Dreams can seem confusing sometimes but scientists think we have them for a reason. When we go to sleep at night, it can look like our bodies and our brains are turning off. But while the rest of your body is resting and recharging, your brain is still working pretty hard and it plays a dream like a movie inside your head.
When you are dreaming, some parts of your brain are switched on and working hard – like the ones that think about what you see and the parts that focus on your feelings.
Meanwhile, the part that does some of your more complicated thinking like asking questions – like how do birds fly and fish swim, for example – is turned off.
While you sleep, your brain is going through a bunch of different steps, then starting over from the beginning. That happens a few times every night. At first, you sleep very lightly. You might feel like you’re still awake, even while you’re dozing off. Then your brain starts to slow down a little more. Your sleep gets a little deeper. You might have a few dreams but they’re more likely to be about what you were doing that day – nothing too nutty.
But then comes the weirdest part of the night. During this step, your breathing and your heart beat slow down a little. Your body is completely still, but behind your eyelids your eyes are moving around a lot, in what we call rapid eye movement or REM sleep for short.
REM sleep is really important for your body and it’s when you’ll have the most epic story-like dreams and the ones that you’ll remember best in the morning.
Everybody does, and some other animals do too. All mammals – animals like dogs and cats and humans and rats – experience REM sleep. And so do some birds.
During sleep our brains sort out all the information we’ve been taking in while we’re awake.
Some of your dreams might be about things that happened during the day like playing with your friends at school. But then, your dreams can start to jump into all kinds of wacky stories. Maybe you are bouncing around on the moon or having a conversation with a giant talking lemon.
So why do our brains put on for us this big production every night?
We may never know for sure, but scientists have a few ideas.
Over the course of the day you are hearing and seeing and smelling millions of little details about the world around you. And while you sleep, your brain needs to find the most important things you’ve just learned so that it can store it away in your memory for good. That way, you’ll be able to remember it for years.
Some scientists think that that’s what dreams are for – they help you figure out the most important things you’ve learnt during the day. That helps you remember them and connect them with things that you’ve learned before. So that you are ready to learn more new things tomorrow!
We might also need dreams to help is sort out the feelings we’ve had during the day. If you’ve been scared or worried about something, you might have a dream about being scared or worried about a different thing at night, to help you work out how you feel. That might help you be more prepared to help you tackle the scary thing the next morning.
Other scientists don’t think that dreams are related to memories or feelings at all. Even though your brain still needs sleep to sort out your feelings and memories, it could be that the movies you see in your dreams, just come from your brain calming down after a long day.
Sone people use dreams to help them figure out what’s bothering them or to help them solve problems.
A lot of creative people, like people who wrote songs or make movies or even scientists, get their ideas from dreams. They connect what they’re thinking about during the day to what they already know, and in their dreams, they’ll suddenly have an awesome idea.
Some people remember lots of crazy details from their dreams and some people don’t. But even if you don’t remember your dreams very well, you still have them.
But why do we forget most of our dreams?
Humans are really good about filtering out information that doesn’t matter. If something doesn’t grab our attention or isn’t essential to know, you don’t remember it. Scientists also learned that those who can recall their dreams often wake up more throughout the night. This led scientists to believe that waking up allows the dreams to be stored in our memory thus allowing you to remember the dream the next morning. More tim awake, more time to store the information.
No matter what our brains use dreams for, we know that we need sleep to help us learn, and to help us feel great when we wake up. So make it a priority to get some deep sleep and experience some sweet dreams.