January 2015 -
Friday, 30 Jan 2015

Why do we dream?

By Dr. Becky Spelman

origin_4913926635Nobody knows for sure why we developed the ability to dream, or what the evolutionary advantage is, but there are lots of interesting theories out there. Whatever the origins of dreaming (something that we share with at least some other mammals), it can play an important role in our psychological health. Again, the mechanism by which this takes place is not always a completely straightforward one.

Dreaming takes place when we are in period of sleep called that is characterised by rapid eye movement, known as REM. If someone’s brain is scanned during REM sleep, it shows that there is a similar level of neuronal activity going on as when they are awake. That is because they are dreaming! Many scientists believe that one function of this process is to help our brain to organise the material it has had to take in during the day, and to “file” relevant data in long term storage. In the case of most experiences involving emotion, this helps to process the information.

We live in a complex emotional landscape. Sometimes there are so many things going on at once that our brains aren’t able to process all the emotions we are experiencing. When we are asleep, and don’t have to worry about the millions of things that occupy us all day long, our minds often process the events of the day in a way that helps us to make sense of the associated emotions. There’s a lot of mystique around the idea of interpreting dreams, but in reality they are often quite easy to figure out. If you can identify the primary emotion you experienced in your dream, and then think about areas in your life that elicit similar emotions, you may well be able to figure out the symbolic meaning of the dream. You may have noticed that you have recurring dreams, or dreams that have similar themes. This happens when a tricky issue in your life remains unresolved.

In the case of traumatic events, it is thought that the emotions involved can sometimes be too much for the brain to deal with. In that case, the emotional memory can be stored in a part of the brain called the amygdala. This is a functional adaptation insofar as the next time we experience a similar situation, we will be able to respond to it more quickly. However, in today’s world, extreme situations associated with traumatic memories are more than likely to be one-offs. It would be better for us to find a way to process the emotion. When nature doesn’t play its part, in the form of dreaming, therapy is always an option.

If you would like to talk to someone about unresolved emotional issues, contact the Private Therapy Clinic by telephone at: 020 38871738  or book online by clicking below.


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  • By Dr Becky Spelman
  • General
  • Sleep
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