Reasons behind dreams/role of dreams/help memory/Stimulate Creativity

The reasons behind dreams

The question of why we dream has fascinated philosophers and scientists for thousands of years. Despite scientific research into the function of dreams, we still don’t have a solid answer as to why we do it. While there is still much uncertainty about dreaming, many experts have developed theories about the purpose of dreams, with new empirical research providing greater clarity. Reasons behind dreams

What is a dream?

A dream includes the images, thoughts and emotions that are experienced during sleep. Dreams can range from unusually intense or emotional to very vague, fleeting, confusing, or even boring. Some dreams are happy, while others are frightening or sad. Sometimes dreams seem to have a clear narrative, while many others seem to make no sense at all.

There are many unknowns about dreaming and sleeping, but what scientists do know is that almost everyone dreams every time they sleep, for a total of about two hours a night, whether they remember it when they wake up or not.

In addition to what is in a specific dream, there is the question of why we dream. Below, we detail the most prominent theories about the purpose of dreaming and how these explanations can be applied to specific dreams.

How do scientists study dreams?

Traditionally, dream content is measured by the dreamer’s subjective recollections upon awakening. However, observation is also performed through objective assessment in a laboratory.

In one study, researchers even created a rudimentary map of dream content that was able to track what people dreamed of in real time using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) patterns. The map was then supported by the dreamers’ reports upon awakening.  Reasons behind dreams

the role of dreams

Some of the most prominent dream theories claim that the dream’s function is:

  • consolidate memories
  • process emotions
  • express our deepest desires
  • Get practice facing potential dangers

Many experts believe that we dream because of a combination of these reasons, rather than because of any particular theory. Furthermore, while many researchers believe that dreaming is essential for mental, emotional, and physical well-being, some scientists suggest that dreams have no real purpose.

The end result is that, although many theories have been proposed, no single consensus has emerged as to why we dream.

Dreaming during different stages of sleep can also serve specific purposes. The most vivid dreams happen during REM sleep, and these are the dreams we are most likely to remember. We also dream during sleep that it is not rapid eye movement (non-REM), but these dreams are remembered less often and have a more mundane content.

Dreams can reflect the unconscious

Sigmund Freud‘s theory of dreams suggests that dreams represent unconscious desires, thoughts, wish fulfillments, and motivations. According to Freud, people are moved by repressed and unconscious urges, such as aggressive and sexual instincts.

Although many of Freud’s claims have been debunked, research suggests that there is a dream rebound effect, also known as the dream rebound theory, in which suppressing a thought tends to result in dreaming about it.

What makes dreams happen?

In “The Interpretation of Dreams,” Freud wrote that dreams are “fulfillments disguised as repressed desires.” He also described two different components of dreams: manifest content (real images) and latent content ( hidden meaning ). Reasons behind dreams

Freud’s theory contributed to the rise and popularity of dream interpretation. Although research has failed to demonstrate that overt content masks the psychological meaning of a dream, some experts believe that dreams play an important role in processing emotions and stressful experiences.

dreams process information

According to the dream activation synthesis model, which was first proposed by J. Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley, brain circuits are activated during REM sleep, which activates the amygdala and hippocampus to create a series of electrical impulses. This results in a compilation of random thoughts, images and memories that appear during the dream.

When we wake up, our active minds piece together the dream’s various images and memory fragments to create a cohesive narrative.

In the activation synthesis hypothesis, dreams are a compilation of randomness that appears to the sleeping mind and is gathered in a meaningful way when we wake up. In this sense, dreams can provoke the dreamer to make new connections, inspire useful ideas, or have creative epiphanies in his waking life.

Dreams help memory

According to information processing theory, sleep allows us to consolidate and process all the information and memories we’ve collected the day before. Some dream experts suggest that dreaming is a by-product, or even an active part, of this experience processing.

This model, known as the dream self-organization theory, explains that dreaming is a side effect of the brain’s neural activity, as memories are consolidated during sleep. During this process of unconscious redistribution of information, it is suggested that memories be strengthened or weakened. According to the dream self-organization theory, while dreaming, useful memories become stronger, while less useful ones disappear. Reasons behind dreams

Research supports this theory, finding improvements in complex tasks when a person dreams of doing them. Studies also show that during REM sleep, low-frequency theta waves were more active in the frontal lobe, as well as when people are learning, storing, and remembering information when awake.

Dreams Stimulate Creativity

Another theory about dreams is that their purpose is to help us solve problems. In this creative theory of the dream, the unconstrained and unconscious mind is free to roam its limitless potential, as long as it is not overwhelmed by the often stifling realities of the conscious world. In fact, research has shown that dreaming is an effective promoter of creative thinking.

Scientific research and anecdotal evidence confirm the fact that many people successfully explore their dreams for inspiration and give credit to their dreams for their great “aha” moments.

The ability to make unexpected connections between memories and ideas that appear in your dreams is often an especially fertile ground for creativity.

dreams reflect your life

Under the continuity hypothesis, dreams function as a reflection of a person’s real life, incorporating conscious experiences into their dreams. Instead of a direct repetition of waking life, dreams appear as a patchwork of memory fragments.

