When you wake up in the morning, you may remember strange, emotion-filled experiences commonly known as a dream. This unique state of consciousness has perplexed scientists and researchers for decades despite being a universal human experience.
In a study performed by sleep researcher Dr. William Dement, participants were deprived of dreaming by waking them just as they went into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Over time, these participants became irritable, anxious, gained weight, and even had a tendency to hallucinate. Clearly, dreaming and sleep serve important roles in our overall health.
Sleep studies also show that those who have tried to learn new things during the day tend to dream more at night. Why is this?
Let’s explore more about these mysteries of dreaming to help answer questions on the subject.
When do we dream?
Although many may consider dreaming as a state of deep sleep, our most vivid and memorable dreams occur during REM sleep. REM sleep is a lighter stage of sleep, which explains why we often wake up right after a dream. Brain wave activity during this sleep phase is often quite fast, similar to when we are awake.
Even more, studies show that the areas of our brain in charge of emotions are quite active while we dream. The part of our brain responsible for processing complicated thinking is not active at this stage of sleep. This may explain why our dreams are often filled with emotional content. You may have experienced strange scenarios such as wearing a bikini to the first day of class with Sponge Bob as the teacher.
Why do we dream?
The reason we dream remains largely a mystery. We do know that REM sleep plays a role in forming memories. As we sleep, our brains churn through the new experiences from the day prior, trying to sort out which to remember and which to forget.
REM sleep likely also plays a role in forgetting. If our brains held on to every little bit of information from the day, we would be bogged down by too many unimportant memories.
Sleep helps clear the clutter. It’s why you likely don’t remember what you ate for dinner five nights ago.
Do dreams have meaning?
Many people search for a hidden message within their dreams. And while dreams can reflect your daytime experiences, studies show that dreaming is not truly a reflection of deeper emotions or conflicts. One theory suggests that dreaming is simply a nonsense result of the activity that takes place while we sleep and restore our brains.
So when you wake up tomorrow after dreaming of your teeth falling out, rest assured that your brain is hard at work keeping you healthy and happy.
About The Author
Sujay Kansagra, MD is the director of Duke University’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program and author of the book “My Child Won’t Sleep.” Dr. Kansagra offers Daily Doze readers tips and insight about the importance of sleep, especially for kids who need plenty of rest to grow and develop. Dr. Kansagra graduated from Duke University School of Medicine, where he also completed training as a pediatric neurologist. He did his fellowship in sleep medicine at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, before joining the faculty at Duke as an assistant professor. He specializes in treating a variety of sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy and parasomnias. He shares advice on sleep, medicine, and education through his Twitter accounts @PedsSleepDoc and @Medschooladvice. When he’s not busy at work or on social media, Dr. Kansagra enjoys spending time with his wife and two sons. And yes, they are both great sleepers.
Best Night’s Sleep: Not just a sleep expert, but also an expert sleeper, Dr. Kansagra can sleep almost anywhere, thanks to years of sleep deprivation during medical school and residency call nights. But his best sleep is at home with his family, on a mattress he purchased at Mattress Firm long before he joined our team.