It would be hard to fathom our human organism implementing useless functions.
After all, today’s dominant scientific theory of Darwinism argues that all species are the results of millions of years of evolution driven by survival of the fittest. No unneeded biological or psychological component seems to have its place in such a grand scheme.
What is the role of dreams, then?
Read on to find out!
The dream, like everything else, therefore, probably has a specific role. Since the dawn of time, many advanced or eccentric theories have come to maintain the aura of mystery that reigns around dreams. As of today, there is no definite answer to that question. However, neuroscience has some solid theories about it.
In babies and young children, Rapid eye movement sleep, also called REM or REMS, seems to be a privileged phase of the construction of our neural systems. The brain builds and specializes during the first years of life. At a very early age, the connections between neurons are few, and then they increase throughout learning. It is they which, subsequently, allow us to have a fair, rapid reasoning and adequate memorization capacities.
Stimulated during the day, it seems neurons work during the night to create these bonds between them and to solidify these. That’s why doctors often repeat that a good night’s sleep is essential for children to develop naturally.
In adults, on the other hand, it has been shown more recently that limiting REM sleep did not influence memory capacity, contrary to what had long been thought. Dreams could have slightly different functions depending on age.
What then if the night, with dreams, helped us prepare for the next day?
The construction of the dream
As for the dream itself, it is often composed, at least partially, of events, places, or characters that have punctuated the day or the previous days.
Neuroscientists have studied this strange interweaving of reality and inventiveness. They do make our dreams come true during the day. At night, we compare what we have experienced with what is already stored in our memory. There is a considerable link between dream and memory.
While dreaming, the connections ignite, and our brain builds a new reality from all these elements. Sometimes there is a logical sequence; sometimes, it seems inconsistent at first, but, always, there are references to old things, which must then be deciphered.
The debate of the dream and the unconscious
Dreams and their function is still a highly debated topic within the scientific community.
Among dream theorists, the neurologist and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud is undoubtedly the most famous, even if several thinkers have since distinguished themselves from his theories. For Freud, dreams are expressions of our unconscious and deep desires, almost always originating from infantile sexuality.
More prosaically, specialists often believe that the dream does indeed have a meaning but that it is hidden.
It depends on each person’s experience. These are bits of memories, a mosaic of elements whose assembly produces the dream. To understand their meaning, we must analyze these elements in light of the history of the individual.
It is also the theory of biologist Yves Delage who was interested in the construction of the dream as well. His conclusion was that imagination has nothing to do with it. According to him, dreams are the product of images recorded in the past. These images are most often broken down, or even recomposed in another way, whether they are characters or events.
Explanation of dreams: the different theories
We can think that the elements of the day re-emerging at night are the most striking or concerning, but this may not be a conscious process. We have a problem to solve and, since we did not manage to figure it out during our awakening, our unconscious makes another attempt to solve it at night.
Another theory is that the dream is a means to prepare for the next day, a bit like mental imagery when a person is about to take a sporting test or an exam and that he or she visualizes this moment to prepare for it. Mentalizing the next day’s tasks helps us prepare more efficiently.
Some scientists believe that the dream would have the same faculty. Indeed, the same brain areas are activated as when we perform these actions in real life, except that this does not translate into any physical activity at all.
Indispensable in infants and young children, REM sleep helps build the brain and its proper functioning at a young age.
This is not so for adults whose lack of sleep does not affect their ability to memorize. For them, it seems to be more a matter of interpreting the world and solving its hardest conundrums.