Some might think dreaming doesn’t accomplish anything as we still need to go out and physically accomplish things. However, we need to dream, not only day dream to remain hopeful and motivated, but also night dream as it is fundamental for healthy sleep and brain function. Yes, dreaming, both the wishes and desires you have for your regular life and the unworldly dreams you have at night.
Dreaming takes up quite a bit of our sleep, 2 hours to be exact! Imagine spending 2 hours of your day dreaming. It might not be the most productive thing no matter how much time it consumes during mundane days but during sleep, we need every bit of those 120 minutes.
Scientific research into the benefits of sleep and dreaming is fresh, but researchers are finding significant links between dreaming and quality sleep and brain health. The exploration of the science of dreaming dates back to Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, believed dreams were a person’s subconscious wishes and desires which reflected symbolic meanings.
Modern research has found dreams serve multiple purposes. We dream to remember. Most of our dreams come during REM sleep which occurs 180 minutes after we fall asleep. This is when we have our most vivid dreams like going on that dream holiday, getting that new job promotion, or completing that marathon you’ve been training for months. REM sleep and dreaming are interlinked and both are imperative for a healthy brain as it acts as a storage for your memories. The Continual Activation Theory, developed in 2004, found our brains dream to create and consolidate long-term memories for our brains to function properly. You probably remember the most random things because your memory is strengthened because of dreaming!
Dreams are therapeutic. Feeling anxious and stressed? It might be because you are not dreaming. Studies have found REM sleep improves neural activity after being exposed to fear or trauma. REM sleep has shown to serve as a protective function against enhanced fear encoding through the modulation of connectivity between the hippocampus, amygdala, and the ventromedial PFC.
Early studies show that REM sleep had a positive impact on individuals suffering from PTSD. Dreams offer an escape from reality much like gaming, going out, or exercising. It’s an activity that allows the mind to wander to a place where life can be more positive and peaceful. Matthew Walker, a world-renowned British neuroscientist and sleep researcher, found our brains are completely devoid of noradrenaline, an anxiety triggering molecule, during REM sleep. Concurrently, REM sleep reactivates emotional and mental structures when we dream, allowing us to reprocess previously painful memories in a safer environment. Dreams are free therapy as long as you are getting the right sleep!
Dreaming allows for greater creative expression and the development of problem-solving skills that can be applied in real-world situations. REM sleep boosts our brain creativity and helps stitch information together that equips complex analytical and investigative abilities. Walker’s research found participants who slept longer or napped compared to individuals who remained awake displayed greater creative skills to complete puzzles and word maze exercises. Dreaming sharpens the mind and enables us to become better thinkers, problem-solvers, and more innovative individuals. If you feel your brain is unable to produce unique approaches to tackle situations, you are not sleeping and dreaming enough.
So dreaming seems pretty important now. We are discovering the power of visualizing unconscious images and dialogue that we might have initially discarded as irrelevant. Dreaming is needed because our brains are dependent on sleep to repair, restore, and recover our cognitive abilities. When we deprive ourselves of dreaming, we consequently deprive ourselves of sleep. How great would it be to feel happier, more creative, your mind is less cluttered and you can remember more things. Well you can easily achieve all of that through dreaming. Make sure to invest in your bedtime dreams as much as you do in your life dreams. So sleep more and get that much-required REM sleep!
Written by Tariq Ahmed
University of College London | 2019
MSc Global Health & Development