Dreams occur through a complex process that uses the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory. Life is the inspiration for daydreams. The situations we experience during the day tend to be the source of the images the brain generates during sleep. But what are the mechanisms that allow us to construct these images? What do our daydreams mean?
The phenomenon of dreaming is one of the most difficult puzzles of science. Dreams are very complicated, they cannot be analyzed directly – always only by the dreamer. It also does not help that with every passing minute we forget more and more details about what we dreamed. However, specialists are constantly trying to thoroughly study this phenomenon.
Memories in dreams
There has been a lot of discussion about dreams for years. Memories of people, places, activities we do or emotions we feel are reflected in dreams, but they are usually so fragmented that it is impossible to predict how or when they will occur.
Research reveals that dream formation is linked to memories and the hippocampus region located below the cerebral cortex and that it plays an important role in memory.
How are dreams formed?
A few of these dream scenarios are probably familiar to you: flying, falling, climbing, trying to escape danger, kissing a mysterious stranger, suddenly appearing in second grade, and being swept away by a tornado. How are dreams formed?
First of all, in order to dream, one must first fall asleep, of course. Scientists believe that adenosine, a natural chemical, builds up in the blood during waking hours, causing you to fall asleep. Gradually, the heart and respiratory rate slow down, and all the muscles of the body relax more and more.
After about 90 minutes, when most people fall into a deep sleep, the body enters a sleep cycle characterized by rapid eye movements, called REM sleep. The REM phase is the most intense period of sleep.
Most of the body continues to rest during the REM phase, but the brain remains almost as active as when awake. The motor signals sent from the brain to the body are inhibited by certain neurotransmitters that temporarily paralyze us. Without them, we would be running around in our pajamas, running from monsters, or trying to fly.
Dream images are thought to originate in the visual area of the cortex, the gray matter of the brain and the center of the mind for memory, alertness, awareness, and thought. While the part of the visual area that captures new images falls asleep with you, the part that interprets the images remains fully awake. So basically your brain goes back to work trying to make sense of all those little bits of memory and imagination.
Sleep time is divided into several distinct phases:
Sleep consists of two stages: drowsiness and sluggishness. Drowsiness is characterized by a loss of muscle tone and slowed heart rate before falling asleep.
- Light sleep represents 50% of the full sleep time in one night. In this phase, the person is napping but is very sensitive to external stimuli.
- Deep sleep – this is when brain activity slows down the most. This is the most intense phase of the rest period, during which the entire body (muscles and brain) sleeps. This phase is the most important during sleep because it helps to eliminate accumulated physical fatigue.
- REM Phase – During this phase, the brain emits rapid eye waves and breathing becomes irregular. Although these signs may suggest that a person is about to wake up, they are still in a deep sleep. Although dreams may occur during other phases, such as light sleep, they most often occur during the REM sleep phase, which takes up about 25% of resting time.
The sleep cycle lasts between 90 and 120 minutes. These cycles, which can occur at a frequency of 3 to 5 per night, are interspersed with short periods of insomnia called intermediate sleep. However, the sleeper is unaware of these brief moments. Once he re-enters the slow sleep phase, it only takes 10 minutes for the dream to be erased from memory. This is why most people only remember the dream that preceded their awakening.
Why do we dream?
It is difficult to explain why we dream. Scientists have spent countless hours analyzing data on brain activity during sleep, trying to determine the purpose and mechanism of fantastic stories from dreams. Psychologists study their patients’ dream diaries and discuss their symbolism with them in an attempt to extract some meaning from this mix of images.
Theories abound and all try to answer the same question. On the one hand, there are those who think that dreams are random images, and on the other, those who believe that what is perceived with our mind’s eye has a deep meaning. Sigmund Freud saw dreams as wish fulfillment or stories with hidden meanings that could help explore the theme of the human psyche. Others have wondered if dreams help manage mood, organize memories, or simply create contexts for the random streams of consciousness the brain receives when the body is asleep.
Harvard researchers developed the theory to bridge the gap between science and psychology. They found that when people were told not to think about something, those thoughts were more likely to appear in their dreams. This would scientifically support the idea that during sleep we are dealing with things that we don’t think about when we are awake. This contradicts the theory that frames dreams as just a random stream of neural signals.
Read also: Are morning naps healthy? The answer to this question may surprise you
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