Why Do We Dream?
Why do we dream? It’s a question humanity has pondered for millennia, and to this day there is no concrete answer.
But as the evidence for sleep’s impact on overall health and wellbeing becomes harder to ignore, the state of consciousness we experience during our slumber becomes increasingly interesting.
Dreaming is a mental activity which occurs while you sleep. Though not directly measurable, dreaming is widely believed to be an extension of the concerns, thoughts and experiences of waking life. How accurately we can record what happened in a dream is one of many limitations on the research around this subject.
Dreams occur most strongly during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which take up just 25% of our sleep time. Even if you can’t remember what you dreamt about, everyone has them. There are many theories as to the exact function of dreams, but in sleep expert Dr Katharina Lederle’s book Sleep Sense: Improve Your Sleep, Improve Your Health, she describes them in very general terms as a learning tool.
One commonly regarded function of the sleeping brain is to reactivate and consolidate memories from the waking day. Important memories are moved from a short-term storage facility to a long-term storage facility within our brain, incorporating waking life experiences into your sleep to aid the consolidation of a specific memory.
Another theory assumes that dreams are for creativity; they help us come up with solutions for existing problems. Indeed, many artists and business leaders have credited dreams with inspiring some of their best work. The idea here is that when we dream, past experiences combine with what sits most prominently on our mind, and so our brain plays through different scenarios to imagine issue-solving strategies.
Then there’s dreaming’s role in regulating our emotions. It has been suggested that dreaming lessens emotional turmoil of positive and negative daytime emotions, landing us in a more balanced state come morning.
As we said, there is no gospel on the exact function of dreaming just yet. That said, there is particularly interesting research being done into the link between B vitamins and dreams.
B Vitamins and Dreams
On top of the wide-ranging theories on why we dream, there are many schools of thought as to the meanings behind what we dream about.
Much research has gone into the effect of vitamin B6 supplementation on your dreams, particularly as an aid for recalling dreams more vividly. One study from the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills recorded a 250-milligram dose before bed resulted in more bizarre and colourful dreams with greater emotional impact.
The potential benefits of lucid dreaming – whereby you know you’re dreaming as the dream is happening – include treating phobias, overcoming nightmares, creative problem solving, refined motor skills and the rehabilitation from physical trauma.
“The average person spends around six years of their lives dreaming. If we are able to become lucid and control our dreams, we can then use our dreaming time more productively.”
Dr Denholm Aspy, University of Adelaide
Vitamin B6 occurs naturally in various foods including whole grains, bananas, spinach and avocado, but be careful not to consume too much close to bedtime as overly vivid dreaming can lead to interference with a good night’s sleep.
You’ll also find a 20mg helping of vitamin B6 per serving in our daily nootropic supplement, Edge, alongside a host of other scientifically-backed cognition-enhancing ingredients.