Since I have started my all-in journey, I have experienced some weird dreams. I thought it was maybe time to analyze these dreams and dig a bit deeper into the research about dreams. Next blog post I am going to answer if and how to use dreams to elevate your conscious self.
What is dreaming and REM sleep?
We sleep during REM. REM stands for “rapid eye movements”. While you are experiencing REM-sleep you are having these rapid eye movements together with a low muscle tone. You become paralyzed with the exception of your eyes.
Sleep is normally considered something to be quite passive or repressive because it suppresses wakefulness. REM sleep on the other hand is quite active. Paradoxically, there will be a lot of brain activity going on during REM sleep. Cerebral neurons will be firing off with the same intensity as during wakefulness. It is like a cerebral party. I promise you that this is a good joke when you are a scientist.
For example, in deep non-REM sleep there will be slow Delta waves. This in contrast with the observation of Theta waves in the hippocampus and Gamma waves in the cortex during REM sleep. This will basically mean that neurons will depolarize or be activated more quickly. Like we already pointed out, this activity is very similar to the activity in the brain during wakefulness.
This high activity in the brain during REM sleep is associated with dreaming.
Wikipedia page about REM sleep
Function of REM sleep
Researchers think that the information in the brain is re-organized during this stage. This re-organization could also be useful to help with consolidation of newly learned information. REM sleep would be essential for the learning process. Some theories say that the process of transfer and re-organization of memories produces dreams.
Of course, this is only one of the theories that explains the function of REM sleep. In this article, I am not going to cover everything about REM sleep. Instead, I have decided to look further into the possible meaning of dreams.
The different sleeping theories
There are different theories proposed to explain why we dream. These theories help us to understand why this weird phenomena called “dreaming” happens.
Dream rebound theory
According to Sigmund Freud, some repressed thoughts, wishes, and desires make their appearance in your dreams. This theory suggests that if you unconsciously repress these thoughts, they will appear in your dreams.
In this sense, dreams would play an important role in the processing of stressful emotions and experiences.
The first day that I started with my eating disorder recovery, I saw myself fat. This could have been a repressed thought that showed up in this dream. I apparently still fear to become fat and I still subconsciously foster the desire to stay skinny. This is of course one of the reasons you should also go in psychotherapy if you want to recover from a mental disorder. You need to tackle these ideas and interchange them with more helpful ideas. I would almost say you need to develop a growth mindset but my brain rejects the pseudo-scientific idea of the existence of a growth mindset. (Forgets completely that she has already made a blog post about this.)
This is a model invented by by J. Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley in 1977. This model says that some circuits in the brain gets activated during the REM sleep. Because of EEG (electroencephalogram) studies, we know that this is true. Limbic areas responsible for emotions and the hippocampus responsible for memory will get largely electrically activated.
This model explains that dreams are just our own subjective interpretation of this random electrical signals. When we wake up, we want to explain all this random impulses by creating a fitting cohesive story. Dreams do not have a purpose on their own – like almost everything in life.
It is during our waking phase that by creating these new stories, we can actually make new connections and get inspiring ideas. The dreaming phase would be our most creative unconscious state. It maybe makes no sense during the dream itself but we can give it meaning afterwards and use this to even generate new ideas!
The random becomes meaningful. The random becomes nonrandom. The dreamer becomes awake.
If you look at my quoting quality, one could argue that these masterpieces are also created after some vivid dreams.
The information-processing theory
This theory has already been discussed in the previous paragraph. This proposes that the reason we dream is to help us consolidate and process memories.
There is evidence in research that supports this theory:
- People improve in doing complex tasks when they dream about them.
- The same electrical activity happens in the frontal lobe as the activity that is seen in the brain when a person is learning.
This theory supports the idea that our brain functions as a memory filter. We experience so much things on any given day. Too much to actually remember and to consolidate. During our REM sleep, the brain sorts out the relevant memories and stores them. The rest will be removed. I know what you are thinking. Oh, what a dream it would be to consciously decide which memories I remember and which ones I throw away.
