Dreams. For centuries people have pondered upon their meaning. Historically, Egyptian, Roman and Greek cultures believed that dreams were a visit from the gods or could foretell the future. In Christianity, dreams are also a frequently mentioned topic as there are about 121 mentions of dreaming in The Bible. “In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, in slumbering upon the bed.” (John 33:15) “For a dream comes through the multitude of business, and a fool’s voice is known by a multitude of words.” A number of studies about dreams suggest that when your body settles in rest, your mind continuous to work. The multitude of business could in some way or other refer to the multitude of physical and emotional business that your brain keeps on working on in your sleep such as the rebuilding of muscle tissue or the processing of an emotional experience.
From a scientific perspective, dreams continue to be an interesting topic of research. In the nineteenth century Sigmund Freud put forth some of the most widely-known modern theories of dreaming. Freud believed that dreaming allows us to sort through unresolved emotions and repressed wishes. Since then, biological and technological advancements have allowed for the exploration of other theories. In 2011, the Journal of Neuroscience published a study that provided compelling insights into the mechanisms that underlie dreaming and the relationship of our dreams with our memories. The research team predicted the likelihood of dream recall based on a signature pattern of brain waves. Previous studies indicated that people are more likely to remember their dreams woken directly after Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep when dreams occur. The 2011 study added to this information by showing that the increased brain activity while dreaming looks just like the retrieval of autobiographical memories while conscious. In conclusion: the neurological mechanisms that we employ while dreaming are the same as when we retrieve memories while awake.
In another study conducted by the same research team, MRI techniques were used to investigate the relation between dreaming and deep brain structure. The researchers found that emotionally intense dreams are linked to parts of the amygdala and hippocampus. These parts of the brains play primary roles in the processing and memory of emotional reactions in addition to the retrieval of the short-term and long-term memory.
In 2009, a research team conducted a study at the Sleep and Neurology Lab in California. They investigated the link between dreams and emotions and concluded that a reduction in REM sleep, or less dreaming, influences the ability to understand complex emotions in daily life. What we see and experience in our dreams might not be real, but the emotions attached to these experiences are. Dreams help us process emotions by encoding and constructing memories of them. Our dream stories try to strip the emotion out of a certain experience by creating a memory of it. This mechanism fulfills an important role because when we don’t process our emotions, we are more likely to get anxiety and mental disorders. Emotions that we have when we are conscious go through to our unconsciousness and to our dreams. The science of dreaming is still in its early stages and to be explored further. Nevertheless, to me, it is fascinating that we are able to cast a glimpse inside the world of dreaming.