Why Do We Sleep and Dream?

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  • 0:05 Sleeping & Dreaming
  • 1:10 Psychoanalytic Theory
  • 1:47 Activation-Synthesis Theory
  • 2:23 Psychotherapeutic Theory
  • 3:04 Lesson summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jared Taylor

Jared Taylor has worked as a course materials manager, writer, editor and transcriptionist. He holds a master's degree in history.

The exact functions of sleeping and dreaming are unknown, but psychologists have attempted to interpret what happens and why when we sleep. In this lesson, you'll explore the importance of sleep and some of the more famous theories regarding why we dream.

Sleeping & Dreaming

Neither sleeping nor dreaming is fully understood by psychologists. What goes on when you sleep? Sleep is important to a well-functioning person. Your body restores itself while you sleep. Growth hormones are released more at night than they are during the day. The amount of sleep you get impacts your mood and ability to function. Lack of sleep negatively impacts your ability to process, and to forge, new memories.

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which is when you dream, is especially important for brain development. It's also something that psychologists find very interesting to study. If you were woken up from REM sleep, you'd likely report that you were dreaming. You probably dream more than once a night, but you don't always remember all of your dreams.

Several attempts have been made at dream interpretation. Theories range from suggestions that we workout our everyday problems in our dreams to dreams being a function of routine brain maintenance, where information is moved into long-term memory. Let's review some of the more famous theories.

Psychoanalytic Theory

Freud believed that dreams manifest our repressed sexual desires. He called the actual content of dreams, the manifest content, and the repressed desires, the latent content. Freud's book The Interpretation of Dreams attempted to translate the symbols of some common manifest content into hidden meanings, or latent content. However, there is little scientific support for Freud's theory that dreams are merely wish fulfillment. So if dream that you're smoking a cigar while walking into a cave, well, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Activation-Synthesis Theory

The activation-synthesis theory suggests that brain activity during REM sleep activates certain areas of the brain, and the brain attempts to synthesize this activity into something meaningful, which results in dreams. While this theory suggests that we dream in an attempt to regulate internal activity, others suggest that we dream to regulate external stimuli, such as noises. Imagine your alarm clock goes off while you're deep in REM sleep. Instead of waking, you might dream about a fire alarm. Your brain interprets the noise as part of the dream and you continue sleeping.

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