implication but they are still unsure about what is it. In short, there is perhaps some valid and useful purpose to dreaming but there is no definite and distinct answer to the question why do we dream?

Kendra Cherry, Why Do We Dream? Top Dream Theories, Retrieved from: http://psychology.about.com/od/statesofconsciousness/p/dream-theories.htm
Charles W. Bryant, Why Do We Dream? Retrieved from: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/why-do-we-dream.htm
Rebecca Turner, Why Do We Dream? Modern Theories of Dreaming, Retrieved from: http://www.world-of-lucid-dreaming.com/why-do-we-dream.html
Annalee Newitz and Joseph Bennington-Castro, 10 Theories that Explain Why We Dream, Retrieved from: http://io9.com/10-theories-that-explain-why-we-dream-897195110

Author: Zaib Fatima Rizvi

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2 Responses

  1. Kermit Hale

    December 5, 2010 2:01 am

    There is another chain of thought about dreams that says our subconscious mind is trying to communicate with our conscious mind. But in our everyday waking life we have little time for it. So during sleep our subconscious mind can present all the stuff it wants to. The subconscious mind is more primitive, and literal in its information to us, but it is also the seat of inspiration and ideas and creativity. So sometimes it can make connections that seem to predict the future; and at other times it can present the solutions to a problem we are facing; or sometimes it can warn us of health problems, etc. There is still much scientists do not know about sleep, but one thing they all agree upon: if we did not dream, we would go crazy, and eventually die. The REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage in sleep is where the deep rest cycle occurs too, not just the dreaming part, and without relieving the body of deep stress, physiological problems would amass to the breaking point. It wouldn’t take very long, either, probably a few months to a year at most. A mental nervousness and fatigue would be the first, followed by the body slowly shutting down.


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