HOW DREAMS WORK
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How do dreams work?
Dreams are a great source of conversation among people.
Whether you’re just trying to decipher them, or just having a good laugh at the
really crazy scenario your brain came up with while you were sleeping, dreams
can be very interesting. But other than just laughing dreams off, do they really
serve a purpose?
Psychologists have been trying to figure this out
ever since the time of Freud. And it’s still a matter that’s largely up for
debate among many experts in the field. Some think that dreams are simply random
impulses and signals that the brain sends out while we’re sleeping. Some other
experts think that dreams actually do serve a purpose and that they might even
be able to help us solve problems in our own lives. And people from the earliest
civilizations even thought that dreams were actually another world, where things
actually happened and took place. This other world was thought to only be
accessible while we were sleeping and in a dream state. Today of course, we know
that that’s not true. But what else do we know about dreams? Why do we dream?
And do they actually serve a purpose?
What Psychologists Say About Dreams
For every psychologist, there’s a different theory on how
dreams work and why we have them in the first place. But every theory still
falls into one of two categories. The first category is in line with the thought
that dreams are simply physiological stimulations of our brain and therefore are
random and don’t have any real meaning. The second category holds the belief
that dreams are psychologically necessary and that we actually need to have them
in order to function in our everyday lives. Many experts believe that while we
dream, our brain gets an exercise in using some of the neural connections in our
brain. This is thought to help increase things such as the ability to learn new
things, and focus. Still other researchers think that our dreams are a way of
our subconscious to deal with the problems of everyday life, and try to figure
out solutions for things that are causing us a great deal of stress. Some
experts even think that dreams are a sort of prophecy to us, and that they
suggest things that will come. Many of the major dream theories use a
combination of these theories to decipher why we dream, and just what exactly we
can do with those dreams. We’ll take a closer look at these major dream theories
to see what experts and researchers had to say about dreams and how they work.
When you start to talk about any of the major
psychologists, the first name you might think of is Sigmund Freud. Freud spent
much of his time researching and talking about dreams. However, because he lived
in the Victorian era, which was known to be sexually repressed, most of his
thoughts on dreams came back to sexual acts, as did most of his thoughts on much
of his work. That being said, Freud’s thoughts on dreams were actually quite
simple. He believed that dreams were a way for people to express their sexual
desires. Objects and items within the dreams were symbolic of these sexual
thoughts according to Freud.
Carl Jung is another one of the major psychologists
that had many theories about dreams. Freud was actually Jung’s mentor but, Jung
began to have very different ideas of his own. After finding that he disagreed
with his mentor on many different theories, Carl Jung branched out on his own
and started to conduct his own studies and compile his own theories. One of
these theories was on dreams. Carl Jung didn’t believe that people’s dreams were
a reflection of their sexual desires and repressed needs. He believed that while
we dream, it’s a chance to reflect on our wakeful selves, and that dreams were a
way for us to think out our issues and solve problems.
But people didn’t only study and try to understand
dreams in the times of Freud and Jung. As recent as 1973 there were two
researchers named Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley. These researchers didn’t
follow any of the conventional theories of how dreams work. Instead, they
concluded that dreams are random impulses and signals that are bounced around in
the brain while we sleep. The key to dreams, according to Hobson and McCarley,
is that they are random and therefore, they have no meaning. This theory also
says that the images we see in dreams are simply taken from our stored memory.
And because they are random, they don’t make any sense. When we awake, according
to this theory, our conscious selves piece the dreams together little by little,
and create a storyline to fit in with the random images and objects that were in
our dream. Even though our brains are essentially creating these nighttime tales
on their own while we are awake, we don’t even realize it. This theory simply
states that, because dreams don’t make sense, our wakeful selves force them to
make sense by filling in the blanks. This theory, even though it goes completely
against what the other theories suggest, is widely accepted and is known as the
There’s no doubt that our brains and our minds have something to do with our
dreams. But just what exactly happens in our brains while we sleep?
The Stages of Sleep
While we sleep, our brains go through five different
stages. The first is light sleep. During this phase while we’re just falling
asleep, our muscles will begin to slow down and our body might have experience
light twitching in some areas such as the arm or the leg. Stage 2 is still
considered to be light sleep but it is during this phase that the body
temperature will drop slightly, and our breathing and our heart rate will slow
down. In Stage 3, deep sleep begins and the brain will begin to develop delta
waves. These are the slowest brainwaves that the brain has. In Stage 4 of sleep,
delta waves are produced in a greater amount. The breathing becomes more
rhythmic and muscles have very limited activity. This is a stage of very deep
sleep. These four phases of sleep are just as important to our nighttime rest
and dreams as the fifth stage of sleep. However, unlike the fifth stage, these
stages are considered non-REM sleep. The fifth stage is the only stage that REM
sleep takes place, and it’s in this stage that most of our dreaming takes place.
Not only is REM sleep when most of our dreaming
takes place, it’s also when our brain is most active while we’re sleeping. This
phase begins with the brain sending out alpha waves instead of delta waves.
Alpha waves allow the brain to become as active as it is while we are awake.
Because of this, the heart rate once again starts to quicken as will our
breathing, blood pressure will rise, and the body temperature is not as regular
as it normally is. However, the rest of the body falls into a sort of temporary
paralysis. This is because the brain releases glycine, which is an amino acid,
into the spinal cord. The reason for this paralysis is thought to be so that we
cannot act out our dreams while we are still asleep. Throughout the night, it’s
possible to go through each of these five phases several times. However, each
subsequent cycle, will include more REM sleep and less non-REM sleep.
There have been many theories on what should happen
if a person doesn’t get enough REM sleep during the night. Most of them have
been disproved but it is thought that REM sleep is what gives us the focus to
learn and acquire new skills. These skills are thought to be more of the
physical type than the intellectual kind. This could explain why babies and
toddlers sleep so much and why they are so easily able to pick up new skills.
Remembering our Dreams
Many people desperately want to remember a dream,
even if it’s just to find out how it ends. And there’s no doubt that you’ve
experienced this at some point in your life! We all know that remembering our
dreams is difficult. But we don’t always know why that is.
Freud continued on with his theory on sexual
repression when it came to remembering our dreams. His theory simply stated that
our dreams were made up of things that we shouldn’t want or think about anyway.
So we shouldn’t want to remember them and therefore, we don’t. L. Strumpell was
a researcher that was around during the same time as Freud. The first reason he
gave for us not remembering our dreams was because it’s hard to remember
anything when we first wake up. He also concluded that because the images in our
dreams aren’t very intense, this makes it more difficult for us to remember
them. But Strumpell’s strongest argument was that because dreams are so vague
and fuzzy to begin with, this naturally makes it harder for us to remember them.
There have been theories on how we can help ourselves remember our dreams for
almost as long as dreams have been around. Simple things such as telling
ourselves to remember our dreams is said to help. And, if you don’t mind waking
at different periods throughout the night, you can set your alarm to go off
every hour and a half. This will make sure that you wake up closely after REM
sleep has finished. This is when our dreams are the most recent and when they
will be the most clear in our minds. Placing a pad of paper and a pencil by your
bed is also handy. This allows you to write down any parts of a dream that you
remember as soon as you wake up. And when waking, it’s best to do it slowly.
This will help to remember any dreams that you had, and will help keep you in
the ‘mood’ of your dream.