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Why do we dream?

Do you ever wake up in the morning and remember your dream vividly? And the more you remember, the more bizarre it seems? And you wonder what it means? The thing is, we all dream, yet the reasons why we dream remain a mystery. Some experts suggest that dreams are a replay of the day’s events, so a clear memory can be formed, while others suggest dreams are simply the result of random activity in the brain.

Firstly, what exactly is a dream and when do they occur?

A dream can include any of the images, thoughts and emotions that are experienced during sleep. They usually occur during the fourth stage of sleep, known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep which is also characterised by increased brain activity & respiration. Dreams can be extremely vivid, or very vague, can evoke joyful emotion or leave you feeling frightened, and the meaning can be clear or utterly confusing!

Despite being an area of fascination, and regardless of all the research, we’re no closer to knowing why we dream than Aristotle was when he studied dreams way back in 367 B.C. While many experts have studied dreams and come up with their own conclusions, none of them have been proven to be correct yet none of them are considered completely wrong. Below are five theories on why people dream. Read them, then enjoy a good night’s sleep


Have you noticed that when you dream, you’re the star of the show? And you’re usually the good guy! This is because it’s your brain that’s doing the dreaming and, according to Sigmund Freud (an Austrian neurologist who founded psychoanalysis), our dreams usually reflect our deep desires or concerns. In his book, The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud states that dreams are a result of repressed emotions and urges that represent unconscious thoughts, desires or wishes. As these repressed urges need to be expressed somehow, our brain allows us to dream them. This means your dreams (or subconscious) may reveal a wish that your conscious mind has learned to ignore, or repress. For example, if you dream that you’re playing guitar on stage at Madison Square to thousands of fans, perhaps it’s just your subconscious desire to seek fame or be the next John Mayer.


Are you often happy but your dreams are often bleak? Or do you worry about your finances but dream that you’re a millionaire? According to Carl Jung, (a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology), our dreams aren’t random. The dream reveals, in a symbolic way, what’s going on deep inside our mind. They give us an opportunity to compensate for events that happen while we’re awake. So for a person who has an unhappy experience during the day may enjoy a wonderful, blissful dream as compensation, so they don’t feel down and gloomy all the time. Jung also believed that dreams can reflect parts of our personalities that aren’t yet developed, which could explain why the ‘dream behaviour’ of some people is very different to their ‘awake behaviour’. What could your dreams be revealing about you?


You know the feeling, you can’t stop thinking about something. Perhaps it’s a mortgage repayment or a job offer. Or perhaps a decision based on what school your child will attend. You think about it all day and all night. Some dream experts believe that dreams can help us dive into these problems and help us come up with an answer. It works like this. Even though we sleep, our brains don’t. So while we sleep, our brains continue to process and think about issues that are concerning us while we’re awake. It constantly tries to come up with answers and solutions. So, sometimes, after you’ve ‘slept on it’, you wake up with a clear solution to that perplexing problem!


Ernest Hartmann, M.D., (Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and Director at the Sleep Disorders Center at Newton Wellesley Hospital), believes that dreams could help us deal with a troubling emotion we’re feeling like anxiety, worry or stress. While we sleep, these emotions cause the brain to create new material for our memory, so we can cope with the stress, worry or other types of psychological anxiety. In other words, if we’re dealing with a particularly stressful situation our dreams reflect these inner feelings by creating symbols and issues that relate to our waking life. According to Dr Hartmann, this helps us cope with the inner turmoil. His theory considers dreaming to be a broad making of connections guided by emotion


While there is a fair bit of research that supports the claim that sleep is vital for our mind and memory to function well, some studies show that memory consolidation doesn’t happen when we’re awake, but rather when we dream. So if you see a kid wearing a polka dot dress, riding a bike at the beach while you’re awake, and then you dream about it, this is your brain processing and organising that thought. The theory goes that once all your memories have been filed and sorted by your dreams, your brain is refreshed and ready to take on more conscious and unconscious thoughts. Some experts refer to this theory as the ‘brain rebooting system’ as the brain is sorting, filing and restarting just like your hard drive!

So the answer to the question, ‘Why do people dream?’, is yet to be solved. However, it’s always interesting to hear the experts thoughts and theories. And until we know for sure why people dream, we think it’s always a good idea to enjoy a little Snooze!

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