Dreams and Dreaming

Why do we dream?

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” Edgar Allan Poe

“To die, to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come…” (Hamlet) Shakespeare

A dream is a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that usually occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep. Dreams mainly occur during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep when brain activity is high and resembles being awake. During this stage, the brain is highly active, and various brain regions process information.

Dreams can range from realistic to imaginative. People often dream about things in their minds, reflecting their concerns, desires, fears, or fantasies.

A dream includes the images, thoughts, and emotions experienced during sleep. Dreams can range from extraordinarily intense or emotional to vague, fleeting, confusing, or boring. Some dreams are joyful, while others are frightening or sad. Sometimes dreams have a clear narrative, while many others make no sense. 

Here are some examples of dreams that are upsetting but that have to do with problems with which we are trying to cope:

  • Running away from a pursuer
  • Falling over a cliff
  • Showing up somewhere naked
  • Going to the bathroom in public
  • Forgetting to study for a final exam

These are scary scenarios that most of us cope with. Some theories state that the function of dreams is to help us process and cope with our emotions or trauma while sleeping.

Rapid eye movements mark REM sleep. It is the stage of sleep when dreaming occurs. During REM sleep, the brain is highly active, but the body is in paralysis, preventing us from acting out our dreams. This stage of sleep is important for memory consolidation and emotional regulation. Most people experience 4-5 periods of REM sleep throughout the night, each lasting for around 90 minutes.

Dreams in history

One of the most famous dreams from the Old Testament is the dream of Jacob’s ladder. In this dream, Jacob saw a ladder reaching from Earth to Heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it. Another noteworthy dream is the dream of Pharaoh’s chief baker and chief cupbearer, which Joseph interpreted. These dreams predicted the fates of the two officials, with the baker being executed and the cupbearer being restored to his position. 

Finally, there is also the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, which Daniel interpreted. In the dream, the king saw a statue of different materials representing different kingdoms. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would be other kingdoms would follow Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom’s ultimate victor.

How did people in ancient times, and how did primitive man understand dreams? In ancient cultures, dreaming was often seen as a way of communicating with the spirit world. Dreams were thought to be prophetic messages from gods or spirits. Dreaming was also a healing tool, helping people find peace within themselves and their lives.

By understanding the purpose of dreaming, we can gain a greater appreciation for its potential role in our lives. We can learn more about our motivations and feelings and gain insight into how we interact with the world. Dreams can help us grow. Ultimately, by understanding the purpose of dreaming, we can better understand ourselves and the world. 

In modern times, dreams continue to be a source of inspiration for artists, writers, and filmmakers. The surrealist art movement, for instance, drew heavily on dream imagery. “The Persistence of Memory” and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” are famous dream-inspired works.

What would the consequences be for someone who cannot dream?

The absence of dreaming can impact an individual’s mood regulation and stress management. Dreams help process emotional conflicts and maintain balance. Individuals may experience higher stress and anxiety without emotional regulation. These factors could lead to depression and anxiety.

Experiments have been conducted in a safe environment where subjects are kept awake and, as a result, cannot dream. The experience caused temporary symptoms, such as severe mood swings and hallucinations. 



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