Why do we dream?
Published April 13, 2021
Does everyone dream?
We all dream — even animals have been shown to dream. Humans dream a lot, even if they don’t remember it the next day. Dreaming occurs four or five times a night, almost every 90 minutes while we sleep. Even though experts can only theorise on why we dream, technological advances are helping us understand how we dream and the impact of dreaming on our health.
What are dreams?
Dreams are stories or images our brain creates while we sleep, primarily during what’s called our REM sleep. The parts of our brain that govern emotions are very active during REM sleep, which may be why dreams can elicit an emotional response long after they are over.
Sleep researchers have established that eye movements tend to correspond with dream content, which suggests that we watch our dreams. We are also more likely to remember dreams from REM sleep then non-REM sleep (NREM).
Why do we dream?
In ancient societies, dreams guided social and everyday decisions or were seen to be messages from the gods. In the 19th and 20th centuries, psychoanalysts believed that dreaming helped us act out unconscious desires in a safe setting because to do so in real life would be considered unacceptable.
Modern researchers theorise that dreams are like a VR space where we can safely practice dealing with threats or process traumatic memories.
Another theory is that dreams are how the brain cleans out its’ psychic ‘in-box’ and helps the brain rid itself of information it no longer needs.
Whatever the theory, what all researchers agree on is that dreaming is important. Dreams are not just a subconscious cleanse; they may also help us survive in our waking life.
Why are dreams important?
Dreaming (REM sleep) plays a crucial role in our lives by supporting brain health as well as our psychological and spiritual wellbeing. Suppression of REM sleep can impact our physical and emotional health, causing problems such as:
- Increased tension
- Mood changes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of coordination
- Weight gain
- Increased inflammatory responses
- Memory problems
What impacts our REM sleep?
- Recreational drug use — Use of recreational substances such as alcohol can alter the structure of your sleep and interrupt REM sleep.
- Some medications — Some medications work in a similar way to recreational drugs, decreasing REM sleep activity. If you’re concerned about a medication impacting the quality of your sleep, speak to your healthcare professional.
- Sleep— Insufficient sleep can impact REM sleep. Waking in the early hours of the morning has a major impact as most REM sleep occurs in the early hours of the morning.
- Artificial light — Increased exposure to artificial light has been shown to disrupt sleeping patterns by delaying the production and release of melatonin in the brain. Melatonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates circadian rhythms and supports REM sleep.
Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to feeling great and getting the most out of your day. Research is now showing that getting a good balance of REM and non-REM sleep is also important. If you’re finding poor quality sleep is having an impact on your health chat to your healthcare professional.
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