Dreams are essentially stories we play out in our heads overnight - they can either follow a straightforward narrative or be abstract, making little to no sense. Many sleep experts estimate that we have between 3-6 dreams per night and about 95% of the content of these dreams is forgotten the following day. But the question remains, ‘why do we dream?’. While we don’t know why they occur, there are multiple theories that have been put forward. We explore four of the most common below.
1. Sort and consolidate memories
We accumulate so many memories daily - too much to remember each vividly. According to the self-organisation theory of dreaming, when we dream, our brains sort, consolidate and file away that information. This process shows up when we dream, echoing all of the activity and thoughts we have experienced that day. Dreaming allows your brain to reshuffle everything that’s remembered, keep the important connections that have been made, and get rid of the useless ones, which offer little to no benefit to us.
2. Unconscious expression
Dreams can represent unconscious desires, thoughts, wishes and motivations according to Sigmund Freud’s famous book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’. He also describes two different components of dreams: manifest content and latent content. The manifest content is made up of actual images, thoughts and content contained within the dream with the latent content representing the hidden psychological meaning of the dream. This theory has influenced the rise of the popular dream interpretation method today, which strives to help people confront and reconcile feelings that they may have suppressed subconsciously.
3. Emotional therapy
Often your dreams force you to face an emotional circumstance that you’re facing in your real life, allowing you to deal with these emotions in a safe, protected environment as you sleep. When you face an emotional issue in your dream, your brain makes connections that you wouldn’t ordinarily make, which can help you look at the situation in a new light or understand something new about yourself. It may also help you get to the root of what is causing you to feel certain emotions like anger, fear or envy.
4. Spurs creativity
The father of surrealism Salvador Dali famously said that some of his greatest works were ‘hand-painted dream photographs’ One of his favourite recurring images, bent and flowing watches, look as if they’re made of wax, melting away on a hot summer day in the desert. During REM sleep, memories made during the day can be fused and blended together in abstract and highly novel ways which is why many believe it can be a nightly think tank for those seeking creative inspiration.
While we may not know exactly why we dream, we do know that it has its benefits. It is a profound, deep thinking process which helps us commit things we learn to our memory. It can also assist with uncovering our unconscious thoughts, feelings and emotions so that we can gain a better understanding of ourselves and make better decisions. Why wouldn’t you look forward to sleeping each night so you can wake up the next day feeling ready to seize the day? After all, it’s amazing what a little Snooze can do.
Sweet dreams Snoozers