A solid or a specific reason as to why we dream has eluded philosophers and scientists for thousands of years. Lots of theories do exist that experts have come up with to justify why we dream, though none quite exactly say why we dream. Even so, dreams are a very important part of our lives. They affect our real lives to a varying degree. People often credit dreams for coming up with solutions to many of their problems in real life. But sometimes they are just plain absurd.
It can be agreed by all that dreams are interesting and can provide insights into how your subconscious processes thoughts and emotions.
What are dreams?
Dreams are basically stories, thoughts and emotions that we experience when we are asleep. Research says that most of dreaming occurs during the REM(Rapid eye movement) sleep which has periodic cycles throughout our sleep. These cycles start by lasting for about 10 mins at the first cycle and could last upto an hour by the last cycle. Usually REM sleep occurs for about a total of 90 minutes. So we can say that we dream for 1 and a half hours to a maximum of 2 hours regularly. In average, we spend about 6 years of our life dreaming.
Researchers say that we create dreams as a part of our imagination like abstract thoughts and wishes and perceptions in real life. Nightmares are known to be manifestations of stress and tension for people with PTSD as they stem from traumatic experiences. They can also be linked with insomnia, depression, anxiety, medication, illness, stress and fatigue for other people. Night terrors are however a bit different than nightmares as they are more intense periods of fright while dreaming which may cause physical movements like yelling and flailing in panic. It is also suggested that night terrors occur during non-REM sleep.
How does your body act when you dream?
Our body acts differently when we dream. We are conscious when we dream but in a wonderfully strange way. Neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, serotonin and noradrenaline keep us awake but during REM sleep only acetylcholine is released into our brain. This can trigger activity between our thalamus and our cortex that is responsible for making us conscious. But without serotonin and noradrenaline, we’re not actually awake but are in dream consciousness. The limbic system which processes emotions is also active during dreams even more than when we’re awake. The brain’s memory encoding system is also active during sleep.
During REM sleep, we also lose muscle tone so that we don’t end up acting out and hurting ourselves except in cases of REM sleep behavior disorder. We cannot regulate our temperature during REM sleep, so our body temperatures drift toward the temperatures of our room. Breathing and heart rate also become irregular. Our pupil is also constricts when we dream.
Factors affecting dreams
There are lots of factors that influences our dreams in our day-to-day lives. The most common include:
- Health conditions: Being sleep deprived or having restless anxiety-ridden nights are the most common causes of dreams. We are more likely to dream vividly and recall such dreams. Being pregnant can catalyse vivid dreaming as well as increased hormone production can affect emotions and thought processes leading to dream intensely. Mental health disorders like bipolar disorders and depression can also trigger intense dreaming or nightmares.
- Food: There isn’t substantial evidence that the food that you consume can change the way you dream. But some food may help you recall your dreams better. Caffeine can increase REM sleep time. High-carb foods provide quick energy but they can also make you feel dull after a while. This can affect your unconscious mood as well triggering bad dreams.
- Daily Activities: A study actually found out that exercising in the morning can help you to sleep more soundly than working out during evenings or nighttime. Deep sleep or sound sleep results in less dreams. Runners are other fitness enthusiasts tend to have less REM sleep time than other people. De-stressing during the day can also help decrease nightmares and bad dreams.
Is dreaming good?
Some people consider dreams to be useful tools in day-to-day life. As our brain operates at a much more emotional level when we dream, they can be ways of confronting emotional dramas in our life which we probably wouldn’t do while awake. The amygdala in our brain is most active during dreaming which is associated with survival instinct which suggests the brain trains the body to deal with threats in dreams.
Dreams also help facilitate creative tendencies. Artists of all kinds credit dreams with inspiring them with some of their best works. The logical thinking part of the brain is mostly inactive during dreaming which eliminates any restriction to our creative flow. People even come up with solutions to problems in dreams which they couldn’t think of when awake. Research shows that dreaming help retain memory and block external stimuli that could interfere with memory and learning.
Controlling dreams and sleeping better
Lucid dreaming is when you know you’re dreaming. The parts of the brain that are normally at rest during dreaming is active during lucid dreaming. This type of dreaming happens in between a state of REM sleep and wakefulness. This lets the dreamer actually control or manipulate the dream into their desired direction. This is actually helpful during nightmares as you could change how the dream unfolds. Lucid dreaming training is also used to reduce insomnia symptoms and symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The most useful way to help yourself sleep better is stress reduction before bed and good sleep management. You should be able to devise a consistent sleep routine and keep your bedroom cool and dark. Using your bedroom only for sleep if possible can help reduce stress-related negative dreams. A technique called Imagery Rehearsal Therapy(IRT) is helpful to treat nightmares in people with PTSD.
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I am a content writer and editor at Modern Writes. I am an undergraduate student studying electrical and electronics engineering in Kathmandu University, Nepal. My main interests include space technology, telecommunications, and electronics. I enjoy reading, music, and fitness activities.