People have pondered the significance of dreams for ages. Dreams were considered a channel between our earthly world and the world of the gods by early cultures. The Greeks and Romans believed that dreams possessed prophetic abilities.

While there has always been a keen interest in interpreting human dreams, it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung advanced some of the most well-known modern theories of dreaming. Freud’s thesis was based on the concept of repressed desire, which holds that dreaming permits us to sort out unresolved, hidden wishes.

Carl Jung believed in the psychological significance of dreams but presented alternative ideas regarding their meaning.

Other ideas have now emerged as a result of technical developments. The “activation-synthesis hypothesis,” which asserts that dreams are just electrical brain impulses that draw random thoughts and imagery from our memories, is a popular neurobiological theory of dreaming. According to the idea, humans invent dream tales when they wake up to it all.

Nonetheless, given the extensive recording of realistic elements of human dreaming, as well as indirect and evidence that other animals such as cats also dream, evolutionary psychologists have argued that dreaming has a function.

The “threat simulation theory,” in particular, proposes that dreaming should be viewed as an ancient biological defence mechanism that provided an evolutionary advantage due to its ability to repeatedly simulate potential threatening events – enhancing the neuro-cognitive mechanisms required tools that threat perception and avoidance.

As a result, various ideas have been proposed throughout the years to shed light on the enigma of human dreams. Still, solid physical proof has remained primarily elusive until lately.

Nonetheless, a recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience gives intriguing insights into the mechanics underlying dreaming as well as the close link our dreams have with our memory. Cristina Marzano and her colleagues at the University of Rome have succeeded in describing how people recall their dreams for the first time. Based on a characteristic pattern of brain waves, the scientists estimated the chance of effective dream recall. To do this, the Italian research team asked 65 students to spend two nights in their study facility on consecutive evenings.

The focus group was left to sleep on the first night to get acclimated to the sound-proofed and temperature-controlled quarters. The researchers monitored the students’ brain waves as they slept on the second night. There are four types of electrical brain waves in the human brain: “delta,” “theta,” “alpha,” and “beta.” Each represents a distinct frequency of pulsating electrical voltages, and they combine to produce electroencephalography (EEG).

The Italian study team utilized this technique to monitor participants’ brain waves during various phases of sleep. (There are five phases of sleep; the REM state is when we dream the most and have the most intense dreams.) The students were awakened at various times and asked to complete a journal describing whether or not they dreamed, how frequently they dreamed, and whether or not they could remember the substance of their dreams.

While earlier research has shown that people are more likely to remember their dreams when awakened immediately after REM sleep, the new study explains why. Participants who had higher low-frequency theta waves in their frontal lobes were more likely to remember their dreams.

This discovery is intriguing because the enhanced frontal theta activity recorded by the researchers resembles the effective encoding and retrieval of autobiographical memories seen while we are awake. It is the same electrical oscillations in the frontal cortex that allow you to recall episodic memories (e.g., events that happened to you). As a result, these findings imply that the neurophysiological mechanisms we use when dreaming (and recalling dreams) are the same as those we use to build and recover memories while waking.

Another recent study by the same research team employed the most advanced MRI methods to explore the relationship between dreaming and the involvement of deep-brain regions. The researchers discovered that vivid, unusual, and emotionally intense dreams (the kinds of dreams that individuals recall) are related to the amygdala and hippocampus areas.

While the amygdala is primarily responsible for emotional reaction processing and memory, the hippocampus has been linked to critical memory processes such as information consolidation from short-term to long-term memory.

Another recent study released by Matthew Walker and colleagues at the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at UC Berkeley revealed that a reduction in REM sleep (or less “dreaming”) impacts our capacity to interpret complicated emotions in daily life – a crucial component of human social functioning. Scientists have also lately discovered wherein brain dreaming is most likely to occur. An extremely rare clinical disease called “Charcot-Wilbrand Syndrome” has been linked to the loss of the ability to dream, among other neurological symptoms.

However, it wasn’t until a few years ago that a woman reported losing her capacity to dream despite experiencing almost no other long-term neurological symptoms. The patient had a lesion in the right inferior lingual gyrus, which is a brain region (located in the visual cortex). As a result, we know that dreams are created or communicated by this specific brain region, which is connected with visual processing, emotion, and visual memory.

These discoveries, when taken together, convey a significant picture regarding the underlying process and probable purpose of dreaming.

Dreams appear to aid in the processing of emotions by encoding and reconstructing memories of them. What we see and feel in our dreams may or may not be genuine, but the most emphatically are the feelings associated with these experiences. Our dream narratives simply attempt to remove the emotion from a specific event by constructing a memory of it. As a result, the feeling is no longer active.

This system plays a crucial function since not processing our emotions, particularly negative ones, promotes personal concern and anxiety. Acute REM sleep deprivation is becoming more linked to the emergence of mental illnesses. In a nutshell, dreams assist us in controlling traffic on the brittle bridge that connects our experiences with our emotions and memories.