Why Do We Dream?

By Lauren Wanko

We hop into bed, pull over the covers, drift off to sleep and eventually step into another world of sorts — dreamland.

“One of the questions is does everyone dream? There are some people that say, ‘I never dream.’ Everyone dreams. It’s just a matter of whether you remember the dreams or not,” said Dr. Ramon Solhkhah.

Why do we dream?

“It’s a great question. I wish I could answer it. There is no actually definitive answer about why we dream so there are lots of theories,” Solhkhah said.

Psychiatrist Solhkhah says Freud believed our dreams represented our unconscious thoughts.

“So by analyzing dreams he can get a better understanding of who people are and what made them tick. As we let our defenses down each night, as we’re relaxing and as we’re beginning to fall into that sleep, our brain starts to share those deep buried thoughts about what we think about, what we’ve made of our experiences in the past and that’s what dreams represent,” he said.

Others believe in a more biologically based theory.

“It’s really our brain resetting. So it’s our brain’s way of organizing our memories. Some people think that the link between that unconscious view and the biological is that there are those neurons, or the brain cells that are firing. So as you get a fragment of a memory, your brain tries to make sense of that and that becomes the dream. So that’s part of the reason why dreams are often unusual or weird or don’t always make sense, because it’s just a fragment of it and your brain is really trying to make sense of the experience,” Solhkhah said.

Sleep is a restorative process. There are several stages. Dreams typically occur during REM sleep — rapid eye movement.

“When we were first beginning to observe people doing sleep studies, we noticed that people’s eyelids would flutter and that their eyes would be fluttering underneath while they were sleeping so that’s how you know you’re in that segment of sleep,” Solhkhah explained.

People usually dream four to six times each night and they’re not always good dreams.

Solhkhah says there’s no specific reason why most people have nightmares. They’re simply bad dreams. But for others, those nightmares could be a symptom of a more severe sleep disorder — night terrors. That’s treated at the Center for Sleep Medicine at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. Those who suffer from depression and anxiety like PTSD may be at an increased risk for nightmares and insomnia.

Some of the medications used to treat depression and anxiety can interrupt and affect dreams, says the doctor. Still humans aren’t the only ones who dream.

“There are some studies that show that in fact all mammals dream so that the belief is we don’t know since we can’t obviously talk to the animals about them dreaming, but they clearly have the rapid eye movement portion of the sleep cycle,” Solhkhah said.

Solhkhah isn’t surprised researchers still don’t have a firm answer on why we dream because of how complex the brain is. But with medical advances in brain imaging and other technology, he expects the medical community will have a better understanding about dreams over the next 10 to 20 years.