Brain and Mental Health Benefits of Dreaming

I’ve always been fascinated by dreaming and the science of dreams. My dreams are so vivid and realistic it really feels like I enter another world when I sleep. The other night I had a dream that I was sitting on a boat in the middle of a lake, watching the sunrise. In that moment, I felt calm, relaxed and completely at peace. Such a therapeutic and healing experience, I woke up happy, and I took that feeling with me the rest of the day.

When it comes to why we dream, there are many theories. Freud believed dreams were the gateway to understanding the unconscious mind — our hidden desires and underlying thoughts. His dream theory involved two parts: what was on the surface and what was beneath the surface. Carl Jung, on the other hand, saw dreams as a way of expressing things openly, and believed dreams to be the psyche’s way of communicating important information.

“They do not deceive, they do not lie, they do not distort or disguise… They are invariably seeking to express something that the ego does not know and does not understand,” Jung wrote.

Neuroscientists today are continuing to explore dreams, dream interpretation and are finding many health benefits.

Dreams Help You Learn

Have you ever fallen asleep unsure about a decision you were trying to make? Then when you woke up, the answer somehow became clear?

We’ve all heard the expression “let me sleep on it”, but there is actually scientific evidence to support that we, in fact, learn while we sleep.

According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, if you learn a task and then sleep, you may be 10 times better at that activity than if you had stayed awake. Dreaming helps your brain make sense of new information.1

Dreams Can Be Therapeutic

Although what we experience in our dreams is make-believe, the emotions that go along with them are quite real, and dreams can help heal those emotions.

“Our dream stories essentially try to strip the emotion out of a certain experience by creating a memory of it,” Scientific American reports. “This way, the emotion itself is no longer active. This mechanism fulfills an important role because when we don’t process our emotions, especially negative ones, this increases personal worry and anxiety.”

If you’re experiencing some form of PTSD or emotional trauma, dreams can be a form of overnight therapy.

Matthew Walker, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley conducted a sleep study published in the journal Current Biology. Walker’s study concludes that when people go through an emotional event, this triggers the release of stress hormones which prioritizes that event in your mind. This is a reminder to your brain to work through it during sleep.

Walker explains, “Somewhere between the initial event and the later point of recollecting, the brain has performed an elegant trick of divorcing emotions from memory, so it’s no longer itself emotional.”3

Dreams Can Help You Overcome Your Fears

This applies more for lucid dreaming — when you are aware you’re dreaming. A lucid dreamer essentially manipulates and controls the dream.

Let’s imagine you are afraid of public speaking. Every time you get in front of a crowd, you feel as if your heart is beating out of your chest and you’re on the verge of passing out.

In a lucid dream, you are in complete control, and you have nothing to lose. You can practice what you’re afraid to do in real life. The more you practice, the more you are reprogramming your brain. As time passes, you will lose that fear in the real world.

Whether you want to learn a new skill, heal emotional pain or face your fears, dreams have the potential to change your life. Sweet dreams everyone!

References:

  1. Alleyne, R. (2010, April 22). Dreams help us understand and consolidate information. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/7619653/Dreams-help-us-understand-and-consolidate-information.html
  2. Van der Linden, S. (2011, July 26). The Science Behind Dreaming. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-behind-dreaming/
  3. Dell’Amore, C. (2011, November 30) Why Do We Dream? To Ease Painful Memories, Study Hints. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/11/111129-sleep-dreaming-rem-brain-emotions-science-health/

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