What Causes You to Dream?
Sleeping is a crucial part of our daily lives that allow us to rest and recuperate. This isn’t limited to physical recovery, though, as the reduced sensory input while you are asleep makes it the perfect time for the brain to organize all of the information it has collected since you last slept. But what causes you to dream? In this article we will be looking at reasons for dreaming, and the purpose behind them.
What Are Dreams?
There is a lot that it still not understood about the processes that occur while we are asleep, so the full reasons for dreaming or purpose of them is up for debate. What we do know is that virtually everyone over the age of ten dreams every night between four and six times, even though we only remember a small fraction of them.
They occur during all stages of sleep, but particularly during the REM stage when the brain is at its most active, and can be visual, auditory, or sensory experiences. Most often they will simply be fragments of images, but sometimes a more coherent story can occur, and these dreams are the ones that are more likely to be remembered once you wake up.
Some experiments have shown what happens if we don’t dream, with effects like anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, and even weight loss.
The Cause of Dreams
While the exact reason why we dream is not known for sure, we have a good understanding of some of the causes and what happens if a person is unable to dream.
The brain collects a vast amount of information during the day. Some of this is relevant and some completely irrelevant, and it is during sleep that all of this is sifted through to determine what should be stored for future access and what needs to be discarded. It is the dealing with this information that causes dreams, with images, thoughts, and sounds being interpreted into story fragments.
Various different psychological theories attempt to explain the dream state. Freud, perhaps most famously, believed it was the sub consciousness’ way of revealing your innate desires and, while most don’t subscribe to his particular beliefs, there definitely seems to be an interplay between current anxieties, worries, or excitements and the things you dream about.
Numerous experiments have been conducted where brain scans are taken of people who are asleep, and these have shown some interesting results. Particularly during REM sleep there is a huge amount of activity in the parts of the brain that deal with images and sounds. The reasons for these increases are not known, but the fact that this happens can go some way towards explaining why dreams occur.
Your brain is likely converting these inputs into something that makes more sense, so it will use its imagination to create a narrative we refer to as dreaming. Quite often this will still produce nonsensical experiences, which are the ones we forget when waking up, but occasionally they can be lucid and intense enough to leave us with a lingering memory once we have finished sleeping.
What Does it Mean if You Dream a Lot?
As dreams occur as a result of the brain needing to sift through data, if you dream a lot it is a sign you have a lot on your mind, and have a healthy imagination. We said before that a usual adult will have about six dreams per night, but very few of those are ever remembered.
In times of heightened emotion, however, the dreams can be more intense and you will remember more of them. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have started dreaming more often, just that your ability to remember them has changed.
This is also what makes us dream about certain things. If, for example, you have an extreme fear of flying and have been feeling anxious about a trip that is coming up, you might just find yourself dreaming about a flight over a number of nights, simply because your brain is working through its anxiety.
That being said, dream interpretation is hardly a precise science, and there’s a good amount of imagination involved in the whole process. Quite often the ability to resolve any worries will reduce the number of related dreams you experience.
The Bottom Line
Sleeping is a crucial part of keeping us mentally agile and physically rested. While we are asleep all of the cells in our body recover from the day’s activity, and the brain is no exception. The filtering of all the information it has gathered is vital to ensure the important bits are kept, and this process is what causes you to dream. This explains why you dream about recently relevant subjects, and often face your anxieties or fears.