Why You Dream and What Those Dreams Could Mean

Sleep, something I never seem to get enough of but always want more of. If you have ever woken up slightly drowsy and utterly confused, you can thank your dreams or lack thereof. In order to clearly understand the convoluted nature of dreams, it’s helpful to first consider the four stages of sleep. Sleep is the natural altered state of consciousness you enter intermittently to help bolster mental agility and essentially ‘bounce back’ from the day. The first cycle is one you may be familiar with. NREM-1 occurs following the secretion of your body’s built-in sleepy time pill: melatonin. If you have ever felt the strange sensation of falling or sudden jolts, your body was in the transition of NREM-1 into NREM-2. The second phase (NREM-2) indicates you are now experiencing light sleep and can still be woken up. As you may have guessed, the next stage NREM-3 is where moderate to deep sleep occurs. In the course of these first three non-rem phases, dreams are typically short-lived and easily forgotten upon awakening. However, the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) cycle is when your dreams become most vivid and because you are still partially conscious, they are more easily remembered. Just as any other cycle, your REM cycle repeats itself about every hour or so. Because the brain residing in your skull right now is an information-processing machine constantly renovating, one answer as to why you dream is memory consolidation. Every 30-45 seconds your sensory memory essentially expires and if information fails to be encoded into your short-term memory within that short window it no longer holds your conscious attention. This is why some theories suggest that dreams are necessary to transfer sensory information into short-term storage to later be relocated into long-term memory. Remember when I mentioned that your brain is constantly renovating? Think of your dreams as mini episodes of fixer-upper. While alternating in and out of REM cycles, your brain is sorting through approximately 10,000 neural networks, digesting a days-worth of thoughts and feelings, and processing some of your more intense emotions. Just as you clean out your closet and get rid of old stuff to make room for what’s new, your very own encephalon does that each night while you snooze. Another popular theory endeavoring to answer why we dream is to trial run your handy-dandy fight or flight response. Those dreams where you’re frantically running from a bear or even those where you’re approaching your crush are all examples of this notion. In essence, your brain is taking your fight or flight response for a test drive in your dreams to practice for when you are awake. Because dream interpretation is often extremely ambiguous and subjective, it’s difficult to explain the meaning of dreams. Apart from revealing your subconscious’ deepest yearnings, your dreams may be indicative of past trauma specifically in childhood or adolescence. Dreams provide the perfect opportunity for psychological healing because ultimately what you suppress during your waking hours, will come to surface during your sleeping hours. Some research even suggests that sleep deprivation and the absence of dreams are closely related to mild psychological disorders. While some dreams are more translucent than others, and most are already forgotten upon awakening, a lot of the dreams you have may hold no meaning at all. Just as your brain is uniquely yours, you are the only one who can dream your dreams.