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Bedtimes / 30 Nov 2015 / by James

Why do we dream?

With dreams, you can go from running through the jungle being chased by a clown while trying to balance a delicate trifle, to enjoying high tea with your favourite TV character – there's no denying they can often make little sense. But why do we have them? Here's a glimpse into some of the big theories out there that try to decipher why we have delightful daydreams and the occasional nightmare you'd rather forget.

There are many different theories as to why we dream, and although you won't remember every single one you have, a Medical News Today study claims that you can have around three to six dreams each night.

REM sleep

It is widely understood that we mostly dream while we're in REM sleep. The NHS explains that during REM sleep, our brains are usually very busy, while during this stage of your sleep the only muscles that are working are your diaphragm – to keep you breathing – and your eyes. REM stands for rapid eye movement, and as the NHS states, it is thought that the majority of your muscles don't work during this stage to prevent your dreams from taking over, engaging your muscles into whatever activity it is you're dreaming about. So if it weren't for our clever bodies, you might just find yourself actually trying to run from that clown!

Memories on lockdown

One theory about dreaming is that it occurs because our brains are busy making sure all our important memories of the day are saved. Psych Central reports on a study from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre that explains how dreaming can help your brain to process your memories, so you can learn from them later on. So it seems that while you think you're busy flying through the skies or losing all your teeth, your brain is hard at work consolidating the things you've learnt that day.

A happy accident

An alternative view is based more on neuroscience, according this article from the site Dream Studies. J Allan Hobson, a professor of psychiatry emeritus at Harvard University, once had a theory that dreaming happens as a result of all the activity that goes on in your brain while you're in REM sleep. The article goes on to explain several amendments to this theory, detailing how this one infers that although the motivations behind dreaming may be biological, it doesn't necessarily conclude that they're totally meaningless.

The importance of REM sleep

From whatever angle you look at the topic of dreaming, REM sleep is still an important phase of our rest. Not getting enough sleep can affect your health as well as your mood, so it's important you and your family get enough of it. It's in this stage of your sleep that your brain is busiest, and it's particularly important for children to get more REM sleep as they grow. Happy dreaming!

 

 Sources

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/284378.php

http://dreamstudies.org/2010/01/07/neuroscience-of-dreams/

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/247927.php

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm#dreaming

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Sleep-paralysis/Pages/Causes.aspx

http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/04/26/dreams-are-key-to-memory/13157.html