Why do we dream?


The human brain is a mysterious little ball of gray matter. After 

all these years, researchers are still baffled by many aspects of 

how and why it operates like it does. Scientists have been 

performing sleep and dream studies for decades now, and we still 

aren't 100 percent sure about the function of sleep, or exactly 

how and why we dream. We do know that our dream cycle is 

typically most abundant and best remembered during the REM 

stage of sleep. It's also pretty commonly accepted among the 

scientific community that we all dream, though the frequency in 

which dreams are remembered varies from person to person.


The question of whether dreams actually have a physiological, 

biological or psychological function has yet to be answered. But 

that hasn't stopped scientists from researching and speculating. 

There are several theories as to why we dream. One is that 

dreams work hand in hand with sleep to help the brain sort 

through everything it collects during the waking hours. Your 

brain is met with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of inputs 

each day. Some are minor sensory details like the color of a 

passing car, while others are far more complex, like the big 

presentation you're putting together for your job. During sleep, 

the brain works to plow through all of this information to decide 

what to hang on to and what to forget. Some researchers feel like 

dreams play a role in this process.


It's not just a stab in the dark though -- there is some research to 

back up the ideas that dreams are tied to how we form memories. 

Studies indicate that as we're learning new things in our waking 

hours, dreams increase while we sleep. Participants in a dream 

study who were taking a language course showed more dream 

activity than those who were not. In light of such studies, the 

idea that we use our dreams to sort through and convert short-

term memories into long-term memories has gained some 

momentum in recent years.

Another theory is that dreams typically reflect our emotions. 

During the day, our brains are working hard to make 

connections to achieve certain functions. When posed with a 

tough math problem, your brain is incredibly focused on that one 

thing. And the brain doesn't only serve mental functions. If 

you're building a bench, your brain is focused on making the 

right connections to allow your hands to work in concert with a 

saw and some wood to make an exact cut. The same goes for 

simple tasks like hitting a nail with a hammer. Have you ever lost 

focus and smashed your finger because your mind was 

elsewhere?


Some have proposed that at night everything slows down. We 

aren't required to focus on anything during sleep, so our brains 

make very loose connections. It's during sleep that the emotions 

of the day battle it out in our dream cycle. If something is 

weighing heavily on your mind during the day, chances are you 

might dream about it either specifically, or through obvious 

imagery. For instance, if you're worried about losing your job to 

company downsizing, you may dream you're a shrunken person 

living in a world of giants, or you're wandering aimlessly 

through a great desert abyss.


There's also a theory, definitely the least intriguing of the bunch, 

that dreams don't really serve any function at all, that they're 

just a pointless byproduct of the brain firing while we slumber. 

We know that the rear portion of our brain gets pretty active 

during REM sleep, when most dreaming occurs. Some think that 

it's just the brain winding down for the night and that dreams are 

random and meaningless firings of the brain that we don't have 

when we're awake. The truth is, as long as the brain remains 

such a mystery, we probably won't be able to pinpoint with 

absolute certainty exactly why we dream.


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