Why do we have dreams and nightmares?



Nothing in our lives is stranger than the fantasies created in our dreams. Some of them are delightful, with all the joy and romance that have inspired poets since ancient times. We wake up sorry to find that we have been dreaming.

Other dreams are so bizarre that we are baffled: people appear who have been out of our thoughts for years; other charvers are a composite of two or more acquaintances; decades become muddied; we do things we would never dare to do in real life.

Another kind of dream solves a problem. We see where a lost object is locate. We get the answer to a tricky office matter or to some difficulty in arrangement or designing. The solution comes in a miraculous flash of wisdom – and we remember it grateful when we wake up.

In other dreams we find ourselves in hopeless situations: doors are shut fast, never to open; trains depart when we are desperate to catch them; we try to run, but our legs won’t function. One degree further and our unpleasant dream becomes a nightmare, from which a victim may wake in fright, trembling with terror.

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who gave us the first comprehensive study of dreams, believed that some dreams are a form of wish-fulfilment, closely related to the deep emotional reactions of infancy. A person’s dreams revealed repressed feelings and thoughts, presented often in a disguised form.

Many psychologists today say that drams are an extension of daytime consciousness, a process in which the ideas feelings and mental impressions absorbed from a variety of sources during our walking hours are sorted out. Strange an inexplicable events take place in dreams because the conscious and awake mind of the day is sleeping: actions that the conscious mind would control in this waking hours are left to run freely.

Some true nightmares, experienced once or more a year by about half the population, may stem form infancy, and vague in detail. Others are created by real and devastating experiences involving the dreamer, such as a car crash, fire or the death or a close relative. Studies have shown that certain personality types, particularly those doing creative work, may be more nightmare-prone than others.

Research using electroencephalography has divided our sleep into phases. By recording the brain’s electrical impulses, we know that dreams take place during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which occurs four or five times a night and may last each tie for up to twenty minutes.

During REM, the brain is extremely active. People woken during an REM phase often report quite vivid dreams, remembering them in great detail. This may explain why we recall some drams and not others. Those remembered probably occur in an REM phase close to our normal waking time.

Babies spend more time in REM sleep. So do people who have suffered a head injury. Medical scientists say that this may indicate the REM sleep plays an important part in promoting brain activity. In the first few years of life, the impressions made on baby and recorded in during REM sleep may set up the patterns that dictate the child’s personality.

By tracking brain activity during our sleep, some researchers believe they can pinpoint the exact location of the mind or ‘psyche’. They place it within the limbic system, which is located in a semicircle in the middle of the brain. They say that this region acts as the brain’s executive office, deciding which events should be filed away in the memory and which should be forgotten. The dram process they suggest, is essential for these structures within the brain to function efficiently. There are always body wonders.


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