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Why do we Dream!?

Author: Venice Poon | Image: University of Metaphysical Sciences

Why do we dream?

Could you recall the dreams you have dreamt of? Was the content usual, just about something you have done during the day? Or were they weird and bizarre dreams that you find unrelatable?

Formation of dreams

Many people think our brains are in a dormant state during sleeping, but interestingly, it’s quite the opposite and it remains active, especially in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Electrical impulses in amygdala and hippocampus created an array of random images and storyline (Hobson & McCarley, 2006) and that is what we called dreaming. Although this model explains dreams as a physiological process, dreams are not necessarily meaningless.

Content of dreams

If your dreams are typical incidents you come across daily, I bet you may have dreamt of your friends or family members too. Nearly half of the participants in an empirical study reported people who appeared in their dreams happened to be those they knew in real life (Kahn et al., 2000). Besides, things we perform in our daily lives actually influence the content of our dreams. For example, pregnant women dream more about childbirth (Lara-Carrasco et al., 2013), while musicians dream twice as often about music than non-musicians do (Uga et al., 2006). Technically, dreaming is a cognitive process that combines our memories and knowledge to produce reasonable simulations of reality (Domhoff, 2000).

Purpose of dreaming

You may be wondering why do we have to dream about things that can be experienced in reality every day? In fact, dreaming has adaptive purposes in our lives. In dreams about ourselves, such memories, namely autobiographical memories, will be assimilated and incorporated to develop our understanding of self during sleep (Malinowski & Horton, 2014). Apart from knowing ourselves better, more importantly, dreaming helps us organize new information we came across during the day and integrate them into our memories. It is a process that facilitates the transfer of short-term memory to long-term memory after consolidation in sleep. Dreaming is therefore, particularly crucial when we learn and remember new things. Studies found out that people actually recall new tasks better after a good REM sleep that is full of dreams (Wamsley, 2014).

Isn’t it interesting that even nonsense dreams carry so much significance to us? When dreaming in your good sleep tonight, perhaps you can think about the potential meaning of it and share it with your friends tomorrow!

  1. Domhoff, G. W. (2000). Moving Dream Theory Beyond Freud and Jung. Paper presented to the symposium “Beyond Freud and Jung?”, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA.
  2. Hobson JA, McCarley RW. (2006). The brain as a dream state generator: an activation-synthesis hypothesis of the dream process. Am J Psychiatry. 1977;134(12):1335-48.
  3. Kahn, D., Stickgold, R., Pace‐Schott, E. F., & Hobson, J. A. (2000). Dreaming and waking consciousness: a character recognition study. Journal of Sleep Research, 9(4), 317-325.
  4. Lara-Carrasco, J., Simard, V., Saint-Onge, K., Lamoureux-Tremblay, V., & Nielsen, T. (2013). Maternal representations in the dreams of pregnant women: a prospective comparative study. Frontiers in psychology, 4, 551.
  5. Malinowski, J. E., & Horton, C. L. (2014). Memory sources of dreams: the incorporation of autobiographical rather than episodic experiences. Journal of Sleep Research, 23(4), 441-447.
  6. Uga, V., Lemut, M. C., Zampi, C., Zilli, I., & Salzarulo, P. (2006). Music in dreams. Consciousness and cognition, 15(2), 351-357.
  7. Wamsley, E. J. (2014). Dreaming and offline memory consolidation. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, 14(3), 1-7.