Scientists Get Closer to Understanding Why (And When) We Dream

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Dreams and Dreaming
Image: NASA, ESA, J. Trauger (JPL) via CC by 2.0

Like everyone else, I’ve had all sorts of dreams.

Most are about ordinary, everyday things – sometimes I’m back at school, or hanging out with people I’ve never met, or getting hundred-thousand-dollar book deals. Other times, I’ll be hiding behind a tree watching people get vaporized by space aliens.

I guess it depends on my mood.

The funny thing about dreams, though, is that while everyone has them all the time, we still don’t understand them very well. They’re an enigma, and that doesn’t even include the wonder that is lucid dreaming.

Luckily, a team of scientists led by Francesca Siclari at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have just published some interesting research that might reveal why dreams happen, and when.

Life Could Be A Dream

They’ve confirmed, at least, that dreaming does seem to happen while we sleep, and not just during REM (or Rapid Eye Movement). Dreams can occur during non-REM sleep, as well, though less often.

That’s kind of important because, in the past, some have had the idea that our dreams are merely created as soon as we wake up – the result of misfiring neurons or some other brain activity – and not something we experience in “real time.”

But here the researchers have found that various specific regions of the brain are active while we dream, the same as when we’re awake.

For example, as The Guardian explains, they found that when dreaming about faces, subjects experienced “high frequency activity” in the area of the brain responsible for facial recognition. The same went for other specific areas of the brain, depending on the content of the dream. Siclari suggests all of this is proof that “the dreaming brain and the waking brain are much more similar than once imagined.”

In general, dreaming itself appears to be connected to decreased activity in what they call the “posterior cortical hot zone,” an area near the back of the brain.

Remember, Remember

Remembering dreams is a different matter altogether, as New Scientist reports. It would seem, while the aforementioned “hot zone” is responsible for making dreams happen, it’s activity in the prefrontal cortex that determines whether or not we remember them.

This is all fascinating stuff, but we still have a long way to go before we truly understand what’s happening while we sleep. Check out the included links to read more about what the scientists discovered, and where their research might take them.

Imagine what we could do if we had control over our dreams – blotting out nightmares, manipulating fantasies. Like your own personal Matrix right inside your head.

Study: The neural correlates of dreaming

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  • Spiritsofscience

    As a lucid dreamer I can tell you that you don’t want too much control over your dreams. The subconscious mind does not want the conscious mind to interrupt what backlogs need to be released in dreams. Since realizing that, I don’t lucid dream that often. Until we better understand our own reality such as the holographic universe and parallel universes, I don’t expect us to fully understand our dreams.