The brain thinks, makes memories, and solves problems. It observes new information and then processes that information by determining what is essential, what’s not, and what’s connected to something you already know. Our brains require offline time for processing and learning new things. It occurs while we sleep. Dreaming plays a role in that process. Dreams are composed of information received during the day before the dream and then combined with previously stored data.
While it is not precisely clear how dreams form, there are many theories to the dreaming mind. For example, one brain region, the sensory cortex, is responsible for higher-level thinking, might stimulate the brain stem. Others suggest that REM sleep triggers sensory cortex. The dreaming brain can build stories that are better than a brain that is awake. Read on to find out more about several theories about the dreaming mind.
23. Dreams are stories and images that our minds create while we sleep.
Dreams are a universal human experience best described as a state of consciousness characterized by sensory, cognitive, and emotional occurrences during sleep. The dreamer has limited control over the content of their dreams, visual images, or activation of their memory. However, there is no cognitive state that has been as extensively studied and yet as frequently misunderstood as dreaming. Two common approaches to dream analysis include neuroscientific and psychoanalytic. There are significant differences between the two.
Neuroscientists are specifically interested in the structures involved in dream production, dream organization, and dream narrative. However, psychoanalysis focuses on the meaning behind the dreams and then placing them in the context of the dreamer’s relationships. Reported dreams tend to be full of emotional and extremely vivid experiences that contain themes, dream figures, and even objects that correspond closely to waking life. Those elements, when combined, create a sense of reality out of seemingly nothing. Ultimately, it is producing an experience that has a lifelike timeframe and connections.
22. There are five stages of sleep that we cycle through each night.
There are two types of sleep: rapid eye movement, REM, and non-rapid eye movement, or non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep consists of multiple stages, whereas REM sleep is just a single stage. Stage one is a non-REM stage that occurs when you first begin to fall asleep and generally only lasts a few minutes. During this stage, your heart rate and breathing slow down, your muscles start to relax, and you produce alpha and theta brain waves. The second stage of non-REM sleep is light sleep that happens right before you enter deep sleep. On average, it lasts for roughly 25 minutes.
Your heart rate and breathing will continue to slow down further. There are no eye movements, and your body temperature begins to drop. Besides, your brain waves spike up and down. Stages three and four are the final stages of non-REM sleep that are the deepest sleep stages. During these stages, your body performs various health-promoting tasks, including tissue repair and growth, cell regeneration, and strengthening your immune system. Approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep, you enter into stage five, which includes REM sleep. That is the primary dreaming stage of sleep. During phase five, your brain activity increases exponentially. When you fall asleep at night, you cycle through all of these stages multiple times.
21. Although we have all experienced dreams, you may wonder what causes the brain to dream.
There are several theories about what causes us to dream. People question whether dreams are simply part of the sleep cycle or serve another purpose. Some suggest that dreams represent unconscious desires and wishes. Have you ever dreamt about a situation that happened to you during the day? Alternatively, perhaps you are dreaming about that work meeting or project that is due the following day. Others have said that dreams come from the consolidation and processing of the information gathered throughout the day.
A third theory is that dreaming is caused by interpreting random signals from the brain and body during sleep. A fourth theory is that dreaming works as a form of psychotherapy. While there is still a lot that is unknown about what causes dreams to occur, it is plausible to think that there may be more than one cause. All of these potential theories for what causes dreams to occur may be valid.
20. Researchers have speculated that dreaming serves a variety of functions.
One of the most commonly discussed functions of dreaming involves offline memory reprocessing. It is the time when the brain consolidates learning and memory tasks. The second function of dreaming has been a psychological space where the dreaming ego can bring together overwhelming, contradictory, or highly complex notions. The notions that typically would be unsettling while awake serve the need for psychological balance and equilibrium. The third function of dreaming is the cognitive simulation of real-life experiences, as dreaming is a subsystem of the waking network.
This unique state of consciousness incorporates experiences of the present, processing the past, and preparing for the future. It explains why we may dream about the day we had or a project coming due soon. Experts also say that dreaming can help individuals prepare for possible future threats. It provides an avenue for seeing what may occur. The realness of the dream can help people prepare for those situations should they happen in the future. Dreams remain a mystery. Although experts study the topic, they are challenging to learn. However, technology and new research techniques help provide clarity on our understanding of dreams.
19. Lucid dreaming occurs when you are aware that you’re dreaming.
Lucid dreaming is an interesting concept. It occurs when the person is aware that they are dreaming and can recognize their thoughts and emotions as they unfold. In some instances, they are even able to control the dream. They might be able to change the people, the environment, or even the storyline. Changing the storyline can be done by making individual decisions because you know the potential ramifications.
