LS Answers: Why do we dream?

If you dream about a baboon, you need to be more expressive with your feelings. To see or eat a bagel whilst dreaming indicates that there is something missing in your life and if you dream about your teeth rotting and falling out, you’re a liar that’s about to be found out. Well, according to dream dictionaries. Multiple sleep studies have found that our dreams tend to be the most memorable and vivid during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep and it is broadly accepted across the scientific society that everyone dreams, but why do we dream? And what, if any, is the point of them?

The popular psychoanalytic perspective that our dreams represent our unconscious wants and desires stems from Sigmund Freud’s theory of dreams. Freud’s view, found in his book, ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, was that our dreams are a way for our minds to express our repressed aggressive and sexual instincts which drive us.

J. Allan Hobson and Robert McClarley proposed the ‘activation synthesis model of dreaming’ which theorises that during REM sleep the brain tries to find meaning  in signals from the limbic system, involved in emotions and sensations which are activated in this stage of sleeping.

Some studies have shown that dreams are related to how we create memories. Participants in a dream study were found to have more dream activity if they were studying  language course compared to those who were not which leads to the theory that dreams could used to translate short term memories into long term ones.

The least exciting of all the theories is that dreams serve no purpose at all! Some people suggest that dreaming is purely a by-product caused by the brain being activated whilst we sleep.

Many of us share dreams with common themes such as inexplicably becoming naked in a crowd of people, or falling from a great height. The later example usually occurs in the first stages of sleep named hypnagogia, and are frequently found to be accompanied by an unexpected twitch or jump. This sudden contraction is known as a hypnic jerk and according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, this can be caused by a variety of factors such as stress, caffeine and arduous activity.

So it seems no official consensus has been reached to explain whether our dreams have a psychological, biological or physiological purpose, and one dream analysis does not fit all, so for now the puzzling mystery as to why we dream continues.

Hayley Williams

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