All About Dreaming
Dreams are the stories our brains tell while we’re sleeping—they’re a collection of clips, images, feelings, and memories that involuntarily occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of slumber. We typically have multiple dreams per night that grow longer as sleep draws to a close. It’s hypothesized that everyone dreams, but a small subsection of the population reports that they never remember experiencing dreams—causing some researchers to wonder if certain people lack the capacity to dream at all.
Dreams typically involve elements from our waking lives—people we know, for instance, or familiar locations—but they often take on a fantastical feel. Many people report that in their dreams, locations shift suddenly or blend with one another, and elements of the “characters” or “plot” often take on unreal, impossible, or contradictory characteristics. While dreams are frequently interesting, and can allow us to act out certain scenarios that would never be possible in real life, they aren’t always positive—negative dreams, referred to as "nightmares," can create feelings of terror, anxiety, or utter despair. Frequently recurring nightmares can lead to psychological distress or sleep problems like insomnia.
The big question, however, is why we dream. Though it’s been discussed and studied for millennia, it remains one of the behavioral sciences' greatest unanswered questions. Researchers have offered many theories—including memory consolidation, emotional regulation, and threat simulation—but a unified one remains, well, a pipe dream. Nevertheless, people continue mining their nighttime reveries for clues to their inner lives, for creative insight, and even for premonitions.