Lucid dreaming allows the sleeper to control the situation and not experience situations where they may feel helpless. This type of dream control can reduce the number of nightmares that occur and the anxiety that comes with them. Like most dreaming, lucid dreaming occurs during REM sleep, when your brain is extremely active, and your eye and heart rate increases. In a lucid dream, you know you are dreaming and are aware of your awareness during the dream state. Slightly over half of individuals have experienced one or more lucid dreams in their lifetime. However, lucid dreaming is relatively rare. Only 23 percent of people have lucid dreams at least once a month.
18. There are several ways that you can try to increase the number of lucid dreams you are having.
Since lucid dreaming typically happens during REM sleep, you will have an increased likelihood of lucid dreaming if you spend more time in this stage. You can extend your REM sleep by getting enough overall sleep. When you establish healthy sleeping habits, your body can adequately cycle through all of the sleep stages. Many people also use a dream journal to aid in lucid dreaming. Writing down your dreams forces you to recall them, and this is said to help your brain become more aware of dreaming.
You can also practice reality testing. Your level of consciousness is similar when you’re conscious and dreaming. By increasing your awareness during the waking state, you can also enhance your dreaming state’s attention. Reality testing helps to train your mind to recognize your own understanding while you are awake. Some popular reality checks include pinching your nose, reading, and looking in mirrors. You should choose one reality check method and perform it several times a day. You can experiment with different reality checks to find out which works best for you.
17. Although lucid dreaming occurs randomly, it is possible to initiate lucid dreaming through induction techniques.
There are three commonly suggested induction techniques if you are attempting to initiate lucid dreaming. The first induction technique is called wake back to bed, or WBTB. With this technique, you would wake yourself up five hours after bedtime. When you go back to sleep, you are more likely to enter REM sleep while you are still conscious and hopefully initiate lucid dreaming at the same time.
The second technique is called mnemonic induction of lucid dreams or MILD. With this technique, you will tell yourself that you will lucid dream tonight. You can say to yourself this before going to bed, or you can do this when you are awake during WBTB. This technique centers around the concept of speaking something into existence. If you tell yourself that you will do something, the thought is that your chances of it occurring increase.
The third induction technique is called a wake-initiated lucid dream or WILD. In wake-initiated lucid dreams, you enter REM sleep from wakefulness while maintaining your consciousness. It involves lying down until you have a hypnagogic hallucination, which occurs in the consciousness state between waking and sleeping. However, be warned that hypnagogic hallucinations can be confusing as they create robust, intricate visual images in the mind that distort reality.
16. Lucid dreaming has many potential benefits, including decreasing nightmares, relieving anxiety, increasing motor skills, and enhancing creativity.
While everyone has nightmares occasionally, recurring nightmares can be incredibly taxing. They can interfere with consistent quality sleep. Lucid dreaming can provide relief by reducing the number of recurring nightmares. During a lucid dream, you can realize that nightmares are not real, and you can control the dream of turning the nightmare into a more neutral or pleasant scenario. Lucid dreaming can also aid in relieving the anxiety that is triggered by nightmares. Visualizing physical movements can increase the actual ability to do them. You can do that during a lucid dream, where the dreamer can mentally practice motor skills.
When you perform motor skills while dreaming, your brain’s sensorimotor cortex activates. It is the part of the brain that controls movement. Therefore, lucid dreaming can help provide some sense of physical rehabilitation for those with physical disabilities. Lucid dreaming can also potentially boost your creativity. Those who are more creative are more likely to lucid dream. That could be due to their heightened ability to visualize events. However, people claim that lucid dreams increase their activity and imagination. While science has yet to be proven, enhanced creativity has been a suggested benefit to lucid dreaming.
15. One theory surrounding lucid dreaming is that their brains are not quite awake, nor are they quite asleep.
Lucid dreaming is one’s awareness that dreaming is occurring as it happens. You can increase the frequency of lucid dreaming with specific training techniques. Experienced lucid dreams are even able to introduce voluntary decisions into their dreams. That can impact and reduce the number of uncontrollable or anxiety-provoking dreams that individuals may experience. While the concept of lucid dreaming is understood, they also present unique challenges.
Since they are relatively rare, lucid dreams are challenging to study. Experts argue that the dreams that occur during a controlled sleep study are incredibly different from the dreams we may experience in the comfort of our own homes. Some smaller studies have shown that EEG signals from the lucid brain are different from those in sleep or wakefulness. One researcher suggested that lucid dreaming’s rarity occurs because of two states’ borders – wakefulness and sleep. Our brain intends to be all in or all out; thus, since it has to find the middle ground between the two, the likelihood of it occurring is significantly decreased.
