The scientific study of dreams is one that has been going for quite some time. Oneirology, as it is known, seeks to understand how the brain works during this strange but all too common phenomenon. So get comfortable, and find out exactly why it is we dream.
So far, we do know that most dreaming occurs during the REM phase of sleep. No, not the rather charming 80s American rock band, but the Rapid Eye Movement phase.
As you might have guessed, this is characterised by the rapid movements of your eyes beneath your eyelids, and usually occurs around 90 minutes after you fall asleep.
Over the years, scientists have conjured up some pretty fascinating hypothesis surrounding dreams, let’s have a look at some of the frontrunners.
Activation Synthesis Theory
Sounds complex, but is perhaps the easiest of the popular theories to wrap your head around. In a nutshell, it argues that dreams are merely impulses of the brain, a collection of randomly firing signals that the brain attempts to interpret, resulting in dreams.
It would also explain why even when we are awake, we seek to make sense of the world around us by fabricating stories and structure in an otherwise random and chaotic universe.
Reverse Learning Theory
Or ‘removing the trash’ to you and I. This idea suggests that dreams are merely our brain doing some spring cleaning, getting rid of unnecessary connections and associations in order to make way for more relevant information. It would appear to make sense that in some way our brain must attempt to hold onto the most important data.
Think of this theory as a drama rehearsal of the brain. By simulating threatening events, it is thought that we become better prepared to deal with or avoid similar threats in the waking world. Sounds feasible, but is more likely to form part of a much larger reason as to why we dream, as it doesn’t account for the more random and illogical dreams we conjure up.
Perhaps one of the more spiritually-led theories, some scientists and thought leaders argue that our dreams are a type of wish-fulfilment, representing underlying desires, thoughts and feelings or situations that are present in our lives. There are many common symbols in dreams that are thought to express a deeper meaning.
Consistently being chased in your dreams is thought to mean that there is something that needs attention which is causing us to feel anxious or fearful. This theory has even been used by psychologists to successfully diagnose underlying issues in patients that can then be dealt with.
The likelihood is that dreams are in fact a combination of many existing theories, and that the true reasoning behind how and why they exist will remain as much of a mystery as the universe itself.