Now if you’re looking for an interpretation of your specific dreams, you won’t find that in this posting, but what you will find is how your dreams are generated (sort of) and where they come from (for real).
Your dreams are a way for your brain to process all the information that’s been taken in during the day, to sort it all out and discard what’s not necessary, according to Gary L. Wenk, professor of Psychology & Neuroscience & Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics at the Ohio State University.
Dr. Wenk divides sleep into two types, consolidating the four (or five) phases of sleep we discussed in our last posting. One is slow wave sleep (SWS), and the other is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. We dream during both types of sleep but differently.
During the day, events are stored in what’s called the hippocampus. At night, according to Dr. Wenk, during SWS our brain shows us movies of events from our lives, but in compressed, rapid-fire fashion, often not just with today’s events but also with distant memories intruding.
“If you’ve ever dreamed of being buried alive, or of having a beast sitting on your chest, you were likely in SWS at the time,” he writes in “Psychology Today.” “For most people, nightmares, bedwetting, sleep-walking and night terrors occur during SWS.”
In contrast, during REM the hippocampus shuts down, allowing the frontal cortex to process what’s transpired during SWS. “REM sleep facilitates the use of prior information for creative problem solving, thus our cortex is busy filtering out the useless memories in favor of useful ones,” he further explains. “Often, stronger emotional content helps to consolidate long-lasting memories.”
Since the two, SWS and REM, work in tandem, neither is really more important than the other. Their joint action helps us “consolidate memories for future use.” (Note also that dreams deal with realities, events and emotions from your real life, not with fantasies. Dreaming is an important function for daily living and mental health.)
Dr, Wenk concludes that it’s not so much the quantity of sleep but its quality that enables us to have healthy dreaming to clear up our mental cobwebs and help us journey in the proper direction in the daytime.
If you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, dreaming is another area where you’re probably shortchanging your overall well-being. If you have trouble sleeping, as we’ve written here many times, please seek professional advice and treatment as soon as possible.