14. While not everyone experiences lucid dreaming, some may wonder how to interpret lucid dreams.
It is possible to interpret a lucid dream, similar to how you would with an ordinary dream. Analyzing your dreams can help you understand the relevance of your dreams. Some people have reported that dream interpretation is more straightforward after having a lucid dream. The awareness you have during the lucid dream increases your ability to observe and retain the dream as it unfolds. Lucid dreams also tend to be more vivid, which can help remember the actual events and details that are occurring throughout.
To interpret your dreams, you could start by keeping a dream journal. You can have a dream journal next to your bed so that as you wake up and recall the event, you can write it down immediately. By writing down your dreams, you will be more likely to discover any significant or imminent themes. You can keep a regular journal in addition to your dream journal. By recording both your dreams and your daily life, you will be more likely to find connections. Understanding the links between your dreams and your real-life experiences will only enhance your ability to understand and interpret your dreams.
13. There are several benefits to lucid dreaming, but there are also some risks.
Doctors view lucid dreaming as safe, but there can be risks for people with mental health disorders. One potential risk involves sleep problems. Since lucid dreaming techniques purposely interrupt sleep, getting enough sleep can be difficult. If you have a sleep disorder, then your risk doubles. If you either have a sleep disorder or deal with a lack of quality sleep, it is best not to partake in lucid dreaming techniques. A second potential risk is depression and anxiety. Sleep issues, including an interruption in sleep during lucid dreaming, can intensify depressive symptoms and anxiety.
A third risk involves derealization. By inducing lucid dreaming, you are essentially meshing reality and dreaming. Doing so makes it difficult to determine what is real versus what is false. A fourth risk is dissociation. The overlap of reality and dreaming can also cause a disconnection from your surroundings or self. Intertwining reality and dreaming can seem like a positive concept as it allows the dreamer to control the situation and reduce the likelihood of anxiety and nightmares. However, derealization and dissociation can blur the lines and create even more uncertainty.
12. Two types of memory can form the basis of a dream. These are autobiographical memories and episodic memories.
Autobiographical memories are our long-lasting memories of ourselves. Episodic memories are those memories about specific episodes or events. Studies have explored the different types of memory within dream content among roughly 30 participants. The results showed that one dream, nearly half of a percent, contained an episodic memory. The majority of dreams at 80 percent had low to moderate incorporations of autobiographical memory features. The theory is that memories of personal experiences are experienced fragmentarily and selectively during dreaming. The purpose may be to integrate these memories into long-lasting autobiographical memories.
In 1900, experts introduced a category of dreams called biographical dreams. These reflect the historical experiences of being an infant without the typical defensive function. Experts say that traumatic dreams can perform a part of recovery. The central aspect of traumatic dreams is communicating an experience that the dreamer has in the dream but does not understand. That can aid in the individual reconstructing and coming to some kind of terms with their past trauma.
11. The enticing aspect of lucid dreaming involves controlling the situation because you are more aware of what is occurring in real-time.
Nightmares are incredibly distressing dreams that can cause the dreamer to feel many disturbing and upsetting emotions. The most common reactions to a nightmare include fear and anxiety. They can occur in both adults and children; several things can trigger them. Triggers can include stress, fear, trauma, illness, or the use of certain medications or drugs. Nightmares are often vividly realistic and can quickly rattle you from a deep sleep. They often set your heart pounding from fear. Not surprisingly, nightmares tend to occur the most during REM sleep. Since periods of REM sleep become progressively longer as the night pushes on, you may find that you experience nightmares more often in the early morning hours.
The subjects of nightmares vary from person to person. There are, however, some common nightmare themes that many people experience. For instance, many adults have nightmares about not being able to run fast enough to escape danger. Many individuals also have nightmares about falling from an extreme height. Nightmares are also more common if you have experienced a traumatic event, such as an attack or accident. You may have recurrent nightmares about your experience.
10. The frequency and subject of nightmares vary from one person to the next. However, some common causes can trigger nightmares in adults.
Nightmares in adults are often spontaneous. Some people experience nightmares while having a late-night snack, increasing metabolism and signaling the brain to be more active. Several medications can also contribute to nightmare frequency. In particular, drugs that act on chemicals in the brain, such as antidepressants and narcotics, are often associated with nightmares. On the other hand, withdrawal from medicines and substances, including alcohol, may trigger nightmares. Sleep deprivation may contribute to adult nightmares, which then cause people to lose extra sleep.
