“I dreamt that I was begging my friend not to go fight with rebels in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. When I woke up I checked the atlas, and I was right. Antananarivo is the capital of Madagascar! I didn’t know that I knew that.” As this dreamer’s story illustrates, our brains don’t shut down when we sleep. Instead, they give us dreams—dreams that are weird and wonderful, scary and surreal. For all their mystery, though, research continues to show that dreaming is very important to human well-being.
Early research revealed that when we dream our eyes move rapidly side-to-side beneath our eyelids (called rapid eye movement, or REM sleep) and our bodies are practically paralyzed. Now researchers have found that we also dream during non-REM sleep. The dreams that occur during the two types of sleep differ in quality. Non-REM dreams tend to be positive and pleasant. They also help us process information. For example, during non-REM sleep a test subject who had played a skiing simulation game while awake dreamt of placing his feet into deep boot prints in the snow. He later performed better on the game. In contrast, dreams during REM sleep are more disturbing. In fact, people diagnosed with depression often go straight to REM sleep, bypassing the non-REM part of the sleep cycle.
Dreaming can also enhance our creative side. Many scientific and technical innovations have been credited to dreams. We can even train ourselves to dream about a topic that has us stumped. Chances are good that dreaming can provide insights to the puzzle. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you should rely on your dreams to solve that knotty geometry proof!
Image credit: HMH
- What Are Dreams?
Watch the video “What Are Dreams?” or print out the transcript for this NOVA program.
(Source: PBS; accessed August 1, 2011)
- The Science of Dreams
This Canadian site has a useful FAQ section.
(Source: Dream and Nightmare Laboratory, Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal; accessed August 1, 2011)
- International Association for the Study of Dreams
This international organization promotes “awareness and appreciation of dreams” and is dedicated to investigation “into the nature, function, and significance of dreaming”; check out the About Dreams tab for links to many related topics.
(Source: International Association for the Study of Dreams; accessed August 1, 2011)