Why Do We Dream?

“Why do we dream” is a question ancient philosophers up through modern psychologists have certainly asked. The truth is we aren’t sure about the answers to “why do we dream.” However, if you’re wondering what today’s latest theories are about dreaming, you’ve come to the right place.

I love reading about dream theories because I think it’s fascinating that we all dream but we don’t really know why yet. It’s a proven fact, though, that we need dreams. When people are deprived of REM sleep – the phase in the sleep cycle where dreams are taking place – they end up with all sorts of mental and emotional problems, even if they’re getting adequate sleep in the other phases of the cycle!

So, in answer to your question, “Why do we dream?” here’s a list of today’s top theories of dreams and science’s various attempts to answer the age old “why do we dream” question.

Why do we dream? To get rid of memories we don’t need.

This theory of dreaming was put forth by Francis Crick and Graeme Mithison in 1983. They basically argued that throughout the day, our brain is taking in all sorts of information and forming new neural pathways that aren’t really necessary to us. In answer to the question of “Why do we dream?” these scientists stated, “We dream to forget.” Essentially, they argue that the brain fires randomly in dreams to condense memories and streamline neural pathways so that our brains are essentially more efficient.

Why do we dream? To become wiser.

A similar theory put forth by Matt Wilson of MIT’s Center for Learning and Memory states that dreams help us figure out what to remember and what to forget. Our brains are essentially encoding certain information into our long-term memories and tossing the rest out the window so that, again, we become more efficient – essentially wiser. Essentially, this sorting of information makes it easier to make decisions in the future.

Why do we dream? To work through problems emotionally.

Ernest Hartmann decided that we dream to confront difficult emotions and situations. Dreams are essentially a way to deal with problems and to do self-therapy. He argues that when we dream, our critical faculties are largely switched off, so we can deal with emotions in a new frame of mind. Since our brains are firing in strange ways, we make new connections we might not otherwise have made. This can certainly be true in lucid dreaming, particularly when you’re consciously directing your brain to make connections about a certain problem or event!

Why do we dream? To practice physical responses.

One of the older theories of dreaming by Antti Revonsuo says that we dream to practice our fight-or-flight response. This is an evolutionary theory that says dreams help us survive by learning better self-defense. This is a pretty controversial theory because even though the fight-or-flight part of our brains fires more during the REM cycle, we don’t always dream about things that cause this type of response, so why the other dreams that don’t fit the theory?

Why do we dream? For no reason.

Some argue that we don’t have dreams for any reason at all – that our brains are just unconsciously firing because we aren’t conscious. Again, this is a controversial theory because studies on REM cycle sleep have shown that this phase of sleep is crucial for mental and emotional health. As a lucid dreamer, I can’t believe we dream for no reason at all!

So, in answer to the question, “Why do we dream?” all I can say is no one is for sure. There are lots of interesting theories out there, and it’s up to you to decide which theory – or combination of theories – makes the most sense in your mind.

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"The result of the struggle between the thought and the ability to express it, between dream and reality, is seldom more than a compromise or an approximation." - M. C. Escher