Dreaming, much like binge-watching Netflix, is one of those things we all do, but no one seems to understand why. We don’t dream every time we sleep, and when we do, it’s usually of some random scenario that makes no sense. We sometimes wake up with a vague recollection of a dream, but we typically can’t piece together anything concrete. This tends to be why it’s hard to study dreams, since they’re inconsistent, random, and easily forgotten (except for those pesky nightmares you’ve been getting since you were eight). Psychologists tend to agree that dreaming serves no direct physical function. However, some researchers believe that we dream for a reason and that it serves some sort of emotional, or primary, function.
These types of psychologists tend to study not only the causes of dreams but also their meanings. They delve into what dreaming can do for our bodies and our brains, such as if they can indicate how we view the world or process information. Others research the history of dreaming and whether only some of our evolutionary ancestors could dream, giving them some sort of selective advantage from those who couldn’t.
Let’s explore the top ten reasons that could explain why we dream.
1They Consolidate Memories
Numerous studies have found that dreams help us store information. When we dream, it allows our brain to move information into long-term memory storage. Neuroscientists have found that during the day, memories are stored in the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with long-term memory. While we sleep, memories are transferred from the hippocampus to the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that processes new information and is known for cognition and knowledge.
Sleep allows our brain time to transfer memories to different parts of the brain so that they can be recorded and sometimes even restored. Studies have also found that before memories are transferred to the cerebral cortex, the hippocampus seems to replay our day, sometimes in reverse!