Still, studies show that non-REM sleep may be more involved with declarative memory (the most routine thing), while REM dreams include more emotional and instructional memories. In general, REM dreams tend to be easier to remember compared to non-REM dreams. Reasons behind dreams

Under the continuity hypothesis, memories can be purposely fragmented in our dreams as part of incorporating new learning and experiences into long-term memory. Still, there are many unanswered questions about why some aspects of memories are presented more or less prominently in our dreams.

dreams prepare and protect

The theories of primitive instinct rehearsal and adaptive dream strategy propose that we dream to better prepare ourselves to face the dangers of the real world. Dreaming as a social simulation or threat simulation function provides the dreamer with a safe environment to practice important survival skills.

While dreaming, we hone our fight-or-flight instincts and build the mental capacity to deal with threatening scenarios. According to threat simulation theory, our sleeping brains focus on the fight-or-flight mechanism to prepare us for life-threatening and/or emotionally intense scenarios, including:

This theory suggests that practicing or rehearsing these skills in our dreams gives us an evolutionary advantage because we can better cope with or avoid threatening scenarios in the real world. This helps explain why so many dreams contain frightening, dramatic, or intense content.

Dreams help process emotions

The dream theory of emotion regulation says that the function of dreams is to help us process and deal with our emotions or traumas in the safe space of sleep. Reasons behind dreams

Research shows that the amygdala, which is involved in processing emotions, and the hippocampus, which plays a vital role in condensing information and moving short- to long-term memory storage, are active during vivid, intense dreams. This illustrates a strong link between dreaming, memory storage and emotional processing.

This theory suggests that REM sleep plays a vital role in the brain’s emotional regulation. It also helps explain why so many dreams are emotionally vivid and why emotional or traumatic experiences tend to repeat themselves. Research has shown a connection between the ability to process emotions and the amount of REM sleep a person has.

Content similarities and common dreams shared among dreamers can help foster the connection. The research also notes heightened empathy among people who share their dreams with others, pointing to another way dreams can help us to face them by promoting community and interpersonal support.

Other theories about why we dream

Many other theories have been suggested to explain why we dream.

  • One theory holds that dreams are the result of our brain trying to interpret external stimuli (such as a dog‘s bark, music or a baby’s cry) during sleep.
  • Another theory uses a computer metaphor to explain dreams, noting that dreams serve to “clean up” clutter from the mind, renewing the brain for the next day.
  • Reverse learning theory suggests that we dream of forgetting. Our brains have thousands of neural connections between memories – too many to remember all of them – and dreaming is part of the process of “pruning” those connections.
  • In the continuous activation theory, we dream of keeping the brain active while we sleep in order to keep it functioning properly. Reasons behind dreams

Lucid dreams

Lucid dreams are relatively rare dreams in which the dreamer is aware that he is in the dream and usually has some control over the content of the dream. Research indicates that about 50% of people remember having had at least one lucid dream in their lifetime and just over 10% report having them twice or more times a month.

It is not known why some people have lucid dreams more often than others. Although experts aren’t sure why or how lucid dreams occur, preliminary research indicates that the prefrontal and parietal regions of the brain play a significant role.

How to have a lucid dream

Many people want to have lucid dreams and try to experience them more often. Lucid dreaming has been compared to virtual reality and hyper-realistic video games, giving lucid dreamers the ultimate self-directed dreamscape experience.

Potential training methods for inducing lucid dreaming include cognitive training, external sleep stimulation, and medications. While these methods may be promising, none have been rigorously tested or shown to be effective.

A strong link was found between lucid dreaming and highly imaginative thinking and creative production. Research has shown that lucid dreamers perform better on creative tasks than those who do not have lucid dreams. Reasons behind dreams

stressful dreams

Stressful experiences tend to show up with great frequency in our dreams. Stressful dreams can be described as sad, frightening and nightmares.

Experts do not fully understand how or why specific stressful content ends up in our dreams, but many point to a variety of theories, including the continuity hypothesis, adaptive strategy, and emotion regulation dream theories to explain these occurrences. Stressful dreams and mental health seem to go hand in hand.

  • Everyday stress shows up in dreams: Research has shown that those who experience greater levels of worry in their waking lives and people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) report a higher frequency and intensity of nightmares.
  • Mental disorders can contribute to stressful dreams: People with mental disorders such as anxiety, bipolar disorder and depression tend to have more distressing dreams, as well as more difficulty sleeping in general.
  • Anxiety is linked to stressful dreams: research indicates a strong connection between anxiety and the stressful content of dreams. These dreams can be the brain’s attempt to help us cope with and make sense of these stressful experiences.


While there are many theories as to why we dream , more research is needed to fully understand their purpose. Rather than assuming that just one hypothesis is correct, dreams are likely to serve a variety of purposes.

Knowing that so much is uncertain about why we dream, we can feel free to see our own dreams in the light that resonates best with us.

If you are worried about your dreams and/or have frequent nightmares, talk to your doctor or see a sleep specialist.

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