Why Do We Dream?
Everyone dreams every night -- even if we don't remember our dreams.
Tom Scammell, MD, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says no one knows why we dream. "There is a strong movement in the research community to research how sleep improves memory and learning," Scammell says. "One speculative possibility is that dreaming allows you the opportunity to practice things you may or may not ever have to do, like running away or fighting off a predator."
Three or four times a night, you have a period of sleep that lasts approximately 90 minutes called REM -- rapid eye movement -- sleep. It is during REM sleep that your brain is more active. And according to Scammell, it's then that conditions are right for "story-like" dreams that are rich in action, complexity, and emotion.
"You are most likely to recall dreams if you wake at the end of a REM episode," says Scammell. "Americans, who are chronically sleep-deprived, probably miss out on some REM sleep. This builds up pressure for REM sleep. So when you're catching up on your sleep, you may have more REM sleep with more intense dreams."
The Value of Dreams
Scientists have long debated whether dreams have meaning. But those who work with their dreams, either independently or with the aid of dream interpreters, believe that understanding dreams can provide meaningful clues to feelings, thoughts, behaviors, motives, and values.
Artists, entrepreneurs, inventors, and scientists often get creative ideas from dreams. Jeff Taylor dreamed up monster.com. Jack Nicklaus had a dream of a new golf grip. And Nobel laureate and scientist Wolfgang Pauli called dreams his "secret laboratory."
Kelly Sullivan Walden is a certified clinical hypnotherapist and dream coach. In her book I Had the Strangest Dream...: The Dreamer's Dictionary for the 21st Century, she divides dreams into eight categories:
- Venting (nightmares)
- Wish fulfillment
The most common, she says, are recurring and venting dreams.
Moss gives an example of a predictive dream: "One of the biggest oil discoveries in history ... resulted from a dream of a retired British colonial official living in Kuwait in 1937. Colonel Dickson's dream revealed a specific location near an unusual sidr tree in the Burqan hills. The Kuwait Oil Company, which had been drilling dry holes far away, was persuaded to move a rig to the location identified from the dream and hit a gusher."