Questions (and answers) for school reports!
Q. What exactly are dreams?
A. Dreams are expressions of thoughts, feelings, and awarenesses—that are represented through the creation of sensory environments in our minds. The creation of the dreamscape is caused by stimulation of the sensory cortex, that occurs naturally during REM sleep.
Q. Are dreams in any way related to every day life?
A. Yes! Dreams are representations of thoughts, feelings, and awarenesses that have been occupying our mind—usually for the day or two prior to the dream. If you want to know what a dream is about, think about how it relates to recent events in your life—like what happened yesterday or the day before!
Q. Is there a certain time in the sleep cycle when people dream?
A. Yes. People dream during REM sleep, which occurs about every 90 minutes throughout the night, for progressively longer periods. For example, we may only dream 5 or 10 minutes in our first REM period, but by morning we all dream for about 30-40 minutes—right before we wake up!
Q. Does everyone dream?
A. Everyone dreams about 100 minutes per night; we just have difficulty remembering our dreams. One hundred minutes is over an hour and a half per night of dreams—longer than most movies we see at the theater, or on TV!
Q. Why do people dream?
A. Dreaming helps our brains grow, by exciting our neurons. Did you know that newborn babies dream about 8 hours per day? All warm-blooded creatures have REM sleep—cats dogs, horses—even birds and dolphins!
Q. Can a person affect what they dream about by food, drugs, or alcohol? Or by any other method?
A. Some people say pineapple pizza and chocolate gives them wild dreams, but no one has really been able to prove this! Most drugs—sleeping pills, marijuana, alcohol—decrease our dream recall. If you want to influence what you dream about, write down a question or goal for your dream in a dream journal—just before you go to bed. You will usually dream about your question or goal within a week.
Q. Do dreams serve a purpose in the brain’s function? Or are they part of the brain’s nighttime functions?
A. In addition to helping our brains grow when we are young, researchers believe dreaming plays a role in memory—by strengthening connections between certain areas of our brains, and by allowing other connections (less useful information) to be released and forgotten. REM sleep also plays a role in releasing certain hormones in the brain. Did you know that all anti-depressant drugs are effective because they dramatically reduce REM sleep? Scientists aren’t sure exactly why reduced REM relieves depression—but it does!
Q. How can a person remember more of their dreams?
A. The trick is to learn to wake up slowly. When you first wake up, you need to concentrate on what you were just dreaming about. Try to lie still, and don’t move around very much or get out of bed—not yet. Just concentrate on your dream, or the feeling that your dream caused you. It also helps if you keep a dream diary, and if you remind yourself—before you fall asleep—that you want to remember your dreams in the morning.
Q. Why do some dreams cause a physical response? Like after a bad dream—waking up with the heart racing?
A. Even though our bodies are paralyzed during dreams, our involuntary body responses—including breathing and heart rate—still respond. When something happens in a dream, we think it’s real, and so we can get scared and nervous—just like we do in real life.
Q. Why do people sometimes repeat certain dreams over and over?
A. Recurring dreams reflect feelings and awarenesses that have not been successfully resolved in our waking lives. Unresolved feelings often include the sudden loss of a loved one, or an abrupt end to a romantic relationship! We wish the situation could have ended differently, so we tend to replay it in our minds.
Q. How come on some nights people feel they have dreamt more than others?
A. Some dreams are more emotional than others. We tend to remember our emotional dreams—because they are vivid and intense—and because we often wake up directly from them!