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The Science of Dreaming

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We all have them. Deep while we’re asleep at night dreams float into and out of our minds. Sometimes they’re good, and sometimes not so much. Other times they are extremely vivid and upon waking it becomes hard to tell if they were dreams at all. Still, sometimes we have trouble remembering dreams from the night before, or believe that we did not have any.

So, what are dreams exactly and why do we have them? Do they serve a physical purpose or are they something that just–happen? Most importantly, to many, what do dreams mean? These are deep questions that individuals ask every day. And still, researchers aren’t sure that they have all the answers.

It’s one of the GR8EST mysteries of the human mind and naturally we are curious. So we decided to dig in and see what sleep researchers and brain experts have to say on the matter.

What Are Dreams?

Dreams are defined as “stories and images that our minds create while we sleep.” Experts estimate that the average individual has anywhere from three to six dreams each night, yet most of us don’t remember them.

Dreams often take place when people are in the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep. REM sleep is the deepest state of sleep. Dreams are categorized into three main types:

  • Dreams that mimic everyday life and are non-startling
  • Nightmares
  • Lucid dreams

Lucid dreaming is the least understood out of the three types. It takes place when an individual knows that they are dreaming and may even be able to exercise control over parts of the dream.

Why Do We Dream?

No one knows just why we dream, but there are many theories surrounding the phenomenon. Some researchers believe that there is no reason for dreams at all and that they serve no biological purpose. They believe that dreams are a response to mental activity that continues through REM sleep, though they are unsure why.

The Contemporary Theory of Dreaming

Then, there are other researchers who believe in the contemporary theory of dreaming. The contemporary theory of dreaming, coined by Ernest Hartmann, states that dreams are the manifestation of an individual’s feelings and emotions.

Hartmann, a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and the director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Newton Wellesley Hospital in the Greater Boston area, is an avid researcher in the field of dreams. He believes they help us cope with what we are feeling during our waking hours and states that the stronger an emotion one has towards the subject of a dream, the more vivid the dream is likely to be.

The Iceberg Metaphor for Dreaming

Developed by Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, perhaps two of the most well known psychoanalysts in history, the iceberg metaphor for dreaming states that there are three levels to each dream.

The first is the conscious mind, which brings “real world” elements, such as people and places we know, into dreams. Then, the pre-conscious mind, which houses feelings that we keep buried within us, intertwines more meaning into each dream we have.

According to this model, the third layer of dreaming allows these pre-conscious feelings, emotions, needs, and desires to be met in a safe environment, where real-life repercussions do not exist. Freud and Jung believed that they serve as a way to learn more about ourselves and our true feelings.

The iceberg metaphor for dreaming is largely influenced by the early theories of Aristotle and Plato.

Additional Theories

Since we cannot yet prove the reason for dreaming, theories surrounding the occurrence are abound. Other theories for why we dream include:

  • Helping us process memories
  • Helping us work through troublesome events to achieve emotional balance
  • Protecting our brain against potential threats
  • An extension of what we experience while awake

Many of these theories bring together biological, metaphysical, and psychological elements into one. Essentially, our brains produce dreams based on many aspects, yet there does not seem to be a rhyme or reason as to why they do so or when these dreams will happen.

Physical Factors That Impact Dreams

Yet there is strong evidence that our physical selves impact our dreams. For example, vivid dreams frequently occur in those on specific medications, such as SSRIs. Additionally, those who consume large amounts of alcohol are likely to have more intense dreams, as are those who suffer from sleep deprivation.

Some researchers also believe that your sleeping position can impact the intensity of your dreams. Hong Shue Tan University in Hong Kong studied 670 individuals and discovered that those who sleep on their stomachs are more likely to have vivid dreams.

Additionally, a Canadian study states that 20% of individuals polled report a connection between what they eat and how intense their dreams are immediately after.

The Final Answer

It’s essential to note that every theory and study we discuss in this article is just that– a theory. No one yet knows why we dream, the purpose dreams serve, or how to control them. We are not yet sure why we remember some dreams and not others, or what our dreams mean.

If you are looking to interpret your dreams you will find endless information online regarding what each symbol, animal, or person may signify. However, these interpretations are not scientifically proven.

At GR8NESS, as dreamers ourselves, we will continue searching for answers as we watch new research that comes forward on the topic.

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Anne
GR8NESS Writer
Anne is a GR8NESS Contributing Writer, covering mental health, self-development, body, health, and pet care. She believes that self-betterment comes from addressing all aspects of the mind, body, and soul. When she’s not writing, you will definitely find her giving her dog belly rubs and reading the first half of every book she buys.
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