Why do we dream?


Dreams are one of life’s great mysteries, captivating us with their vivid imagery, emotional intensity, and at times, utter randomness but why do we dream? Have you ever wondered why your mind embarks on these adventures while you’re fast asleep? This article looks at the many theories, backed up by science, on dreams and how they influence our waking lives, and looks at the significance behind them.

When we sleep dreams can occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep when certain parts of the brain produce electrical impulses, leading to random thoughts and images.

While the exact reason for dreaming remains unknown to scientists, there are several theories that provide possible explanations. These theories propose that dreaming helps us process emotions, enhance long-term memory, express wishes and desires, and boost creativity.

So what are dreams?

Dreams are a series of thoughts, images, and sensations that occur in your mind during sleep, as defined by Oxford Languages.

Basically, they are the hallucinations and images created by our brains while we sleep. Dreams are unique in that our sleeping brains process time, reality, and memories differently than our waking brains.

The most realistic and vivid dreams are experienced during REM sleep, which occurs when we sleep lightly. REM sleep cycles every 90 minutes to 2 hours. However, it is also possible to dream during NREM sleep and these dreams are often more understandable. Scientists believe this is because the brain is more connected to thoughts and feelings during this stage.

Dreams typically last around 20 minutes, although often feel much longer. We can only dream during specific stages of the sleep cycle, totalling up to two hours each night. Many theories suggest that electrical impulses in the brain during REM sleep trigger dreams, and their purposes vary from helping with long-term memory to acting as a response to our fight or flight instincts.

Dreams can also serve as practice for potential dangers and assist in resetting and cleansing the brain at the end of a day, making room for new thoughts upon waking up.

Dreams can be influenced by your sleeping environment, and may be your brain’s response to external factors like noises and changes in light. Neurologist Sigmund Freud believed dreams express our deepest desires, which are often hidden when we are awake. Processing emotions, improving creativity, and keeping the brain active are other possible functions of dreams.

There are some scientists who believe dreams are solely by-products of the sleeping human brain, and don’t have any deeper significance.

Additionally, certain aspects of one’s life can have an impact on dreams, such as the amount of dreaming, the types of dreams, and the duration of each stage in the sleep cycle.

Health and dreams

Factors like health conditions and medical issues are understood to influence dreams.

For example, after experiencing sleep deprivation, the occurrence of REM sleep tends to increase, leading to more vivid and lengthy dreams. Pregnancy, on the other hand, activates hormones that can trigger higher instances of REM sleep, resulting in dreams with a fantastical quality. Mental disorders like PTSD, anxiety, and depression may also affect dreams, potentially linking them to subconscious emotions or memories associated with past trauma or stress.

These examples demonstrate the profound influence that both mental and physical wellbeing can have on the dream experience.

Food and dreams

Although it might just be an old wives’ tale, many people think that eating cheese before bed could give you bad dreams. While there isn’t any solid evidence to prove this, some believe that eating certain types of food before bedtime might actually impact your dreams.

While there is no concrete evidence, consuming foods like carbohydrates right before you sleep could potentially affect your body while you rest. Many people can relate to feeling extremely tired after eating carbohydrates or experiencing a sugar crash. These effects can make you feel lethargic and have difficulty concentrating.

Exercise and dreams

Doing more exercise can be beneficial if you want to reduce the frequency of your dreams. Here’s why:

  • Exercise helps relieve stress, which can help you fall asleep quicker by reducing worries that keep you awake.
  • Regular exercise promotes deeper sleep by allowing your body to recover and relax. This leads to more time spent in deep sleep and less time in light sleep. Since REM sleep is the lightest stage of the sleep cycle, exerting your body more through exercise can help you stay in deep sleep for a longer period.

Following a good routine leading up to bedtime contributes to getting a good night’s rest. But having a good quality mattress that supports your body correctly drastically improves the length and quality of that time in bed.

At BodyMould we have spent over 12 years perfecting our range of mattresses and toppers as we believe everyone should enjoy a wonderful night’s sleep. If you want help and advice on getting the best mattress or topper for your sleep needs let our team of mattress expert’s help you transform your sleep with the perfect memory foam mattress or memory foam topper. Contact us online or call us on 01293 871744.

Photo by Ron Lach

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