Aristotle, one of the first to attempt a systematic study of dreams, suggested that dreaming draws us into an internal world experienced more vividly in the absence of external sensory stimulation. Since then, the question of why we dream continues to intrigue and puzzle the thinkers of our time.
Are dreams more than a nightly de-cluttering of the mind?
Is it possible that delving into our dreams can help us to live better?
There is a long-held view that dreams are a deeply creative mode of thought-processing, not restricted by the logic of everyday waking life — a means of expressing complicated wishes or an imaginative attempt at problem-solving.
With recent sleep studies suggesting that dreams may assist in daytime function and performance — especially relating to creativity, self-awareness, and problem-solving — science may be giving these long-held beliefs some credence.
While some scientists posit that dreaming has no direct function, but instead is a side-effect of the biological changes and electrochemical impulses that occur during sleep, many believe dreaming serves a primary purpose. Some prominent theories suggest that dreaming is:
- A mode of memory processing necessary for the consolidation of certain types of memories.
- An extension of consciousness that reflects our waking experiences back to us in novel ways.
- A protective measure the mind takes to protect itself from overload or other potential challenges.
- A means by which the mind works through complicated or unsettling thoughts, feelings, and memories in an attempt to maintain or restore emotional balance.
More broadly, it seems that dreams provide us with insight about what’s preoccupying, troubling, and engaging our minds. There is not likely to ever be a simple answer or a single theory that explains the full role of dreaming in human life. But the evidence seems to indicate that dreams are necessary for emotionally processing memory — and certainly not random psychological noise.