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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Nottingham chapter.

This week, Georgia tackles a more philosophical topic, debating the reason behind our dreams, outlining the possible reasons for why we have subconscious thoughts.

Although we can’t know for certain, scientists are pretty sure that all people, and many animals too, dream. In fact, we roughly have 3-6 dreams in one night. However, I certainly don’t wake up everyday with the memory of five different dreams. This is because the majority of our dreams we forget.

Dreams occur during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which occurs around ninety minutes after you fall asleep and is characterised by increased brain activity and continuous eye movement. During this phase, certain parts of the brain become dormant like the prefrontal cortext which controls rational thought whilst others become more active like the amygdala which controls emotion. Often people are able to remember their dreams when they have been woken up during the REM phase of sleep.

While we know all this due to scientific research into dreams, also known as oneirology, there is plenty we still don’t know. One area of particular debate is over why exactly we dream. While some believe they have no real purpose, others pose that they serve important functions and reveal much about us as people.

It is impossible to discuss dream theory without mentioning Sigmund Freud. Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams” famously argues that dreams reflect the unconscious mind, revealing repressed conflicts or wishes. He particularly connected these wishes to impulses from our childhood as well as our sexual urges. Freud’s theories are contentious, particularly his wider psychoanalytical ideas like that women experience ‘penis envy’, but he still remains an important, if not the founding figure, for the study of dreams.

Research building on the ideas of Freud saw the development of the ‘Continuity Hypothesis’, whereby dreams are thought to be meaningful in that they reflect both a person’s conscious and unconscious experiences. This sees dreams as key in emotional regulation, allowing for time to reflect and process.

The ‘Threat Simulation Theory’, however argues that while dreams still have an essential function, it is one of preparation rather than processing.

It poses that dreams are a kind of defence mechanism our brain uses to place us in certain situations which then prepares us for a real life scenario.

Research around this theory suggests that people who experience more stress, fear or anxiety in their daily lives will dream more in order to play out such threats.

Other research, however, sees dreams as a random by-product of certain functions.  The ‘Activation-Synthesis Model’ of dreaming argues that due to high brain activity during REM sleep, the amygdala and hippocampus create a multitude of electrical impulses which consequently result in a collection of random thoughts, images etc. being pulled together. When we wake up, our minds may then attempt to make sense of these images through organising them into some kind of narrative. Similarly, the ‘Information-Processing Theory’ presents dreams as a by-product of the consolidation of memory and data that happens in our brain during sleep.

Ultimately no one knows exactly why we dream and what they mean, and we might never know.

But I think this is exactly why they are so interesting. Dreams in their nature are so fantastical, and us knowing so little about them only adds to this.

The fact that new theories are continuously being researched and developed suggests that it too will remain an ongoing intrigue for scientists.

Georgia Fenton

Nottingham '23

Blogger for Her Campus Nottingham. 3rd Year History & Politics Student.