Functions of Dreams. Old Question, New Theories – Sleep and Health Journal

Thanks to 1980s – there were no animal rights groups and political correctness did not ruin science yet.

In our days, specifically in 2004, heroes from University of Wisconsin at Madison replicated Rechtshaften’s experiment with rats in even more brutal way – instead of board they used a tube with the drainage hole in it. They found that this rat without DRAMS after the experiment lost the capacity to learn survival behavior. Treatment with amphetamaine did not help, as it usually does. Researchers concluded that dreams have a function to train the survival behavior.

Freud saw dreams as fulfilling forbidden aggressive and sexual wishes.

The recent “official” sleep science in the person of Allan Hobson from Stanford viewed dreams as “epiphenomena:” He said: “It is the noise that the brain makes while it’s doing its homework.”

The Finnish psychologist Antti Revonsuo from University of Turku was far away from America and was not afraid to state that dreams are the training playgrounds, dreams have the function to train the person to behave in the traumatic situations automatically – run, scream for help, etc. Dreams are rehearsals to prepare for some decisive moment in your life when you have to make a life-death decision in a split moment.

Our nightmares are not a misfiring of the diseased brains but the work to find solutions.

Revonsuo found that two thirds of our dreams are threatening, about 300 to 1.000 threat dreams per year, aggressive and culture-bound: instead of wolves now we dream about car crashes or TV monsters. Sometimes our dreams are like allergic reactions to give you frightening dreams about benign situations.

David Folkes called dreams “credible world analogs.”

In the jungles of Amazon lives a tribe called Mehinaku, hunters and gatherers. They believe that dreams predict the future and are scrupulous about remembering them. In 1981, anthropologists Thomas Gregor surveyed their dreams and analyzed their content. The dreams were about everyday dangers like being attacked by wild animals, bitten by a snake, etc.

Revonsuo came up with dreams as “threat-simulation” theory.

In this content we should mention the work of Vadim Rotenberg from Moscow, now Israeli sleep researcher who experimentally proved that in our dreams we were searching for solutions. As long as we are searching our body is on the survival mode. He called his concept “the search theory” and it was covered recently in the textbook Sleep Psychiatry (Taylor & Frances, 2000, London).

After September 11, many people have nightmares about escaping from the terrorist attacks.

We propose a compensatory function of dreams as a part of Set theory. Dreams function to “offset” stress. We agree with Revonsuo that “their function is to protect and prepare us.” As psychologist from University of Maryland Clara Hill says couples who dream about their relationship are more likely to resolve their conflicts that couples who do not.

There is a famous expression “sleep on it” before making any decision. We can do better by just dreaming about the tasks as a sleep researcher from Harvard Medical School Robert Stickgold proved in some experiments with his students. He came to the conclusion that “our brain put things together.”

In summary, dreams are a learning tool for the developing brain. They prepare us to disasters, but they also plan for the future or attempt to solve our daily problems by concrete advices or fantastic analogies.

References: A Golbin at al. (Ed) Sleep Psychiatry. Taylor & Francis, 2000, London

Jay Dixit. Psychology Today.2007: 91-94