There can also be many psychological triggers that cause nightmares in adults. For example, anxiety and depression can cause adult nightmares. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also commonly causes people to experience chronic, recurrent nightmares. Lastly, nightmares in adults may come from certain sleep disorders. These include sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. If you are experiencing a high number of nightmares and cannot pinpoint what the cause may be, you should always consult with your doctor.
9. Dreams not only help our brains remember information, but they also let the brain enjoy a break.
The purpose and function of dreaming remain a hot topic. The two most familiar neurobiological theories behind dreaming are relatively specific compared to the views that dreams are more about wish-fulfillment and unconscious wants or desires. The first theory is that dreams help our brain remember. The popular idea is that dreaming occurs to compartmentalize our memories of the previous day or represent the brain in anticipation of events in the coming days. You may have experienced this personally by dreaming about a work meeting that is happening the next day, or perhaps your wedding is coming up, and you have dreams about your big day.
The second theory is that dreams serve the purpose of letting our brains take a break. Dreaming during the REM sleep stage is associated with the activation of your brain’s default mode aspect. This mode takes over the waking mind when we are not partaking in a specific task. Scientists suggest that dreaming arises from the partial activation of this default network in the absence of external stimulation. While emotional simulation areas flare-up, autobiographical memory areas remain in idle mode.
8. It is important to understand how the dreaming brain interacts with external sounds.
It is generally unusual for elements of our current environment to appear in our dreams. To better understand how the brain protects itself from outside influences, researchers studied several sleep participants. Dreaming occurs primarily during your REM sleep when the mind is waking, but the body is, in a sense, paralyzed. During certain moments of REM sleep, eye movements continue. These movements are related to dreaming.
To test the theory of how outside noises influence dreaming, the sleep participants listened to stories in French in combination with some meaningless language. Scientists uncovered that although the brain is technically asleep, it continues to record everything occurring around it. They also learned that even during lighter sleep stages, the brain could prioritize meaningful speech. However, during the REM sleep stages, the speech is filtered out.
In conclusion, our sleeping brain can select information from the outside world and either amplify or suppress it. This mechanism allows the brain to protect the dreaming phase. That is extremely important as it will enable both emotional balance and consolidation of the day’s activities. While doctors prove that most dreams occur during rapid eye movement stages, they can also happen during other sleep phases.
7. Dreaming can help us in a few ways. The first is that dreaming is essentially overnight therapy.
REM sleep is the only time when our brain is entirely devoid of the anxiety-triggering molecule noradrenaline. Simultaneously, critical emotional and memory-related structures of the brain are reactivated during REM sleep as we dream. That means that emotional memory reactivation releases a stress chemical that allows us to reprocess upsetting memories in a safer, calmer environment. Dreaming has the potential to help people de-escalate emotional reactivity. During one study, participants were divided into two groups to watch a series of emotion-inducing images. Twelve hours later, they saw the same emotional photos. Half of the participants saw the pictures within the same day.
They separated the other half by an evening of sleep. Those who had the opportunity to sleep between the two sessions reported a significant decrease in how emotional they felt in response to seeing those images for a second time. Their MRI scans also confirmed a substantial reduction in reactivity in the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center that creates painful feelings. In contrast, those who remained awake displayed no dissolving of the emotional reactivity. The one night of sleep helped provide a sense of therapy and released some of the negative emotions associated with viewing those images.
6. In addition to serving as a form of overnight therapy, dreaming also enhances creativity and problem-solving.
Experts prove that deep non-REM sleep can strengthen individual memories. However, during REM sleep, those memories can be fused and blended in highly novel ways. During the dreaming state, your brain can consider the knowledge acquired and then extract rules and commonalities. Doing this creates a mindset that can help provide solutions to problems that may have previously seemed impossible to handle. A few studies concluded that dreaming could increase creativity and problem-solving.
In one study, participants were woken up during the night, in periods of both non-REM and REM sleep. They got short tests such as anagram puzzles. The team tested each participant before going to sleep, so they were familiar. They were then monitored and woken up at different points of the night to re-perform the tests. When woken up during non-REM sleep, they solved very few puzzles. However, when they woke up during REM sleep, they could solve between 15 and 35 percent more puzzles than when they were awake in the beginning. During their REM sleep stage, participants who woken up reported that the solution just popped into their head and required little effort.
5. Dreaming can occur in all stages of sleep, including during non-REM stages.
One of the most common misconceptions is that dreams only occur during the REM sleep stage. As previously mentioned, REM sleep is an excellent part of our sleep routine where the brain activity increases although the body remains at rest. Generally, REM sleep occurs between four and five times per night. Although most dreams occur during the REM sleep stage, that is not the only time dreaming can occur. To understand this theory, researchers utilized an EEG device to examine how people’s brain activity in Non-REM sleep is affected by whether they dream or do not dream.
