Larry A. Law
Dreaming takes the day's valuable experiences and put them into perspective by integrating them with existing knowledge. The brain is able to forget or dissolve painful, emotional feelings wrapped around particular memories. Dr. Matthew Walker has done significant work with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) patients by lowering levels of noradrenaline during sleep. This allows people to restore healthier, quality REM sleep. Healthy REM sleep allows the brain to resolve even traumatic nightmares.
Dr. Sigmund Freud believed dreams came from unconscious wishes that had not been fulfilled. Researchers investigating the validity of his theory had different Freudian psychoanalysts interpret the same dream of an individual. If the Freudian theory was scientifically reliable and had clear structured rules and metrics that the therapists could apply, then their respective interpretations of a particular dream should have been the same--or at least very similar. However, when analyzed, the Freudian psychoanalysts all gave vastly different interpretations of the same dream. There was no consistency. Rather like horoscopes, the interpretations offered were too general to be useful.
Deep REM-sleep dreaming allows the gist of daily thoughts and experiences to meld together in innovative ways that often result in new, creative solutions seemingly beyond the native capabilities of the individual. There are countless stories of people working on problems for days, weeks and years who suddenly have an epiphany which solves complicated problems or brings new ideas or inspiration to the forefront. Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev had a dream where all the elements of the periodic table came together into place. He had worked on trying to find patterns between the known elements for years. But on February 17, 1869 the dream brought all the pieces together in one night. When he woke up, he immediately wrote down the table on a piece of paper. Otto Loewi dreamed of a clever experiment with two frog hearts that revealed how nerve cells communicate with each other using chemicals (neurotransmitters) released across tiny gaps that separate them (synapses), rather than direct electrical signalling that could only happen if they were physically touching each other. This insight was so profound it won him a Nobel Prize.
Paul McCartney's hit songs "Yesterday" and "Let It Be" both came to him in his sleep. He said he woke up with a lovely tune in his head and sat down at the piano and it all flowed out. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones routinely kept a guitar and tape recorder at his bedside to record ideas that would come to him. On May 7, 1965 he woke up and saw that his tape had run to the very end so he played it back. At the beginning of the tape was an entire verse of the song, "Satisfaction" followed by 40 minutes of snoring.
Scientists have shown that babies are able to deduce high-level grammatical structure from new language they hear, but only after they have slept following the initial exposure. REM-sleep is especially dominant during this early-life window of time and now appears to play a critical role in language development. The role dreams and REM-sleep have in our developing life is crucial. Researchers estimate that 35 to 55% of emotional themes and concerns that participants have during the day will resurface in the dreams they have at night. Researchers have begun to break the code of dreams. By watching brainwaves they can even predict specific things a person is dreaming about (a car, a person, etc.). For better or for worse, our dreams may no longer be private experiences. It will be exciting to see what scientists learn in the future as they continue to study our dreams.
One thing is certain: when we are healthy and getting a good night's sleep, we will be much more rested and more likely to remember our dreams. It's no fun staying awake all night counting sheep. If you would like to improve upon your sleep, see my book for foundational components critical for a well-functioning immune system.