The Mystery Behind Dreaming

Atlanta, GA
United States

Dreaming is one of the most intriguing functions that the human brain can perform. The average person has four to six dreams a night which is approximately 2,190 dreams a year. According to an article written by Kendra Cherry from Very Well Mind, “researchers have found that dreams can typically last anywhere between five and twenty minutes, which equates to spending six years over the course of your lifetime dreaming.” Dreams are described as a series of thoughts, images, and sensations that occur within a person’s mind during sleep. These visions can be quite unpredictable, disturbing, frightening, entertaining, and can sometimes foreshadow future events that could take place in your life. Dreams can sometimes be irrational and hard to understand, but that’s what makes them one of the greatest wonders of the mind. Everyone dreams, but have you ever asked yourself why do we dream? Or what’s the purpose behind dreaming?

There are several ideologies and philosophies about why we dream, but there still isn’t a solid explanation that supports these theories. According to an article by WebMD, “Some researchers say dreams have no purpose or meaning and are nonsensical activities of the sleeping brain. Others say that they are necessary for mental, emotional, and physical health.” Scientific research has shown that dreams play an important role in our overall health and well-being. It has even been proven in certain studies that people who weren’t able to dream while entering the REM phase of sleep experienced symptoms such as anxiety, hallucination, and depression as appose to the emotions and/or sensations people felt who had no problems dreaming during their sleep.

Dreams can transpire anytime during your sleep, but the most evocative and graphic dreams are likely to take place during deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  During REM sleep your eyes tend to move rapidly in different directions. During this phase, your brain is the most active, which contributes to the stimulation of your thoughts and emotions forming together to produce dreams.

Other studies have proven that dreams can aid in solving difficult situations within our lives, understanding our emotions, and assimilating our memories. It is believed that dreaming can help you to reveal solutions to problems or answers to situations that could be worrying you. According to an article from How Sleep Works, Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud described dreams as “windows into our unconscious and a manifestation of our deepest desires and anxieties (mostly of sexual nature), and particularly of repressed childhood memories or obsessions.” Freud also believed that through our dreams, our subconscious can reveal our desires and aspirations that our conscious mind has learned to suppress, and “we use our dreams to live out our deepest wishes and desires.”

Freud’s protégé, Carl Jung, agreed with Freud’s theory that peoples dreams were a way of communicating with their unconscious. Jung also viewed dreams as being reparation for incidents in our arising lives and a meditation of the creative unevolved parts of our character and personality, in which we will learn to notice and accept overtime to become complete human beings. 

Although Freud and Jung believed that our dreams play a prominent and mandatory role in our lives, their theories haven’t been proven to be true. One thing that has been proven is that everyone has dreams, but how many of us can remember or recall our dreams? According to Sleep.Org, “most of us forget 95 to 99 percent of our dreams.” Why we are not able to recall most of our dreams remains unknown or unproven, but one theory is that it’s commonly because we don’t concentrate on them while we are sleeping. People who believe dreams are substantial and intriguing are more likely to recall and remember them. This mostly happens because the person is invested in observing their dreams. Another presumption is that our lack of wanting to recall our dreams is somewhat due to the hormone norepinephrine, which is associated with our memory being turned off while we are sleeping. As a result, our brain fails to encode our night visions into memories.

Another theory is that the changes in the brain that occur during sleep do not support information processing and storage needed for memory formation to take place. Brain scan reports of sleeping individuals have even depicted the frontal lobes of the brain—the area that plays an important role in memory formation—are inactive during the REM phase of sleep. As a result of this, “approximately 95 percent of all your dreams are quickly forgotten shortly after waking.” says Cherry from Very Well Mind.

A recent Instagram voting poll asked people, ages 15-67, about their dreams and specifically asked if they remembered and/or recalled their dreams. Forty percent of the voters said that they were not able to remember their dreams. The other sixty-percent said that they were able to recall their dreams more times than not. Interestingly, 28.6% of the voters who were between the ages of 45-67 said that they had no problems with remembering their dreams and that every now and then they might not be able to recall them. After evaluating this survey, it was surprising to find out that the older demographic had no problems with remembering their dreams, compared to the 46.7% of the younger demographic between the ages of 15-25 who had problems recalling theirs. This survey also proved that age isn’t a major factor when it comes to remembering your dreams.

Once the results were in, a few of the voters were asked why do they think we dream the dreams we dream? One voter, Lee Bolden, 47, said “I think dreams give you a conscious and they make you aware of things. They can sometimes be about where you come from, the things that you are currently going through in your life, or what lies ahead in front of you.” Another voter, Elizabeth Cooper, 22, said “I think our subconscious is more sensitive to the spirit realm, so when we dream we really focus on the situation at hand, and when we wake up from the dream we have a clearer understanding of things, whether it be something that we are dealing with in our lives at that time or something that can happen in our lives in the future.”

It was interesting to find out that based on the survey and people’s personal thoughts, that there seemed to be some validity and truth about Freud’s speculative theory. People who paid attention to their dreams and made a conscious effort to remember them seemed to find some emotional attachment and importance to them.

As mentioned before, there are still no concrete facts that state why some people can recall their dreams and some cannot. What people choose to believe about their ability to dream is their personal preference, but one thing that everyone can agree on is that we all have dreams whether we remember them or not.