Every night of our sleeping lives, we wander through an alternate dimension of reality. In our dreams, we feel intense fear, sorrow, joy, and rage. We commit crimes; we suffer tragedies; sometimes we experience the greatest joy; sometimes we fly; sometimes we die. Dreams are some of the most private things that we can ever have. They are inherently only available to us. They are something we generally can not escape from. While you can stop reading a book or hide from a scary movie, you can not simply switch off your dreams. And that is a good thing because dreams are essential to life and more.
Some experts say dreams have no purpose while others say dreams are our attempt to resolve complicated problems and thoughts while the rest of our body lies dormant. Regardless of where you stand, research shows that dreaming is important to our well being.
Matthew Walker is a professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Berkeley. In his book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, Matthew explains that most dreaming occurs during a stage known as deep sleep. Deep sleep is when we experience rapid eye movement, increased heart rate, and breathing. Matthew convinces us that dreaming enhances our memory, keeps us lean, and helps us feel happier.
If that does not convince you to sleep more, here is another benefit to dreaming. Dreaming enhances our creativity and problem solving abilities. Did you ever feel discouraged when you share your goal with a friend and they tell you “that’s absurd, you must be dreaming.” Looking past the sarcastic remarks, your friend might just be giving you some solid advice.
Imagine you are 22 year old, a computer science student at Stanford looking for a theme for your PhD dissertation. You lock yourself in a room and think really hard for days but you are stuck. After waking up, the vision comes to you – in a dream. This is exactly what happened to Larry Page in 1996. Larry woke up during the middle of the night thinking that he could download the entire web. While this idea seemed ridiculous to those around him, Page seriously considered how he could make the vision come true. Turns out he couldn’t download the entire web. But what Page figured out was that he could save all the links on the internet and then organize them by determining their relevance to each other. This new technology eventually became a search engine we all know as Google.
The dreaming brain serves as a creative incubator especially in the deep sleeping stages. Deep sleep lets our brain look at the crazy things we dream about to see if there are associations that can be useful. When we are sleeping, we make connections between our distant memories and ideas.
Not only do dreaming help us as individuals, dreaming helps to advance our humanity. People throughout history have had Eureka moments upon waking. These insights help them to think way outside the box, leading to famous novels to notable inventions. The process of associating memories and far fetched ideas can reveal hidden insights within us like never before. It can present solutions to previously unsolved problems.
In today’s day and age, we sometimes discount the importance of dreaming. Wouldn’t it be great to watch that extra hour of Netflix or catch up on work? The last time I slept four hours I found myself grumpy, tired, and lacking focus the next day. Turns out science backups my findings. As our lifestyles become increasingly busy, sleeping and dreaming are needed more than ever.
The next time your friend tells you ‘you must be dreaming’, consider taking it as a compliment, and keep on dreaming.