Why Do We Dream?

Psychologists, researchers and dream theorists have a few explanations. Noted psychoanalyst Sigmud Freud (1856-1939) believed that dreams are a type of wish-fulfillment, and that dreams provide a psychic safety valve that discharges otherwise unacceptable feelings. Ambitions, desires and other content that would be threatening if expressed in the normal manner. Freud also thought that most dreams can be traced back (after lengthy psychoanalysis), to some kind of erotic wish, even though there was no sexual content included the the dream.

A Train Entering a Tunnel

Many Freud critics believe it is time to let go of Freud’s dream theories. According to dream researcher William Domhoff (2000) “there is no reason to believe any of Freud’s specific claims about dreams and their purpose.” Some researchers say that even if dreams are symbolic in some way, they can be interpreted in any number of ways. Others believe dreams don’t have hidden meanings. A dream about a train entering a tunnel is merely a dream about a train entering a tunnel. Nothing more. Or, as Sigmund Freud himself once said, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” According to dream researcher Allan Hobson 1995, “when people interpret a dream as if it were meaningful and then sell these interpretations, is’s quakery.”

Sifting and Sorting

Some researchers believe that dreams are the brain’s method of sifting, sorting, arranging and storing recent experiences in memory. We already know that REM (rapid eye movement) sleep facilitates memory (McGrath & Cohen 1978). Tests comparing two groups studying the same materials showed remarkably different results. As one group was allowed to sleep soundly, the other group who were deprived of both slow-wave and REM sleep, didn’t do as well. People tested the next day improved after a good night’s sleep.

Sleep Improves Memory

Other studies confirm that REM sleep is necessary in part, to remember events. Deep, slow-wave sleep helps stabilize our memories of experiences, and helps to convert memories into long-term learning. So in a way, a good night’s sleep helps us remember.

Students should “wake up” to the fact that sleep helps learning. All-night parties, binge-sleeping on weekends and late-night cramming for tests is actually harmful to memory. In fact, studies show that high-achieving students with high grades average 25 minutes more sleep per night and go to bed 40 minutes earlier than lower-achieving students (Wolfson & Carskaden, 1998).

Physiological Benefits

Rapid eye movement (REM) during sleep also stirs the liquid behind the cornea, delivering fresh oxygen to cornea cells, thus preventing cell suffocation. Dreams may also serve other pyshiological functions as well. The broad-wave activitiy during REM sleep provides the brain with periodic stimulation and serves to develop and preserve the brain’s neural pathways. This theory makes sense. Infants whose neural networks are developing at a rapid pace spend a great amount of time in deep REM sleep. As much as 50 percent of an infant’s sleep is REM sleep, whereas adults typically spend only about an hour in REM sleep.

Random Eruptions?

Other physiological theories suggest that dreams are merely random eruptions of neural activity and the brain’s attempt to interpret and make sense of them. Much the same as when a neuro-surgeon produces hallucinations in patients by stimulating different parts of the cerebral cortex. These internal neuron stimuli activate brain areas that produce images. These same stimuli also increase activity in the motion-sensitive limbic system during REM sleep. In contrast, frontal lobe regions that are responsible for inhibitions and logic seem to become idle during REM sleep. This may explain why our dreams are less inhibited than we actually are (Maquet, et al, 1995). Add the limbic system’s motion to a brain’s visual bursts and presto… we have dreams!

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

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