Dreaming while we sleep is human nature and it might even extend to other living things as well. But why do we dream and what do dreams mean? These are questions that man has tried to answer for thousands of years. Still, we have no clearly defined answer as to why we dream as we sleep – just several well defined theories behind why we dream and what they might mean. To better understand what these theories are, let us first take a look at why sleep is important in the first place.
Why We Sleep
We all know that we go to bed because we get sleepy, but not many understand why we get sleepy in the first place. Many compare it to being hungry. We get hungry, but why do we eat? The answer is that we need to eat because our bodies need the nutrients found in food to operate properly. It is the same way with sleep. We need sleep in order for our bodies to function at their peak.
However, though, we know sleep helps us function at our best, we do not exactly know how it helps us do that and that is why so many studies have been done on the subject. Through these studies, scientists have come up with several different theories. Of course, these theories all have to do with restoration.
It has become a common consensus that sleep is the down time the body needs to restore all of the energy that was used up throughout the day. After all, when a person does not get enough sleep, he or she is left feeling sleepy. Feelings of lethargy and physical exhaustion can also remain if the body does not get a good night’s rest, especially if insomnia is present. But, when a person does get enough sleep, energy abounds and a person wakes up feeling refreshed. Thus, the dominant theory is that sleep is the time the body uses to restore energy, rebuild muscle, and repair other damaged areas.
The Sleep Process
The sleep process begins as we get sleepy, but actual sleep comes in five different stages. Each stage of rest is important. The first one is the stage of light sleep, when we are slowly becoming unaware of what is going on around us. It fades into a light sleep when we can be easily awakened. From there, the body moves into stage two, which is a deeper state of sleep than stage one. During this stage the body’s temperature drops and the breathing regulates itself. However, as the body moves into stage three of sleep breathing begins to slow down, blood pressure lowers, and the body’s muscles relax. This is the stage where growth and repair is believed to take place. Energy is also being replenished during this time.
The Dream Stage
Eventually your body goes into a Rapid Eye Movement sleep stage, or REM sleep – the fifth stage of sleeping. This happens about an hour and a half after first falling asleep and keeps happening about every hour and a half as the body sleeps with the REM sessions becoming longer each time they occur. This is the stage in which dreams occur and typically causes the eyes to move around beneath closed eyelids as if the body is awake, hence the name of the stage.
No one is exactly certain why dreams occur during this stage, but it is clear that the brain is very active during this part of the sleep process. The brain seems to be reacting as if the dreams were real, though the rest of the body is completely still and relaxed. Perhaps that is apt, though, considering that one dominant theory for why we dream is to give expression to thoughts and feelings that cannot be readily expressed under normal circumstances.
Dreams as Practice
Under normal circumstances, we cannot just tell the boss where to stick it if we are dissatisfied at work or we risk losing our jobs. However, dreaming about various scenarios that allow us to do just that offer some sense of relief, if only for the moment we dream about it. And even nightmares offer practice as to how we might react if someone were to try to abduct us or other similar scenarios. So, in this theory, we dream not only for temporary relief, but also for survival practice.
Dreams Tell Us What to Do
When lab rats were studied, it was discovered that the rats were dreaming about things that occurred throughout their day. They discovered this by recording the neuron firings in the rats’ brains as they negotiated through mazes. When they were asleep their brains fired the exact same neuron patterns they had as they negotiated through the mazes. Therefore, it was concluded that dreaming helps store information into useful information for the future.