Dreams are one of life’s most mysterious secrets. Why do we dream? What do they mean? And why are they important for humans? The truth is, we don’t know exactly. However, decades of scientific research into sleep and dreams have thrown up a few potential theories. It’s clear that dreaming offers some kinds of benefits and that ensuring you dream enough can help you live a physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy life.
Reality is confusing and risks becoming overwhelming. The senses offer an unlimited supply of information to the brain, which then has to turn it into a conscious experience that makes sense. In order to do this, the brain edits reality like a film editor, trying to piece together a story that makes sense. This is a useful tool for navigating the world, allowing us to make sense of an otherwise incomprehensible reality.
Have you ever felt confused or unable to focus? This was probably due to a lack of quality sleep. This has led scientists to believe that it’s during sleep that our brains construct a model of the world. It follows, then, that dreams are a byproduct of this process. During periods of dreaming, which occurs during REM stages of sleep, the brain is highly active. Although you may be unconscious, your brain is working away tirelessly. It seems that this time is used to go through all the sensory data collected throughout the day before it is categorised.
Sleep is also the time when memories are formed and stored. They’re taken from the short-term memory and transported to the long-term memory in case you need to call on them later on. This fact is backed up by over 100 years of research. If memories are being created while we dream, then it’s a good bet that those dreams are somehow able to help us establish memories. You can take memory supplements to help this process happen more smoothly.
Dealing With Extreme Emotions
Another potential answer to the question ‘why do we dream?’ is that it’s a way of processing and dealing with negative emotions. Some of the most extreme emotions are played out in dreams and these can be good or bad. Often, though, the bad dreams are the ones we remember. The most common dreams include falling, being chased, the death of oneself or a loved one, being naked in public, losing teeth, and having sex - often with someone who isn’t your partner.
These kinds of dreams have common themes: fear, embarrassment, loss, and love. These emotions are deeply integral to the human condition but they’re also some of the most overwhelming and hard to deal with. It stands to reason, then, that encountering them in our dreams is a way of helping the brain process these emotions. This allows us to wake up and continue living a normal and happy life.
Of course, many people will experience these emotions in reality and struggle to process them properly. It’s common to live with feelings of grief, jealousy, and fear for long periods of time. Often, though, these periods coincide with an inability to sleep. Work on achieving sound sleep during life’s most difficult moments. It may help your unconscious mind work through the extreme emotions you’re experiencing so you can awaken with a weight lifted off your shoulders.
Why Dreams Are a Sign of Wellness
Dreaming is a normal and healthy part of sleep. They improve cognitive function and seem to be intimately integrated with forming memories, processing reality, and waking up with an increased sense of wellbeing and an ability to focus. There’s no need to worry about dreams, no matter how weird or crazy they seem to be. Dreams aren’t meant to make sense; they’re meant to be weird. Even nightmares are normal and healthy.
Nightmares are completely harmless and 85% of adults experience them every once in a while. The only downside to a nightmare is that it may wake you up, potentially leading to sleep deprivation. If you’re having them regularly, then it may be a sign that the negative emotions your unconscious mind is trying to process aren’t being processed properly. In this case, it may be worth seeing a sleep expert to see if they can help you have more pleasant dreams that don’t interrupt your much-needed sleep.
In general, though, dreams seem to do us a world of good. The exact reason for their existence may not have been proven but most experts agree that they do serve an important purpose. Furthermore, dreams happen during REM sleep, which is the most important stage of sleep when you gain most of the benefits of rest. If you’re not dreaming, then you may not be getting enough REM sleep and, therefore, could be lacking in enough quality sleep.
Improve Your Sleep, Improve Your Dreams
Whatever the benefits we accrue from sleep, it’s clear that by improving your sleep, you can improve your dreams. If you’re only able to achieve a light sleep, then you won’t reach the stage where dreams occur. If you don’t do that, then your brain won’t be able to start processing sensory data, storing memories, and dealing with complex emotions. Caffeine and alcohol can delay REM sleep, meaning that you stay in light sleep for longer and will be less likely to dream. Cut these out close to bedtime.
There are many habits you can form to help you sleep more soundly. Try exercising throughout the day (though not too close to bedtime), meditating to calm anxious thoughts, fasting in the evenings, avoiding screens before bed, and creating a dark, cool, and quiet sleeping environment. Pair these habits with a natural sleep aid like Neubria Drift to help your body produce more melatonin to help it gently slip into a pleasant dream-filled sleep.
We may never know the answer to ‘why do we dream?’. However, it does seem that dreams are important for human wellness. Certainly, they have something to do with processing both reality and complex emotions. Furthermore, healthy dreaming life often means you’re getting enough quality sleep, which is never a bad thing.