What happens to your brain when you are dreaming?

What do we know about dreams? We know that when you are awake your conscious brain is in control, almost like you have two literal brains in your head. Because as you fall asleep, your processes your conscious processes are handed off to your unconscious processes and that’s why you tend to twitch as you fall asleep because that’s during the transfer to the unconscious brain

The sleeping brain is way more mysterious because we can’t exactly ask it “what’s happening?” and there hasn’t been many studies on it as opposed to the conscious brain. The only way to really experience people’s dreams is through dream journals. Which is when you wake up and write your dreams.

REM Studies

Scientists don’t even really know why we sleep or why we have rapid eye movement (REM) when we sleep or why we dream when we sleep. It’s a really mysterious time in our lives because we do a lot of it (1/3 of our life). Now I know many people may claim to know the answers to these questions but that is purely speculative and not a definite answer.

But they do know that almost all of our dreams occur during REM sleep. Sigmund Freud believed that dreaming was like a safety valve, it was a way for our unconscious desires to escape into our conscious mind.

In 1953 research described REM in infants, although infants don’t dream about themselves they do have dreams and that is how they began studying sleeping and dreaming.

Most mammals also show signs of REM sleep and reptiles and other cold-blooded animals don’t. We’ve all seen videos of dogs sleeping, we don’t know if they are really dreaming but we are pretty confident that they are.

What is REM sleep? What’s going on in the brain?

Rapid eye movement sleep, as seen in movies like ‘Inception’ is when your eyes are closed and they’re moving rapidly from side to side.

What’s happening is that there are signals travelling through the thalamus part of the brain which relay to the cerebral cortex which is the outer layer of your brain and that part of the brain is responsible for learning, thinking and organizing information.

And it also works with another part of the brain called the pons. The pons sends signals that shut off neurons in the spinal cord causing temporary paralysis of your limbs. If this doesn’t happen people will act out their dreams. Think about sleep walkers…

REM sleep stimulates areas of the brain associated in learning which can be important during infancy and youth. Which is why you dream a lot while you are a kid and you can probably remember most of your dreams as a child. Because it’s a way we can practice real life but without the consequences.

They did a study where they took people and deprived them of REM sleep. They taught a skill to those people and they did not learn the skill very well. People in the study where they did have REM sleep picked up the new skill much easier in comparison

It’s believed that dreams are the Cortex’s attempt to find meaning in random signals that happen during REM sleep. When the brain is shooting information back and forth across your brain, perhaps this is the conscious mind attempting to make sense of what is happening in there.

Remembering your dreams

According to research everyone dreams even if people say they don’t dream either don’t remember them or are lying.

Waking from REM sleep is the best way to remember your dreams best. So, if you can get someone to wake you shortly after you hit REM sleep that’s the best way to do it.

Recalling dreams is not an easy task as most people tend to forget 90% of the dreams that you have, but this is normal.

The reason we don’t remember them is a tough question, as it turns out when you’re asleep because of the way your brainwaves change we can recall somethings and not recall other things.

According to ‘Livescience’ people who recall their dreams have a sustained decrease in alpha brainwave, the decrease in the alpha wave shows that the brain is inhibited from responding from stimuli. For example, if you were asleep and you are in an alpha wave sleep and someone were to say your name your most likely not to wake up.

Scientist believe that when you are in an alpha wave sleep that there is something telling your brain to stay asleep, it’s more important to stay asleep rather than responding to outside stimuli. Almost like a really deep sleep

But people who remember their dreams tend to wake up more often at night so they don’t have as big of an alpha wave dip as people who don’t remember their dreams. It could be that people who recall their dreams more often have more active brains but scientists still don’t have a definite answer as to why you forget so many dreams and some people are so good at remembering them

The faces that are in your dreams are always people you actually know in real life.

It might be:

  • Someone you saw on the train
  • A fellow car driver
  • Someone you saw on the street
  • Colleagues at work
  • Someone you saw while you were on holidays overseas.

Your brain absorbs that information and stores it in your brain and it develops a sort of cast of characters inside the dream stage of your mind. The brain cannot make up faces so it uses those

Why we dream?

Why we dream is an unanswered question but there are hypotheses. An article on Scientific American by professor Ernest Hartman of Tufts University says that we don’t know why we do it but it appears that people dream to be guided by their emotions and then process those emotions he says “Weaving new material into the memory system in a way that both reduces emotional arousal and is adaptive in helping us cope with further trauma or stressful events”

It’s interesting that he mentions trauma because that could be linked to negative things and could be the reason why we have nightmares

I’ll end this post on that note and save nightmares for the next post.

Why not comment on what you remember from your latest dream or a dream that you maybe just cannot forget.





Scroll to Top