Introduction Have you ever wondered how your dreams work? You probably have them several nights, but you never think about what actually triggers them. The scientific study of dreams is called oneirology- so lets dive a little deeper into it.
Stages Of Sleep
To understand how dreams work, we first need to look into the four stages of sleep. The first stage of sleep is a short, light sleep with some slow eye movements. This stage consists of NREM sleep, or non-rapid eye movement sleep.
In our next stage, our muscles become more relaxed. Our brain experiences sudden rhythmic wave activity and high amplitude waves. This also consists of NREM sleep. The third stage of sleep is the slow wave sleep, which is NREM’s deepest stage. It’s hard to wake up the sleeping person during this stage, because our brain becomes less responsive to external stimuli. The final stage is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is generated by the brainstem. Our heart rate and breathing quickens, and our blood pressures rises.
How Do Dreams Work?
Now that we have talked about the stages of sleep, let’s dive into how dreams actually work. The strongest point of a dream is during the REM stage, although it can happen during any stage. They happen because your brain is still active while you are asleep (the cortical parts), but doesn’t make a lot of sense. On the other hand, we are more logical when awake. The The lower portions stop messages from getting into our body that would cause us to move around, so the rest of our body isn't active during our sleep. Dreams are caused by the stimulation of the limbic system, or the emotional motor system. The dreams occur in our temporal lobe, which is responsible for creating and preserving conscious and long - term memory.
Why & When Do We Dream?
We know how dreams work, but we still don’t understand the purpose of them. Once again, there can be several purposes. They could happen in order to build memory, process emotion, to replay recent events in our life, and much more. Many scientists say that dreams tie back to experiences from when we were awake, although they will be misrepresented and distorted. Still, there are several theories for why dreams happen. One theory from Francis Crick proposes that the reason we dream is to forget. He says we replay events from when we were awake to strengthen legitimate memories by erasing the random associations. Another theory by Sigmund Freud suggests that we dream to represent unconscious wishes, desires, thoughts, and motivations. Furthermore, there is a theory by Allan Hobson and Robert McCarly states that dreams happen because of random electrical brain impulses that trigger the amygdala and hippocampus, and take traces of experience stored in our memories. This could result in a compilation of random memories, images, or thoughts, which suggests that dreams may not mean anything at all. With these theories and many more, you may ask which one is actually correct, Well, we aren't quite sure yet, although the function probably doesn't affect us much in the end. Now, how long do we actually dream? Well, on average, people dream for 2 hours a night. As for the length of a single dream, it can vary. Some may last a few seconds, or maybe about 20-30 minutes. If the person is awaken during the REM phase, they can most likely remember the dream.
Scientists will continue to study dreams, and soon, with enough knowledge, we’ll figure out the limitless possibilities of them.