Recently I learned about different states of consciousness in my psychology class and I got the opportunity to learn about the different theories of why we dream. Personally I find dreaming fascinating. It is as if you have free cable right in your head, only that you are one of the characters of the movie. It is so profound and captivating! Believe it or not but even if you don’t remember you dreams, you dream every night. So let’s take a look at several theories of why we dream.
1 To Fulfill Our Wishes
One of the most popular psychologists, Sigmund Freud came up with the concepts of manifest and latent content. He called the storyline of every dream a manifest content but stated that every manifest content has a latent content, or a hidden meaning behind all of the symbols. He believed that our dreams are symbols of our real wishes and desires. The latent content of our dreams is suppressed into our unconscious mind because it is too hard to cope with. This is one of the most popular theories of why we dream.
2 Process the Day’s Occurrences
Another popular school of thought believes that dreams are a way for us to process the day’s occurrences. This theory is called the information processing theory and it states that in order to fix the day's experiences into our memory, we need sleep! Researchers have conducted several experiments and found that those who were awakened during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep remembered less in the morning. This shows that people retain information better after they dream.
3 Brain’s Neural Impulses
This theory of why we dream is a little bit less profound, but interesting nonetheless. Many experts believe that the source of our dreams comes from our brain trying to make sense of all of the neural impulses. This theory is called the activation-synthesis theory. Since the brain experiences many bursts of activity during REM sleep, or the period of sleep when we dream, the brain tries to interpret its own activity, thereby causing us to dream.
4 Stimulate the Brain
Dreams may also serve a physiological function for the brain. Many believe that the brain activity during REM sleep provides the brain with periodic stimulation. Stimulating the brain builds on neural pathways and preserves them. This theory makes sense because infants whose neural networks are fast developing spend a great deal of time in REM sleep.
5 Evolutionary Development to ‘play Dead’
Based on previous studies, findings have revealed numerous similarities between animals who play dead and people who dream. When you dream your body goes into temporary paralysis, which is the same thing that happens when animals try to fool their predators. Therefore our tendency to dream may be something we have retained from our ancestors. It is something that evolved but still remained with us in a different form.
6 Processing Emotions into Symbols
While some believe that dreaming is an evolutionary development, others believe that it has more of a therapeutic function. Dreams can help us deal with emotions as we run through them in our head and place them in a psychological context. However throughout the process, our emotions are turned into dreams through symbolism!
7 Simulate Threatening Events
This theory of dreaming goes well with the evolutionary development because it explains dreaming as a way for us to prepare for threatening events. For example Antti Revonusuo who is a neuroscientist and a philosopher, believes that the biological function of dreaming is to rehearse threat perception so that we are prepared for it in real life. Nightmares and regular dreams help us by putting us through simulations, resulting in a higher rate of survival.
Although we don’t know the exact reason why we dream, we do know that it is something that is mandatory for our bodies. Dreaming helps us develop, recuperate and re-energize! So why do you think we dream every night?
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