I can actually help you with that. I sell a course for $100 to help you seek and destroy your memories during sleep. I’m just joking. Or am I?
Dreams could help us raise our creativity during our time awake and can help us solve problems.
Otherwise they appear to be pretty random. Because of that randomness, we get a bit confused and we try to make connections between the memories of our dreams and our current ideas or problems in real life. This way we can be presented with whole new insights to solve these problems.
This way, I figured out the groundbreaking idea that I could solve my eating disorder by eating more!
This could also be one of the reasons many entrepreneurs include the habit of writing down your dreams into their morning routine. Including this into your routine could help you to solve more complicated daily problems in a creative manner.
This hypothesis proposes that dream are the reflection of a person’s real life. That is why we can have conscious experiences of the previous day into our dreams. We can for example dream about our boss screaming at us at our job place or we can have a dream about being surrounded by people who only wear masks.
Dreams will hit the replay button to experience these real-life events again. This way the information of these events can be sorted or filtered and stored in the long-term memory. This hypothesis also supports the idea that dreams help with learning and remembering information.
Threat simulation theory
While we are sleeping and having dreams, we can experience very vivid dreams that resemble the fight-and-flight reaction. The reason that this happens would be to increase our chance of survival and build some mental resilience for when we will be faced with a life-threatening situation in real life.
The theory claims that the practice of these skills in our dreams would prepare us to deal with these threats in real-life. In essence this gives us an evolutionary advantage. It also explains why so many dreams feel scary or dramatic. Next time you dream about your mother-in-law, you will know why. It is to prepare you for the fight-or flight reaction. You choose which one of the two reactions you pick. You could also pick both of these options if you dare.
Emotional regulation dream theory
This theory claims that we dream to process emotions and to help us with regulating these emotions when we are awake.
Research has shown that the hippocampus and amygdala are very active during the REM-sleep. These are two brain structures that are also activated when we are anxious. As you maybe remember, the hippocampus is an important structure for our memory. The amygdala is a brain structure that will activate the fight-and-flight reaction when a bad memory or image presents itself that is retrieved from the hippocampus. In other words, this cycle will activate an anxious response. The fact that these two brain structures are so active during REM-sleep suggests that there is a lot of emotional processing going on while you sleep. It is almost like an Oprah Winfrey show where you have to go through all the drama of your life.
Research has also shown that there is a link between how good you are in emotional processing and the amount of REM sleep you are getting. The next time you feel like you cannot handle your emotions, you could blame it on your snoring dog who messed up your REM sleep. It is the adult equivalent of, “My dog ate my homework.”
Another interesting fact is that sharing your dreams with others is highly correlated with being more empathic. Maybe you should not only share cute cat pics on your social media profile but you could also start sharing your dreams. Of course, with certain boundaries and guidelines to follow.
Guidelines when sharing your dreams:
- No fantasies allowed. Always keep your fantasies to yourself. This is the best life advice ever.
- Keep the visuals to yourself. Except if you are dreaming about these cute cat pics you have shared. It is all about this continuity and consistency to win the social media game.
- You have to censor any strong opinion that could imply that you are not politically correct. Some of us are apparently going to be excluded of the dream sharing event.
Dreams are something that people are generally very curious about. We do not really know why and how they happen. Because of this blog post, you can now answer two of these questions on your next (masked) dinner party.
The how: Dreams are a result of chaotic electrical impulses or waves that excite your frontal lobe and limbic (emotional) system. This electrical activity is similar to the activity when you are awake.
The why: There are different theories that try to grasp what dreams mean. Of course, these are just suggestions mostly based on neuro-imaging and other experimental data. There is currently no way to be completely certain about the meaning of dreams. Theories say that dreams help us with learning, processing, and unraveling suppressed emotions, becoming more creative, or to simulate potential threats to prepare us for these potential dangers in real life.
Next blog post we are going to unravel how we can analyze our dreams according to Jung and Freud. We are going to talk about lucid dreaming and about why there could be some benefits to think more about what you dreamed.
So stay tuned for more!