Editor at ‘The Secrets Of The Universe’, I have completed my Master’s in Physics from Punjab, India and I am currently pursuing my doctoral studies on Radio Emissions of Exoplanets in Barcelona, Spain. I love to write about a plethora of topics concerned with planetary sciences, observational astrophysics, quantum mechanics and atomic physics, along with the advancements taking place in the space industry.
Every day, we see a variety of dreams while we are asleep. Some of them are coated in thick layers of fantasy and beauty, while some are scary as hell. In some of the dreams, we are as smart as in our daily life, and the situations are as real as they can get in the real world. However, some dreams don’t even have a feather touch of any logic attached to them and are completely senseless as perceived in the context of our real life.
But why do we dream? This is one of the most frequently asked questions in the world of neurological science. Time and again, various theories have been put forward to comprehend the mechanism of dreaming and to analyze the reason behind their occurrence. This article will cover most of these aspects.
The stages of sleeping
If you think that you sleep uniformly throughout the night, then you are probably wrong. An average person’s sleep consists of four to six stages of sleep every night. The four crucial stages are awake, light, deep, and REM sleep. Each stage of sleep has its own unique characteristics and importance. REM or the rapid eye moment stage of sleeping is the one where most of the vivid dreaming takes place. A person is most likely to recall the dreams that occur during the REM stage.
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Why do we dream at the first place?
For years, rather centuries, people have pondered over the exact meaning of dreaming. Some ancient civilizations perceived dreaming as a medium of interaction between the earthly world and the world of gods. The Greeks and Romans strongly believed that their dreams had certain prophetic powers. While there has always been a great interest in interpreting human dreams, it wasn’t until the end of the nineteenth century that people started coming up with a scientific explanation of dreaming.
In scientific terms, dreams are a kind of hallucinations that occur during certain stages of sleep. These are more of our autobiographical thoughts that originate due to our recent activities, conversations, or other issues in our life. According to some theories put forward in the nineteenth century, some dreams even act as an escape to sort through our unresolved and repressed wishes.
When we are awake, our brains’ logical and emotional areas are active simultaneously, so our thoughts have a certain logic to them. However, when we sleep, our brain is still active but not to its full capacity. The emotional centers of our brain are most active at that time, and they are the ones that trigger most of the dreams, rather than the logical regions, and that’s why most of our dreams often make little or no sense at all.
There is not one but several theories that have been put forward to explain human dreaming. The “activation-synthesis hypothesis” is one of the most prominent theories known in this regime. As per this theory, dreams don’t actually mean anything. They are just some electrical brain impulses that pull together random thoughts and imagery from our memories. It also claims that as humans wake up after having a dream, they construct their dream stories on their own with their conscious mind, in a natural attempt to make sense of all the weird things they saw while being asleep.
Another theory named the “threat simulation theory” suggests dreaming as a biological defense mechanism to simulate potential threatening events. However, when we are engulfed with anxiety and stress and have extensive sleep disorders, it often leads to nightmares.
The significance of dreams
The significance and role of dreams in our daily lives have been a strong topic of discussion for a long time. Some researchers believe that dreams provide a way to confront emotional dramas ongoing in our lives. Since our brain is operating at an advanced emotional level while we are asleep, it helps make connections regarding our feelings that we are not able to figure out in our awake and conscious state.
While dreaming, the most active region of the brain is the amygdala. The amygdala is that part of the brain which is associated with the survival instinct. So dreaming is also one of the brain’s ways of getting ourselves ready to deal with threats. Moreover, dreams also empower our creative ability and help in storing important memories and things by getting rid of unimportant ones.
Another question concerning dreaming is why we cannot recall our dreams most of the time? Well, the answer to this lies in our brain itself. A brain chemical associated with memory is known as norepinephrine—this chemical, together with the brain’s electrical activity, helps recall things. However, while dreaming, both these elements are at their lowest levels. So when we wake up, we are not able to recall properly. However, if we wake up during the ongoing dreaming process, the chances of recalling become much higher.
Although dreaming is a process that occurs during a partially unconscious state of mind, it has left us with some seriously intriguing questions that can be answered only by scratching our brains in a perfectly conscious state!