We spend about a third of our lives asleep and even if we don't always remember it - we dream every night. In sleep research, there are several theories about what exactly happens during dreaming and what we go through vivid images and scenarios for night after night. So why we dream and what happens in the brain during it, you can find out here.
Table of Contents
- What does "dreaming" mean?
- When do we dream?
- What happens in the brain when we dream?
- Why do we dream?
What does "dreaming" mean?
Our brain never sleeps. While awake, our consciousness is continuously active and even during sleep, our body and brain do not come to rest completely. While important repair and recovery processes prepare our body for the next day, important processing takes place in the brain.
Dreaming is defined as the subjective experience during sleep and accompanies us for about a quarter of the time we spend asleep. Even though we often do not remember it after waking up, it has been scientifically proven that almost all people dream. We then experience situations that, for example, address events of the previous day, deal with conflicts and problems, or revive connections and relationships with people we know. However, the place, time or plot are often bizarre and surreal - we all know this. So what are these subjective experiences at night for and what happens in our brain when we dream?
When do we dream?
During sleep, many regenerative processes take place in the body. Every night we go through several sleep cycles, which are divided into different sleep phases. The falling asleep and light sleep phases are followed by deep sleep, which then transitions into what is known as REM sleep.
REM sleepREM stands for "Rapid Eye Movement" because during these periods of sleep, we move our eyes back and forth rapidly under our closed eyelids. At the same time, blood flow to the brain increases, blood pressure rises, and our heart rate and breathing also become more irregular. What else happens during sleep?
During deep sleep, metabolism is running at full speed, growth hormones are produced, cells are repaired and renewed. In the REM phase, these physical regeneration processes pause and the brain begins to process information and impressions from the day. In short: memory is formed. Today we know that dreams take place in all sleep phases, but are experienced particularly intensively in REM sleep. So those who wake up in the morning from this sleep phase are more likely to remember what they dreamed.
Did you know that? Women tend to remember dreams more often than men.
What happens in the brain when we dream?
To prevent us from moving and hurting ourselves during vivid dreaming, the brainstem blocks the transmission of commands to our muscles. This state of inability to move is also called sleep paralysis. In order to create accurate dream images, the entire brain is then engaged. Particularly during the REM phases, scientists have been able to identify two special brain activities: While the areas responsible for processing emotions (the so-called limbic system) were even more active than in the waking state, the brain regions responsible for planning thinking (e.g. the prefrontal cortex) recorded less activity than in the waking state.
A good example of these observations is, on the one hand, the lasting effect of awakening from a fearful or nightmare, because we often experience the emotions aroused in the dream far beyond the actual dream experience. For another, diminished strategic brain power is reflected in our often lack of adherence to physical laws - for example, when we breathe with ease underwater or fly.
Why do we dream?
For what reasons does our brain create these dream experiences in sleep in the first place? There are various theories about the meaning of dreaming. It is widely assumed that our brain processes new information by comparing it with old information, mixing it up and storing it. It is also assumed that we reflect on certain situations in dreams and that the mixture of old and new experiences serves to solve problems. Thus, working through issues that are bothering us and reliving different possibilities could help us resolve real-life conflicts.
Some scientists also assume that we dream in order to learn the right way to deal with fearful and dangerous situations. This then has a quite natural background - because who learns the right behaviour in dangerous moments and can consolidate this knowledge in dreams, avoids dangers.
Dreams accompany us every night, even if we wake up in the morning without a memory of them. Why the brain plays out vivid stories or unusual scenarios while we sleep, and why we repeatedly relive both good and bad moments at night, cannot yet be fully explained. What is certain, however, is how important dreams are to our physical and mental health, and also that they accompany us night after night as we sleep.
Dreams are subjective experiences during sleep. We all dream every night - even if we don't remember it.
Although we dream in every stage of sleep, dreams are particularly intense during REM sleep.
While we are dreaming, the entire brain is active. Compared to waking, the areas of the brain responsible for emotions are more active in REM sleep, and the areas of the brain responsible for planning are less active.
Why we dream has not been fully established. Possible reasons include processing information, improving conflict management or solving mental problems.
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