When the non-REM sleep subjects had slept for at least three minutes, the researchers gave them magnetic pulses that induced a weak electric field and activated neurons. After a series of pulses, the participants were woken with an alarm sound and asked whether they had dreamed and described the dream’s content. The study was able to identify that subjects woken up during non-REM sleep were also able to give descriptions of their dreams in more than half of the cases. The researchers also observed that the longer the individual told the dream’s story, the more their EEG resembled that measured from awake people.
4. Researchers have been able to identify specific parts of the brain involved in dreaming.
With the theory that dreaming only occurs during REM sleep disproven, scientists worked to understand better how specific parts of the brain are involved in dreaming and, more specifically, the dream’s content. For instance, experts prove that dreaming about faces was linked to increased high-frequency activity in the brain region involved in face recognition. Doctors link dreams that involve perception, movement, and thinking to brain regions that handle those specific tasks when awake.
A Japanese sleep study further concluded that the brain’s activation within the brain is broader in REM sleep than when it is awake and subjected to visual stimulation. Researchers have also studied how people born blind experience visual images while dreaming. One study suggested that they have limited graphical images but experience enhanced references to smell, taste, or touch. However, another study suggested that EEG readings in both blind and sighted dreamers had similar visual experiences. Both groups were able to describe their dreams visually. Further, experts suggest that while the primary cortex is unaffected, a related visible area in the brain called the extrastriate cortex could be activated in blind subjects by stimulating other senses. The increased stimulation of other senses such as touch, taste, or smell helps create virtual images in the brains of people born blind.
3. While certain parts of the brain have an increased frequency during dreaming, there are also passive brain areas.
Like how scientists studied which parts of the brain are active while someone is dreaming, they have also completed an analysis of the dormant areas. The areas of our minds that are responsible for placing items in a physical context remain dark. This discovery helps to explain why sometimes proportions are often distorted in dreams. One example of this is within the right inferior parietal cortex’s inactivity. The lack of activity in this area may explain why we can experience dreams in both the first and third person. The inferior parietal cortex is not the only area of the brain that remains dormant.
Executive regions of the prefrontal cortex responsible for reality testing and self-monitoring also remain dark. That can explain why the dreamer is completely unfazed when a person is replaced with an animal while you are in a work meeting. When we are awake, a situation like that will make zero sense. However, since that part of the brain remains inactive or dormant while dreaming, we are entirely unfazed by it.
2. As many of us know, sleep is critical to our overall health. Adequate sleep can contribute to the frequency and type of dreaming you may experience.
How can we ensure we are getting enough sleep and experiencing a dream state? The good news is that there are several simple ways you can enhance your sleep and achieve that dream state. The first change you can to make sure your room is dark and that you are not looking at bright light sources within the last hour or two before going to bed. It is talking to everyone who scrolls social media before going to sleep. You can also purchase some dimming lights to stimulate sleepiness.
The second thing you can do is to create a consistent schedule by going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day. That helps to signal to your body that there is a regular time for sleeping. To get sufficient sleep, you should keep the temperature in your house cool at night. Your body temperature naturally drops at night for sleep, and a lower room temperature signals that it’s time for rest.
If you have trouble falling asleep or wake up in the night feeling restless, it’s vital that you don’t stay in bed awake. Doing so trains your body that your bed is not a place for sleeping. Try getting up and reading a book and when you start to feel sleepy again, return to bed. Lastly, avoid caffeine late in the day or too much alcohol. Both interfere with quality sleep and will either keep you awake or stimulate frequent wakeups throughout the night.
1. Dream lag occurs when the images, experiences, or people in your dreams are ones that you have seen recently.
When you see someone recently, perhaps the previous day or a week before, and then see them in your dream, this action is a dream lag. Experts asked people a simple question: did they see images before? In turn, they report that most images came from the previous week. The idea is that certain types of experiences can take a week to become encoded into your long-term memory. Some of the images from the consolidation process will then appear in a dream. Events people experience while awake is said to feature in one to two percent of dream reports.
On the other hand, 65 percent of dream reports reflect aspects of recent waking-life experiences. Memory theorists suggest that the hippocampus in your brain takes those events, whether from the previous day or the last week, and selects some of them to transfer into long-term memory. Those chosen then begin to transfer over to the neocortex for permanent storage. The transfer process can take about a week. Therefore, dreaming participates in the relocation of memory storage from the hippocampus to the neocortex over time. In short, you can see encoded images stay in your long-term memory by merely paying attention to your dreams!