Why dreams are important even if they are bad dreams?

A man dreaming.
Glancing over my shoulder I could see a huge, hideous creature galloping to overtake me. Unarmed, and practically naked, I tried to run. My feet seemed glued to the ground! One more look behind me and . . . Then I saw this fire engine racing down the street, its bell clanging. And I woke up in a cold sweat, to hear my alarm ringing!"
Does that dream sound familiar to you?

Perhaps so, for it contains the essential elements of common dreams: an unpleasant experience, unusual dress, a rapid change of scene, inability to run, with part of the action stimulated by a sound in the bedroom. 

Happily, we wake up in time to escape!

But why do we dream?

Why we dream?

A woman dreaming.

Research indicates that some dreams are a product of our daily activities, sensations and thoughts.

In What Your Dreams Mean, Ann Faraday states that:

the majority of dreams in some way reflect what has preoccupied our minds during the previous day or two.”

On the other hand, shell-shocked soldiers are often troubled for years by terrifying nightmares after their return from war.

Interestingly, some experiments show that all of us seem to need our dreams, and the younger we are, the more necessary they appear to be. 

By using drugs that selectively eliminate only REM sleep, researchers have proven that adults can survive long stretches without their dreams. 

At the same time, though, these dream-starved persons undergo subtle personality changes: 

They become increasingly abrasive and anxious, often unable to concentrate as well.

Confirming that dreams do play an essential part in our lives.

Therefore, REM periods (and hence dreams) are there for a reason and judging by the degree to which the body is involved, almost certainly an important one.


Interest in dreams not new

An Egyptian encryption.

Interest in dreams is about as old as humans.

There is a lot of interest about dreams among ancient nations.

Babylonians had such trust in dreams that on the eve of important decisions they slept in temples, hoping for counsel.

The Greeks and Romans did likewise. 

Egyptians prepared elaborate books for dream interpretation. 

In medieval Europe and even among Muslim society, important matters of state were decided on the basis of dreams. 

Is there reason to believe that those dreams were of divine origin and, hence, the decisions made were on a solid basis? 

How about the interpreting of dreams today?

Sigmund Freud called dreams “the royal road to the unconscious” and attempted to interpret them on the basis of our repressed desires, especially the strong sex drive. 

However, the past few decades have witnessed much study of dreams in scientific centers, and the consensus is that Freud’s interpretation of dreams was overly simplified.

What study of dreams reveal?

A woman sleeping.

Using electronic gadgetry of the space age, researchers have studied changes in brain waves and the activity in certain brain cells during the dreaming process. 

Science is still a long way from a comprehensive understanding of dreams, but some conclusions are now quite universally accepted. 

For example, it has been shown that everyone dreams, even those who vigorously deny it. 

Infants spend up to 70 percent of their sleeping time in the dream state, whereas adults spend only about 24 percent. 

Cats and many other mammals show brain activity during sleep, and it is believed that they also dream. 

Surely the sleeping dog is dreaming when it whines and barks as its paws twitch.

Experiments on human subjects indicate that sleep can be divided into stages. 

Beginning with a light sleep, we gradually pass through progressively deeper sleep until we reach the profound Stage IV. 

Then, after a lighter stage, we enter the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. 

As its name indicates, this stage is accompanied by darting movements of the eyes, as though the eyes were following rapid movements on a screen. 

Even though the eyes are closed, this movement is clearly visible to an observer. 

European researchers call this stage “paradoxical sleep,” since a study of the brain waves reveals that the brain is functioning as if the body were awake.

REM sleep is generally a period of dreaming.

In this research the procedure is for the observer to awaken the sleeper when the period of REM sleep ends and have him relate his dream. 

It is found that it usually takes about 90 minutes for the sleeper to pass through all the stages of sleep, from Stage I through the REM period, after which the cycle begins again. 

The nightly pattern is as regular as the motions of the planetary bodies. 

The initial period of REM sleep lasts for only five to ten minutes, but this gradually lengthens until the final period, which lasts about 50 minutes. 

In a normal night’s sleep, there is a total of 90 to 120 minutes of REM sleep, or dreaming. 

So you generally have a total of dreaming time equal to that of an ordinary movie. 

Not a bad way to pass the night, you say?

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