We sleep for a third of our lifetime – and yet we know almost nothing about what happens when we sleep – like dreams!
You all must have had a dream at some point or the other – so we are not going to delve on what a dream is or what it feels like, rather the question that baffles most common people & even scientists is – what causes dreams?
There are a lot of conflicting hypotheses. One of the most famous one says that certain memory processes can happen only when we sleep – dreams are a signal these processes are taking place.
So what happens is, while we are asleep, the unconscious part of our brain is busy organizing memories – strengthening and collecting the ones from the day before that we need in future, and getting rid of junk that is not needed (so that it doesn’t clog the brain!).
Now this organisation takes place in the form of electrical impulses, and when these get detected by our conscious brain, it goes crazy!
It doesn’t know what it is, so it tries to best fit it in a story – which we see as a dream. This explains why most of the dreams we have are related to happenings of the day. This also explains why dreams are completely random – our brain cannot infer them! And actually, they are not to be inferred at all – they are just noise that our brain tries to make sense out of.
Again – this is one of the hypothesis as to why we dream, and many more theories exist.
Some of them suggest that we dream to remember – because probably, dreaming while sleeping is better to remember an activity – like playing an instrument.
One more famous theory suggest that we dream to solve problems – our problem solving strategies are better when we sleep, and this is demonstrated in history by many many examples!
Kekule’s example tells us the best solution to a problem is to sleep on it. If you have read about this chemist named August Kekulé, he was baffled – like many other scientists – as to what is the structure of benzene, or C6H6. He delved on it for days with no result when one day he decided to sleep on it – and saw the structure of benzene as we know it in his dream! And all the experiments conducted till date have validated his structure!
Not only this, Paul Mcartney, a Beatles member, dreamed of Yesterday’s melody in dream. James Cameron saw story of terminator in dream. Neils Bohr came up with his structure of atom in dream, looking like solar system. Mendeleev got his idea of periodic table in dream.
Stuck with a problem – maybe sleep on it?!
Now sadly, we do not know which one, of any one of these hypotheses at all is true. Yes – to be honest, we don’t know anything to be sure at all!
But what we know, is that the evolutionary purpose of everything that we do is to make us more successful tomorrow than we are today – dreams may be too – so it might be good to read more and stay connected with upcoming research to find out.
But the intriguing things taking place while you are sleeping don’t end here. There are a lot of other interesting experiences that take place while we are sleeping.
Have you ever woken up from a sleep, unable to move? Your eyes are open, you are able to see your surroundings and movement, but you just can’t move!? If yes then you have experienced what scientists call as ‘sleep paralysis’.
Why does this happen? When we sleep, we experience cycles of REM and non-REM sleep. Out of these, REM is the part where we dream. During this part of the sleep, some neurotransmitters like GABA and glycin also turn off your muscle movement to make sure you don’t start acting out your dreams!
Now, if you happen to wake up from middle of a REM sleep, your muscles are still sleeping – so you can’t move. Even if you are fully awake!
And this is more important than it sounds – because people who are unable to achieve REM sleep are the ones who walk around or talk in their sleep – because their brain never shuts off their muscle movement.
There are a lot of other interesting experiences that our brain has to offer. We have answers for some, for some we have no clue, like dreams. Thousands of scientists study human brain as a full-time career and yet haven’t been able to uncode it completely!