The Basic Science of Dreams

I recently became interested in dreams and how they work after realising how weird they actually are. You might as well be living a different life in your sleep. One of the weirdest things about it though, is that you can dream 4-6 times a night but only remember 5% of your dreams. Weird…

I looked up the science of dreams online and came across a few articles and YouTube videos. From these, I have compiled some information, but am by no means an expert:

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A key question about dreaming is…

why do we dream?

One theory is that whilst we sleep, the unconscious part of our brain is busy organising memories and strengthening connections of things we’ll need in the future whilst clearing out the things we won’t need. These electrical impulses are detected by the conscious brain and our cortex is unsure what these signals mean. It tries to create a cohesive story which would fit these impulses therefore creating a dream. This would mean that dreams are an epiphenomenon (they have to purpose or reason).

Another theory suggests that dreams are there for a reason, to prepare us for unknown threats in the future.

There are many other theories behind the use of dreams, all are hard to prove or find evidence for as dreams cannot be held or easily tested on, so it may be a long time until we can know which is correct for sure.

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when do we dream?

Most dreaming happens during the REM stage of sleeping. REM stands for rapid eye movement, where you may be able to see the eyes moving underneath the eyelids. The electrical signals during this time almost mimic that of the brain when you are awake and so it is sometimes called paradoxical sleep. REM is very important, when tests were done, REM significantly affects your memory and ability to recall information.

One main difference, though, is that some chemicals are blocked so that your muscles don’t move during your dreams. This is why you can dream about flying or running without actually moving.

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there are some exceptions though…

Although, your brain generally blocks chemicals so that you don’t move around much in your sleep, some people do act out their dreams.

Another phenomenon is sleep paralysis (the opposite basically) where you are awake but you can’t move.

Lucid dreaming is when you are in a dream and are aware you’re dreaming. This means you can make conscious decisions about what you’re going to do. You could even go and take lunch with the Queen if you wanted!

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There you go! A very short and basic science of dreaming.


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