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LGLWSM Newsletter 075 - Why Do We Dream?
October 03, 2014
It was a crisp and chilly afternoon when I decided to go for a short trek through the woods. The sun danced through the thicket of trees and made cool shadows on the fall leaves below my feet. Suddenly, I heard movement... the faint echo of small branches crackling nearby. I froze in place and peered anxiously around the surrounding foliage and that’s when I saw it! A big yellow boa constrictor had just crawled out from under a nearby bolder and was slowly slithering towards the path that I’d been following. I know I should have been scared, but somehow I wasn’t afraid...
This scenario didn’t happen in real life. It was a dream I recently had. I have always been fascinated with dreams; mainly because my dreams are typically quite vivid and easy to remember. But why the heck do we dream in the first place?
Why Do We Dream?
Dreaming seems to be an involuntary act, just like breathing. Whether or not we like it, our subconscious mind reaches out to us in our dreams. Even if you don't remember them, everyone dreams… for at least one or two hours per night.
REM (rapid eye movement) has classically been known as the foundation of the dream cycle. Infants experience REM during 50 percent of sleep but by adulthood, it declines to around 22 percent. For most adults, REM sleep occurs every 90 minutes. Typically, dreams can last anywhere from 2 minutes up to 55 minutes.
Another fascinating fact about sleep is that during REM sleep, most non-voluntary body muscles are temporarily paralyzed - which keeps you from physically acting out what you’re dreaming about. However, there is an exception to this. Obviously your eyes still move and your fingers and toes do not seem to be limited either. And while it was widely believed that you only dream during REM sleep, it’s now understood that different kinds of dreams can happen during other sleep cycles as well.
In general, people sleep for about one-third of their lives - REM sleep accounts for about one quarter of that time. With the realization that dreams also happen during "Non-REM" sleep, researchers have discovered that the time a person actually spends dreaming could be even longer.
Which brings us back to the question at hand. Why do people dream? Most scientists, researchers and experts agree on a certain amount of theories but there’s just not any overall consensus as to why we dream.
What they can agree on is that dreams happen for physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental reasons… that dreams represent opportunities for creativity, growth, and healing. Dreams help lead to insights that we might not acknowledge during waking hours. They can also represent inner inhibitions about life events.
Problem solving is another barrier that’s breached during the dream cycle which gives our minds free rein to examine all possibilities. Legendary Jack Nicklaus was having problems with his golf swing but in his dreams, he was hitting them very well. He told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter that he noticed his hands were positioned differently in his dream, so the next day he remembered the grip, and shaved off three points from his game. This supposedly also held true for Paul McCartney who ‘heard’ the tune of Yesterday in a dream, and Stephen King whose best-selling book Misery, originated in a dream.
We can also rehearse or practice for future events via our dreams, learn about our bodies' physical needs, improve our diets, and heal emotional wounds from troubled relationships.
Dream researchers may never reach consensus about why dreams happen, but they continue to provide an increasing amount of evidence that dreams play a much more important role in our lives and health than previously imagined.
DreamsCloud is a place where you can keep an online dream journal or learn more about your dreams. They offer a free app for iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry devices, in addition to a Facebook app. If you want to know what your dreams mean, check out the dictionary of dreams here.
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