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Why Do We Dream?

A lot of ideas and issues regarding dreams are still to be explained. However, one thing seems certain, and it has something to do with a phenomenon called REM sleep.

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We all know how getting a good night's sleep is crucial for a healthy lifestyle. When you go to bed at night, you are allowing your body to rest and regenerate, and you are creating a peaceful environment where your mind can calm down.

But, what about dreams? Do dreams serve a specific purpose, or are they just bizarre occurrences that create their own rules in the middle of the night?

REM Sleep

A lot of ideas and issues regarding dreams are still to be discovered and explained. However, one thing seems certain, and it has something to do with a phenomenon called REM sleep. REM is short for Rapid Eye Movement. 

In Chicago, while he was still a student of physiology, Eugene Aserinsky joined a professor of the University of Chicago, Nathaniel Kleitman, in conducting a series of experiments on sleep. It was 1953 when they discovered how REM happens in intervals during the period of our sleep. When we enter the REM stage of sleeping, our voluntary muscles tend to paralyze. As a consequence, dreams are most likely to occur during the REM phase. 

This is known as REM atonia, a case where the neurons that are involved in moving do not receive any impulse. Because of this, our bodies can mostly remain calm when we dream, with our limbs not following the actions that happen inside the dream. This is linked with another phenomenon known as sleep paralysis, a situation where the muscle paralysis continues even when we wake up, which can be a frightening problem. 

When we enter the REM stage of sleeping, our voluntary muscles tend to paralyze.
When we enter the REM stage of sleeping, our voluntary muscles tend to paralyze.

Before Aserinsky and Kleitman, the common belief among the science community was that the brain remains inactive during sleep. Proving this hypothesis wrong, the two scientists from Chicago set the ground for establishing a science-based approach when it comes to explaining processes that happen during sleep. 

A Psychoanalytic Approach

For Sigmund Freud, arguably the most important psychoanalyst who offered his thoughts on dreams, it is our unconsciousness that shapes and creates our dreams. With Freud, it is all about repression. Our desires, mostly sexual, can hardly find their place in the world when we are all awake. From this psychoanalytic perspective, the very structure of our dreams, and content behind it, is linked with our unconscious mind, and dreams serve as a place where our thoughts and desires can become real. 

Taking Freud's theory into account, we can say how not all wishes and desires can come true, hence the need for repression and dreaming. But, what happens if something else, something that is not solely driven by sexual desire, enters our dreams? Bad things happen to people all the time, and often that can make its way into the world of dreams.

Nightmares and different types of sleep disorders are associated with people who have post-traumatic stress disorder. Basically, any trauma that happens to a person can cause distress in our unconscious mind and create problems when we sleep. 

Recent theories in the field of neurobiology, psychology, and psychiatry suggest how dreams can serve several different purposes. First of all, they are essential when it comes to memory processing and help us in the process of learning. Also, dreams are described as tools that our brain uses to prepare us for future challenges and threats that happen in everyday life. Finally, dreams are considered a place where the past, present, and future can unite into creating coherency for our conscious mind.

When was a phenomenon known as Rapid Eye Movement discovered?

A phenomenon known as Rapid Eye Movement was discovered in 1953, technically rendering all previous theories about brain inactivity during sleep useless.

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