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Friday, July 22, 2016

Do Dreams Benefit Us or Are They Just a Byproduct of Sleep?

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Dreams have puzzled scientists for ages, with their elusive nature and no clear purpose behind them. Since Freud's controversial assumptions regarding dreaming and its meaning, countless studies have emerged trying to shed light on this mysterious process. Are dreams just a byproduct of sleeping or do they have actual benefits for us? This research paper aims to show that they, indeed, are beneficial to our overall health and functioning, as well as to provide details as to how they help us.

Even Animals Dream

Every pet owner knows that animals seem to dream, and numerous research papers have provided clear evidence in this respect. Furthermore, a 2001 MIT study report states that they actually have complex dreams, just like humans, reiterating events or fragments of experiences that took place when they were awake.

Considering that, according to evolutionist theories, traits that have no use to a species (or not anymore) are usually lost after generations, it is clear that dreaming is important. Why else would humans and so many different animal species, from reptiles and rats to birds, cats and dogs, still have dreams?

Dreams Help with Memory Consolidation

Matthew Wilson, from the Center for Learning and Memory at MIT, believes that, when memories are reactivated in dreams, they are better incorporated in the brain and their long-term encoding takes place. Furthermore, research papers and studies suggest that individuals trying to learn repetitive tasks can enhance their performance during REM sleep. In some cases, practicing the repetitive tasks during a dream seems to be just as effective as performing the same activities while awake.

Dreams May Help with Problem Solving

Just like repeating tasks in your sleep seems to improve performance, researchers suggest that dreams may also offer humans the opportunity to continue working on a problem. There are countless reports of people waking up with solutions to problems they could not find answers to during waking hours, and dreaming may play an important role in this, as studies report. Dreams are an access gate to the subconscious and allow the mind to reach information that isn't available while awake. They help the brain to make connections between experiences and facts that are related, leading to better learning and problem solving.

Remembering Dreams Reduces Cortisol Levels

Recent research papers have shown that remembering pleasant dreams the next day can reduce cortisol levels - the primary stress hormone in the body - which leads to reducing stress. Stress can greatly affect both body and mind and, therefore, remembering a positive dream can lead not only to a better mood, but better general health as well.

Dreaming Is Important for Emotional Wellbeing

According to an MSNBC report, the brain regions that are activated during a dream are the same ones linked with processing emotions and memories. As specialists state, dreams are capable of shaping your self-image and help cope with unresolved emotions triggered by events that took place during your waking hours. Furthermore, according to Don Kuiken of University of Alberta, revisiting an event when sleeping reshapes your understanding of it, allowing you to handle it better and leading to improved emotional health. This is why even nightmares, even though unpleasant, can have a beneficial impact on you.

Experts believe that dreams combine hidden memories, fears, hopes, and recent events into a new mix, creating neural connections that may not be possible to attain during waking life, thus making the process of dreaming an important part of the emotional coping mechanism.

Dreams Help Reduce Depression

Besides supporting general emotional wellbeing, dreaming has been shown to alleviate depression. Leading sleep researcher Rosalind Cartwright states that dreaming and remembering dreams allows individuals to heal faster from depression. Furthermore, according to Anne Germain of the University of Pittsburg, dreaming of recent traumatic events may help process the trauma more easily and make the memory of it less upsetting, working similarly to exposure therapy.This might be exactly why so many individuals have nightmares after going through a disturbing experience.

Conclusion

While the reason we dream may still not be fully understood, numerous studies and research paper reviews show that dreams are, indeed, important and have significant benefits, from memory consolidation and problem solving to improving general wellbeing and even reducing depression after traumatic events. Researchers still have a lot of work to do to uncover the mysteries of dreaming, and their findings will surely be highly intriguing.