The Hidden Truths About What We Dream at Night and Why We Dream

As Verdades Ocultas Sobre o Que Sonhamos à Noite e o Porquê de Sonharmos

Do you usually remember what you dream? Or do you belong to the group of people who claim they never remember what their brain screen displays during sleep? Regardless of the answer, know that there are facts that apply to all of us.

Dreaming is a phase of sleep in which we spend a considerable part of our life. And although multiple researches have already been carried out in the area – dreaming is the most studied cognitive state –, experts are still quite divided when it comes to obtaining more conclusive answers about the meanings of dreams. While some scientists argue that these mean nothing, others believe that there is some underlying message.

Psychoanalytic theory understands dreams as forms of representation of desires belonging to the unconscious plane, while the activation-synthesis theory suggests that dreams are just a product of the processing of memories and emotions by the brain. According to Emma's neuroscientist and sleep specialist, Dr. Verena Senn, “dreaming is important for processing emotions we had during the day and contributes to the consolidation of emotionally charged memories, functioning as a problem-solving mechanism that simulates the real world while we sleep. It's important that we get the right amount of quality sleep to be able to have a good dream experience."

A dream is always a kind of simulation that helps us prepare for real-life situations. During sleep, dreams cleanse useless information, allowing the brain to free up space to create memories, emotions and natural sensations of a new day.

The phases of sleep

The different phases of sleep are characterized by the presence or absence of specific eye movements, known as Rapid Eye Movement. These phases are divided into N-REM and REM, with the N-REM phase consisting of three subphases called N1, N2 and N3.

Before entering REM sleep, we go through the N-REM subphases: N1 lasts only 1 to 5 minutes, N2 takes about 25 minutes in the initial cycle and extends with each successive cycle and N3 is the longest phase, which lasts between 20 and 40 minutes.

After 90 minutes of sleep, we enter REM sleep, which lasts about 10 minutes. After the first cycle, each REM stage that follows becomes increasingly longer, continuing throughout the night.

When do dreams occur?

Dreams occur during all stages of sleep, but the strangest ones happen during the REM sleep phase, in which our body is paralyzed while the brain remains active. Sleep scientists Eugene Aserinsky and Nathaniel Kleitmann at the University of Chicago discovered that people often have vivid memories of their dreams when awake during this phase of sleep.

Why do we forget our dreams?

When we don't get enough sleep consistently, the amount of REM sleep decreases, making it harder to remember our dreams the next day. Generally, dreams disappear quickly after we wake up, but it is possible that some of their elements are remembered later in the day. If you want to remember your dreams, keep a diary close by so that you can record what you dreamed immediately upon waking, before those memories disappear.

Why dreams

The scientific community believes that dreams symbolically reflect disturbing life experiences and that they can reorganize memory and improve recall of relevant information, but there is still no consensus as to their cause.

Some experts believe that dreaming directly controls attention, awakens feelings, and improves post-dream thinking flexibility as well as emotional reactions. Although the purpose of this phenomenon is not fully understood, the importance attributed to it is consensual, with the belief that it is fundamental for memory processing and regulating mood.

While N-REM dreams are influenced by the events of the previous day, REM dreams are influenced by memories and learning from the past. They are all a conscious representation of memory and emotional processing, which occurs while we sleep. According to neuroscience, dreams deal with everyday emotional experiences, relating them to past experiences and integrating them into your self-image.

Facts about what we dream

According to experts, know that:
Not all of us dream in color, with around 11% of people dreaming in black and white;
Negative dreams are more common than positive dreams;
You are more likely to remember what you dream about at the weekend, because you are more relaxed;
Dreaming about something strange happens because the part of the brain responsible for making sense of things is turned off;
Much of what we dream is related to events from the previous day;
The faces we see belong to people we have seen previously;
Blind people also see images in their dreams;
We all dream – even animals.

There are techniques that allow us to control dreams, enabling an experience called lucid dreaming. Even the most bizarre of dreams will be perfectly natural. If you rarely remember what you usually dream about, try going to bed tonight knowing that your intention is to remember what you dreamed about. Probably, when you wake up, your most recent memories will come to the surface. On the other hand, if at any point your dreams are causing you stress or anxiety, consider talking to a doctor.

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