The Psychology of Sleep and Dreaming

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The psychology of sleep and dreaming gives a glimpse into why we sleep and dream, offering insights as to what dreams do for you, and what nightmares are all about.

Dreams are a mystery to many people who don’t understand why sleep needs to entail dreaming at all. The truth is however, that the real reason you sleep is so that you can dream. If you only needed to rest your weary bones you could achieve this by simply relaxing, and refraining from physical activity for a while.

You may only remember your dreams occasionally, but this doesn't mean you haven’t been dreaming in-between those you are able to recall. Studies show people dream when they enter the REM stage of sleep, otherwise known as rapid eye movement. Eye movement is an indication that a dream is occurring, and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll miss this stage out altogether.

The earliest psychoanalytical work regarding dreams led to the conclusion that dreams were messages from the subconscious. Both Freud, and then Jung offered a great deal of insight into dream analysis and theories about why people dream.

The most recent studies on sleep and dreams are extremely valuable, because these days scientists can use equipment of see how the brain reacts during the different stages of sleep, and no-longer have to rely on guesswork.

We now know that while theories about why we dream from the past aren’t entirely wrong, there’s much more to dreaming then was once thought.

Dreams occur so that people can assimilate things which have happened to them in the day, and retain information so that they learn from experiences. Dreams are also likely to explore repressed emotions. If you’ve felt angry or sad during the day but didn’t adequately express yourself, your true feelings are likely to be released in your dreams.

It’s also thought that the brain may try out different ideas about how to cope with potential threatening scenarios which could occur in waking life. Therefore if you watch a scary movie about a burglar who takes householders hostage, your brain may utilise this scenario in a dream, which could be described as a nightmare.

Such a nightmare would come about due to several reasons. The first being that your brain is dealing with feelings you may not have expressed properly while watching the movie, hence you feel fearful in the dream. The second would be your brain working out different ways of coping, in case a similar experience happens to you in your waking life.

This is an explanation of why we call some dreams nightmares. They involve unpleasant feelings, and force us to deal with things we are afraid of.

Dreams then, are not only useful but necessary. They occur so that we can make use of experiences and assimilate knowledge. They help us to recognize our fears and release pent up emotion which hasn’t been expressed. They also store up different ways of coping and adapting to life in our subconscious, where we can tap into them when we need to.

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