The Mechanics of Dreams

Ever wondered how dreams work? Read on to find out what EnDian Neo has to say about the subject!

Is there any research which says that dreams do or don’t have a purpose? What do you personally believe?

Research is inconclusive. There are a few theories about why we dream:

  • As a way to remember/record recent events (short term memory) into long term memory
  • A reflection of waking-life experiences (“reliving the memory”)
  • Unleashing suppressed emotions/thoughts

Personally I’ve not made up my mind on dreams except as particularly vivid yet forgotten experiences.

Are there many theories about dreams, which are the most common?

Sigmund Freud had several theories on dreams as an attempt by the dreamer to rehabilitate traumatic experiences from infancy (i.e. baby-toddler age). Many of those theories are now debunked, but it’s useful to note as an example of how little we understand dreams.  Another influential thinker on dreams is Carl Jung, who is both influential yet controversial at the same time – Jung believed that human beings as a species share a collective unconscious, i.e. we share thoughts at some level without the need for speech.

I’ve listed 3 of the prevalent theories in the answer above as understood by psychologists today, though other theories are made even as we speak.

Why do different people have different kind of dreams? ex. black and white, color, repeating dreams.

Depending on the theory you favour, you can explain it in different ways. An interesting story about black/white vs color dreams is that most people before the advent of color tv dreamed in black and white. As color tvs became more common, more people dreamed in color.

Is it more likely for a person to wake up during NREM sleep or REM sleep?

Difficult to say, because NREM sleep is split into 4 stages (light to deep sleep). Stage 1 and 2 are relatively light, stage 3 and 4 together is deep sleep (very hard to wake up, person is groggy on waking up etc). REM sleep is similar to deep sleep, except something called REM atonia occurs – limb muscles are temporality paralyzed.

Random factoid: Sometimes when a person is woken during REM sleep, he may find himself unable to move his limbs due to REM atonia. Also, since REM sleep is when dreams occur, a person so awoken could recall some vivid and sometimes bizarre experiences. It is speculated that some supernatural experiences can be attributed to this phenomena.

Does it mean that you are under-slept if you naturally wake up in REM sleep, if not what does it mean, if anything?

Not too sure what you are asking. If you are asking whether undersleeping is related to waking up in REM sleep – I do not know, but undersleeping is a function of number of hours slept and the quality of sleep.

If you are asking about the feelings of sleepiness, waking during stage 3 and 4 (deep sleep) is when grogginess, disorientation most occur, while waking from REM sleep can lead to a range of responses, from normal waking up, to waking up in cold sweat, or with your heart racing or a strong feeling of vaguely remembering something…

Is it possible for somebody not to dream at all, or does everyone dream but forget their dreams on most days by the time they wake up?

Some people have reported not having dreams (or not remembering any). The problem with this study is that it is dependent on subjects being completely honest and to remember the experience – there is no way to verify the accuracy of responses at this time.

Do you know what happens in the brain to form dreams, if so how do they form?

This is a major study, but the short answer is that no one is entirely certain. We speculate that many parts of the brain are involved, from the amygdale to the hippocampus. More recent research indicates that brain areas related to a muscle group will activate when dreaming about the action (e.g. the parts of the brain that remembers how to swing a golf club will activate if you dream of playing golf).

So there you have it, a fun and interesting snippet on dreams by EnDian, who is from the Exhibitions Department of the Science Centre, and the person behind the “Tuning in: Brain & Body” exhibition. If you are curious to learn more about the brain, why don’t you come down for the Brain Fest happening this week at Science Centre.

Brain Fest poster_R4

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