Dreams: Your release from reality

The fascination with dreams has enchanted many inquiring minds beyond psychologists and Hollywood filmmakers. The idea that your brain is performing while you sleep, without your awareness or control, can be scary and intriguing.  Hollywood takes advantage of this mystery by making films like “Inception” where there’s a dream within a dream within a dream.

However, Jaime L. Tartar, Ph.D., associate professor in the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences in the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences said the science of dreams isn’t as confusing as Hollywood depicts.

“Everyone dreams,” Tartar said. “As long as everyone has rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep, the cortex is activated, producing seeing and hearing sensations.”

Though people may not always remember their dreams, the brain is continuously cycling through deep sleep and REM sleep.

The brain activation tricks the mind into thinking the person is awake, but the body actually goes into a temporarily paralyzed state, known as muscle atonia.

Dreams take place in both deep sleep and REM sleep, though the dreams differ in quality. REM dreams are more vivid and account for most unpleasant dreams or nightmares. Dreams in deep sleep are fuzzier, less colorful and less intense than REM dreams.

Tartar said the intensity of REM dreams makes the experience feel more authentic.

“We all think we have a very solid grasp on reality, but your brain, without conscious awareness the majority of the time, decides.”

She said this makes dreams similar to schizophrenic hallucinations because the sense of reason is absent.

Tartar said the activation synthesis theory suggests that the brain strings together stories to make sense out of the random activation that occurs while one sleeps. The threat simulation theory states that dreams help individuals rehearse threats in their environment to better prepare them for dealing with the threats in waking life. Freud claimed that dreams serve as mechanisms to live out subconscious desires.

But some decide to forget the method behind the madness and simply enjoy dreams’ illusions. Where else can you find yourself flying over distant countries in the comfort of your own bed or completely naked in front of your classmates? Hey- at least the first one’s good.

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