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Beyond the Lone Islands

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Why We Dream

A couple of days ago I watched a TV documentary about sleep and dreaming. I've written about dreams before - If you want to find those posts, I suggest clicking that label, below or in the list in the margin.

During the night we go through different stages of sleep. Early dream research showed that people dreamed during so called REM-sleep. So called because during this kind of sleep Rapid Eye Movements occur. Otherwise, however, during this stage of sleep, the body is usually very much relaxed. Later research has shown that we also dream during non-REM sleep. But apparently - and this was the thing I can't remember really having heard much about before - the dreams we have during the different stages of sleep are also of different kind. That is why for example medication can affect our dreams (because they can affect what kind of sleep we have). (Or at least that is one reason why etc.)

It seems that during non-REM sleep, we tend to dream happy dreams. During REM-sleep, negative ones, even nightmares. There is also something called REM sleep disorder - some dysfunction in the brain which disturbs this usually relaxed phase of sleep, and causes people to act out in violent action, like punching, kicking, jumping out of bed etc.

The documentary also dealt with the question why we dream. I don't really have a problem with that - I have long believed from my own experience that it is a way to deal with reality, trying to solve problems etc. During a period of intense dreaming years ago, I came to regard even nightmares as "friends" rather than enemies (helping me to understand myself). Scientific research seems to agree.

Scientists now also add the theory that the function of nightmares is sort of preventive: Their job is to train us in our sleep to contend with the dangers of the day. (Experiments have been carried out on animals which seem to support this idea - forcing them into a kind of REM sleep disorder which makes them act out instead of remaining relaxed.) The idea is that our ancestors, having to deal with a more physically cruel reality than most of us today, needed this nightly mental training to survive. But we seem to be able to adapt even our dreams to modern society - modern adult dreamers seem to adjust their nightmares to be related to modern kind of stress rather than fighting wild animals etc. While children often seem to have the more primitive kind of nightmares.

And even today - if I got it right what someone in this documentary said - it seems that the nightmares may fill an odd function, because it seems that people who are bereaved of REM sleep (the nightmare kind of sleep) actually tend to easier fall into depression than those who do have to fight (a normal amount of) nightmares in their sleep!

(Written down from memory the day after I watched the TV documentary.)
(Photo: My own, from the zoo.)



GIANTS FAN said...

How's it going?

I just found your blog and I think it's great. I like reading personal blogs, and I find it a lot better than most other categories. Listen, I have a blog myself that provides inspiration and guidance to millions of people around the world. I would like us to do a link exchange and spread some traffic around. Let me know what you think.


DawnTreader said...

Ahem... What I think is that I don't really consider it my mission to spread my mix of reflections and moody complaints to millions of people. If the millions should randomly happen to find me anyway, then I might possibly have to consider it my fate or something. But thankfully I don't seem to be in any immediate danger of having to take a stand on that just yet.

As for linking to other pages... I choose rather carefully which links I put up here. Usually only to blogs I've already been following for a while.

GB said...

Well said on the comment above.

As to the post on dreams I had known some of that from a thesis many years ago but I found the refresher very helpful and informative given my propensity to nightmares. Thanks.

Marcia said...

Actually, the main difference between REM and non-REM dreams is that REM dreams tend to be crazier "dream-like" dreams whereas non-REM dreams are more boring "reality-ish" dreams.

Also people who are depressed tend to have more REM sleep, not less.

Regarding the idea that children have the more primitive kind of nightmares - children are more likely to dream about things like being chased by wild animals, even those children who have never been in contact with a wild animal.


DawnTreader said...

The point made in the documentary was not that depressed people have less REM sleep, but that people deprived of REM sleep tended to get more depressed than those who had a normal amount of nightmares. (There is a difference.) One conclusion from this was that to deprive people of a normal amount of REM sleep would not be the right way to cure depression. The reversed situation - too many nightmares - is of course also not good for the pshyche; but that we usually have less difficulty understanding.

The most intersting point made in this programme (to me, at least) was the opinion that even our nightmares do seem to have a purpose; that they seem to be actually "designed" to help us to deal better with our daytime life.

GB said...

Thinking about it again perhaps the reason I deal so well with my awake life these days is that I have so many nightmares. I know I had them last night a lot but I can't recall anything about them at all.

DawnTreader said...

Yes dreams do usually glide away from us quickly unless we happen to wake up at the right moment and then make an immediate conscious effort to recall them. Remembering all of them would probably in the long run just be tiresome, even though I (as you know) find dream interpretation (or attempts at it) quite fascinating...


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