Dreaming is one of the most mystical and mysterious of all human experiences. So, what exactly happens in the brain when we dream? Do these psychological processes also have an impact on the body? Our dreams can seem vague – we may even promptly forget what we dreamed about as soon as we open our eyes, or sometimes quite lucid, memorable right down to the fine sensory details.
Perhaps the surest sign that our dreams and conscious experiences are connected by the same neural networks is that our dreams are just as vibrant in detail. Dreams – full of bright colors, distinct scenes and settings, and specific dialogue – closely mirror the five senses we depend on while awake.1 What’s more, the same parts of the brain that are activated when we are faced with a tumultuous event while awake are also activated when we encounter such experiences in our dreams.2
The Development Of Dreams
Newborns have very limited cognitive capacity to perceive their surroundings and react accordingly. As they grow up, their ability to see, sense, and remember quickly evolves. Studies done on dreaming patterns in children have shown that the vividness of a child’s dreams is directly related to their stage of development.3
In adults, the vividness of a dream will depend on the stage of sleep. In one study, people woken up from sleep in its very early stages reported that they could remember few, if any, details about the dream, while those in a deeper sleep (called REM) could remember rich, specific details of their dreams.4 This points to how brain activity can vastly differ throughout a full night’s sleep.
What Happens In The Brain When We Dream?
Several theories have been proposed
One thing we are all familiar with is the emotional response we have to dreams. When dreaming, our experiences of fear and anxiety are far more heightened than in our waking lives. During REM sleep, areas of the brain that are linked to emotional responses, such as the amygdala, are found to be highly stimulated. This points to the theory that dreams help our body respond appropriately to stresses in the real world.6
When Dreams Become Nightmares
We’ve all had a
So, why do we have unpleasant dreams and terrible nightmares? While researchers are still finding this to be an elusive question, many do believe that nightmares are often a reflection of the stressful situations we face when awake
Sometimes even scarier than a nightmare is sleep paralysis. This is when a person experiences complete loss of bodily control during sleep. It can occur when a person moves into deep, REM sleep within 15 minutes of falling asleep. Called Sleep Onset REM or SOREM, this condition can be found in people who experience daytime sleepiness and fatigue. The person who is dreaming suddenly becomes aware of their surroundings without being able to move a muscle in their body. This sudden shift from the dream world to the real one, accompanied by temporary
The Science Of Lucid Dreaming
Many sleep researchers believe dreams play an evolutionary role, helping humans to think outside the box and adapt. This is where lucid dreaming, the ability to control what direction our dreams take, can be quite a rewarding practice. Proponents believe that lucid dreaming can help us address buried issues, become more mindful, and dream at will to create positive experiences in real life. Lucid dreaming can be tough, though. Some may use herbs like Calea Zacatechichi (aka the Mexican dream herb) or the blue lotus plant, but it’s best to get into a full relaxation mode
Lucid dreaming can potentially be a powerful tool to alter a person’s mental state and may even be useful in psychiatry and counseling. Though more research needs to be done in this area, it definitely offers some exciting possibilities.
|↑1||Hobson, J. Allan. “REM sleep and dreaming: towards a theory of protoconsciousness.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10, no. 11 (2009): 803-813.|
|↑2||Domhoff, G. William. The scientific study of dreams: Neural networks, cognitive development,
|↑3||Foulkes, David. Children’s dreaming and the development of consciousness. Harvard University Press, 2009.|
|↑4||Hobson, J. Allan, Edward F. Pace-Schott, and Robert Stickgold. “Dreaming and the brain: toward a cognitive neuroscience of conscious states.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 23, no. 06 (2000): 793-842.|
|↑5||Zhang, Jie. “Continual-activation theory of dreaming.” Dynamical Psychology (2005).|
|↑6||Laura Marcus, Sigmund Freud’s the Interpretation of Dreams: New Interdisciplinary Essays, Manchester University Press, 12-Jun-1999.|
|↑7||Nightmares – Overview, American Academy of Sleep Medicine.|
|↑8||Nielsen, T. A., and Jessica Lara-Carrasco. “Nightmares, dreaming and emotion regulation: a review”. The new science of dreaming 2 (2007): 253-284.|
|↑9||The Science Behind Dreams and Nightmares, National Public Radio. 30 October 2007.|
|↑10||Angier, Natalie. “In the Dreamscape of Nightmares, Clues to Why We Dream at All.” New York Times 23 (2007).|
|↑11||Sleep Onset Rapid Eye Movement (SOREM) In Sleep Disorder Patients: Association with Sleepiness and Fatigue, University of Toronto.|
|↑12||Sleep Paralysis- Treatment, NHS Choices.|
|↑13||LaBerge, Stephen, and Lucid Dreaming Physiologically Verified. “Lucid dreaming: Psychophysiological studies of consciousness during REM sleep”, (1990).|