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Sometimes, our body does things that we think do not have a purpose. Dreaming could be one of them, but you will be surprised to know that recent research has found out possible explanations on why we dream and how our brain creates dreams while we sleep.

Whenever I want you all I have to do is dream

Dreams have been an interest to humans for ages. In ancient cultures, dreams were a very important part of oral and written tradition, especially because dreams were thought to be prophetic, or that they were the only channel of communication between divinity and humans, for example.

From a less romantic point of view, dreams have also been thought as being the expression of fears or desires that we don’t express openly. The truth is that dreams are not easy to study. Neurobiologists have tried to decipher the mysteries behind dreams and in more recent research, they have been able to come with a few explanations on how dreams are created and if they have a specific purpose.

REM and non-REM sleep

The sleeping cycle is divided into four stages, being the third and fourth the deep stages of sleep. At the same time, specific periods of time that are characterized by rapid eye movements, known as REM cycles, occur during the sleeping cycle.

REM cycles are detected in the first two stages, which are the less deep stages of sleep, and close to the morning.

In total, during one night we spend from 80 to 100 minutes under REM sleep.

 REM cycles have been linked to learning and memory processes, as well as to temperature regulation in mammals and birds, which by the way are the only ones that have these type of cycles while sleeping.

Non-REM cycles refer to the periods of time where no rapid eye movements are detected, which is basically the rest of the time we are deeply asleep.

What is the relation between REM cycles and dreams?

Dreams happen while we are asleep, although we also “daydream”, but that is a different story. Because REM cycles occur at the end of a sleeping cycle and during the less deep sleeping stages, they share characteristics with our awake conscious state.

According to experts, dreams occur during REM cycles.

When we are awake, we are aware of what is happening around us and with ourselves. When we dream, we are also conscious but this type of consciousness is different because, even though we experience emotions and feelings, we think we are awake when we aren’t and so, we are not having any contact with the exterior world or with our bodies, whatsoever.

Dreaming consciousness allows our brain to create the most weird links and mixture of things, people and situations, which don’t happen when we are awake. When dreaming our brain fails to recognize that it is actually dreaming, and that everything that is happening in the dream is not part of the real world.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • DE GENNARO, L., MARZANO, C., CIPOLLI, C. & FERRARA, M. 2012. How we remember the stuff that dreams are made of: neurobiological approaches to the brain mechanisms of dream recall. Behav Brain Res, 226, 592-6.
  • HOBSON, J. A. 2009. REM sleep and dreaming: towards a theory of protoconsciousness. Nat Rev Neurosci, 10, 803-13
  • MARZANO, C., FERRARA, M., MAURO, F., MORONI, F., GORGONI, M., TEMPESTA, D., CIPOLLI, C. & DE GENNARO, L. 2011. Recalling and forgetting dreams: theta and alpha oscillations during sleep predict subsequent dream recall. J Neurosci, 31, 6674-83
  • Photo courtesy of planetchopstick by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/planetchopstick/497736998
  • Photo courtesy of Timothy Krause by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/timothykrause/6040624392