7 Theories on Why We Dream


For thousands of years, Dreams have been a subject of fascination to many philosophers. However, it is only in recent times that dreams have been put through scientific study and empirical research. It is very likely you have at one time or the other wondered about the mystery of dreams.

What is the Reason for Dreams?

Everyone dreams but what do psychologists say about the reason for dreams? A lot of theories have been put forward but a single consensus has not been reached. Looking at how much time we spend dreaming, it does seem confusing that researchers have not yet found its purpose.

Some researchers propose that dreams have no real significance while others are of the view that dreaming is important to mental, physical and emotional health.

Prominent dream theories:

Psychoanalytic Theory of Dreams

Keeping with the Psychoanalytic view, Sigmund Freud’s theory of dreams put forth that dreams stood for unconscious thoughts, motivations and wants. It further suggests that people are pushed by sexual and aggressive instincts that are repressed from conscious reality. These repressed thoughts make their way into our awareness through dreams. This theory added to the wide spread of dream interpretation which is still popular today.

Still, research has not been able to show that these repressed thoughts have real psychological essence to dreaming.

Activation-Synthesis Model of Dreaming

Proposed by J. Allan Hobson and Robert McClarley in 1977, this model suggests that the brain circuits are switched on during REM sleep causing parts of the limbic system including the amygdala and hippocampus, concerned with memories, sensations and memories to come alive. The brain interpretes this internal activity and tries to make meaning of the signal thereby causing dreams.

Information-Processing Theories

This theory puts forth that sleep lets us collect and process our previous day’s action and this translates to dreams being a by-product or possibly an active part of this information analysis and processing. As we analyse the heap of memories and information gathered from the day, our sleeping minds craft narratives and images to handle all the action inside our head.

Other Dream Theories

A lot of other theories have been proposed to explain the happening and significance of dreams. These are some of the theories:

One theory puts forth that dreams come from our brains attempting to understand external stimuli while we sleep.

A different theory utilises a computer metaphor to explain dreams. This theory suggests that dreams act as clean-up clutter and build up from the mind just like clean-up activities in a computer system does, reinvigorating the mind for the next day’s activities.

Another model suggests that dreams act as a type of psychotherapy. It proposes that the dreamer has the ability to draw links between various emotions and thoughts in a secure space.

A modern model of dreaming blends a number of elements of different theories. Awakening the brain causes free connections between ideas and thoughts, which are then controlled by the dreamer’s emotions.

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