Scientists have not found the real causes of dreams but there are many theories that try to explain this phenomenon. Some scientists have ascertained that dreaming has no direct function while others believe that there is a primary purpose behind the dreaming process. Some theories suggest that:
• Dreaming helps us consolidate and learn information while transferring short-term memory into long-term memory.
• It is part of our consciousness wherein we reflect on our experiences.
• When we dream, the brain reflects on difficult and complicated thoughts, emotions and experiences in order to achieve balance.
• It is just simple biochemical changes and electrical impulses in the brain.
• It unites and processes past, present and future information.
• It prepares the brain for impending threats and dangers.
The dream state is fragile, and can be manipulated: some medications can cause disturbing dreams and conditions like anxiety and depression can cause recurring and stressful dreams. The presence of nightmares can help in the assessment and severity of depression. Research has suggested that patients with severe depression have frequent nightmares.
Studies have also found that there is a relationship between Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, also known as SSRIs and dreams. SSRIs are antidepressants that release serotonin into the brain to make the patient “feel good”. SSRIs have the ability to decrease a person’s memory of dreams or increase their intensity, with more positive emotions linked to the dreams. Reducing SSRIs can lead to nightmares. Drugs and alcohol may also have an effect on dreams as they disrupt the healthy sleep cycle and can reduce the amount of time a person is in REM sleep. Withdrawal from drugs can lead to disturbing and bizarre dreams.
Disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) can also have an effect on sleep. Insomnia can increase a person’s memory of their dreams while also resulting in more stressful dreams. Sleep apnea disrupts REM sleep which can result in unusual dreams. Patients suffering from PTSD often have the same repeated nightmares and can also act them out.
Do you know someone who sleepwalks? Well, there is a disorder called REM behavior disorder, which disrupts the normal sleep occurring during the REM phase. Instead of experiencing relaxed sleep, people with this disorder often move in their sleep. This can potentially be very dangerous, especially if they are sleeping with their partners, as movements can get violent and possibly lead to injury. The real cause of this disorder has not been found but it has some correlation with withdrawal from drugs or alcohol as well as the use of anti-depressants.
Breus, M. J. (2015). Why Do We Dream? Psychology Today.