We spend around a third of our lives sleeping and even if we can't always remember it - we dream every night. There are various theories in sleep research as to what exactly happens during dreaming and why we live through vivid images and scenarios night after night. You can find out here why we dream and what happens in the brain.
Table of Contents
- What does "dream" mean?
- When do we dream?
- What happens in the brain when we dream?
- Why do we dream?
What does "dream" mean?Our brain never sleeps. When we are awake, our consciousness is constantly active and even when we are asleep, our body and brain do not completely rest. 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 around a quarter of the time we spend asleep. Even if we often don't remember it when we wake up, it has been scientifically proven that almost everyone dreams. Then we experience situations that, for example, address events of the past day, deal with conflicts and problems or enliven connections and relationships with people we know. However, location, time or plot are often bizarre and surreal – we all know that. So what is the purpose of these subjective experiences at night and what happens in our brain when we dream?
When do we dream?
During sleep, many regenerating processes take place in the body. Every night we go through several sleep cycles, which are divided into different sleep phases. The phase of falling asleep and light sleep is followed by deep sleep, which then transitions into so-called REM sleep.
› REM sleepREM stands for "Rapid Eye Movement", because during these sleep periods we move our eyes quickly under the closed lids back and forth. At the same time, blood flow to the brain increases, blood pressure rises and our heart rate and breathing become more irregular. What else happens while you sleep?
Did you know? Women tend to remember dreams more often than men.
During deep sleep, the metabolism runs 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 the information and impressions of the day. In short: The memory is formed. Today we know that dreams take place in all phases of sleep, but are experienced particularly intensively in REM sleep. So if you wake up from this sleep phase in the morning, you are more likely to remember what you dreamed.
What happens in the brain when we dream?
To keep us from moving and injuring 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. The entire brain is then used to create accurate dream images. Especially in the REM phases, scientists were 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. B. the prefrontal cortex) a lower activity than in the waking state.
A good example of these observations is on the one hand the lasting effect of waking up from an anxiety or nightmare, because we often experience the emotions aroused in the dream far beyond the actual dream experience. On the other hand, the reduced strategic brain performance is often reflected in the lack of observance of physical laws - for example, when we breathe or fly underwater with ease.
Why do we dream?
For what reasons does our brain create these dream experiences in the first place? There are different theories about the meaning of dreaming. The assumption is widespread that our brain processes new information by comparing it with old information, mixing it and storing it. It is also assumed that we reflect on certain situations in dreams and that the mixture of old and new experiences is used to solve problems. Thus, working through issues that concern us and experiencing different possibilities could help us to resolve real conflicts.
Some scientists also assume that we dream in order to learn how to deal properly with fear and dangerous situations. This then has a very natural background - because those who learn the right behavior in dangerous moments and can consolidate this knowledge in the dream avoid dangers.
Dreams accompany us every night, even if we wake up in the morning without a memory of them. It is not yet possible to fully explain why the brain plays through lively stories or unusual scenarios during sleep and why we repeatedly experience both good and bad moments at night. What is certain, however, is how important dreams are for our physical and mental health and also that they accompany us in our sleep night after night.
Dreams are subjective experiences during sleep. We all dream every night - even if we don't remember it.
Although we dream in every phase of sleep, dreams are particularly intense in the REM sleep phase.
While we are dreaming, the entire brain is active. Compared to the waking state, the brain areas responsible for emotions are more active in REM sleep, the planning brain areas are less active.
Why we dream is not fully established. Possible reasons are processing information, improving conflict management or solving mental problems.
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