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Dreams are a fascinating and complex phenomenon that has attracted the attention of scientists, artists, and philosophers for centuries. But what exactly are dreams, why do we dream and what does science say about them?

Dreams are a sequence of images, emotions, and thoughts that make up a sleeping person's mental experience. They can be highly realistic or surreal, ranging from pleasant to frightening. Although dreams are highly individual and can vary from person to person, there are certain recurring themes and symbols that appear in many dreams.

What are we dreaming?

We usually dream of normal events, which often have something to do with fear and unhappiness.
  • Daydreams: familiar details of everyday life
  • REM dreams: vivid, emotionally bizarre
  • Dreams about negative events or emotions: 8 in 10 dreams
  • Dreams involving sexual fantasies: 1 in 10 in young men, 1 in 30 in young women
  • Dreams involving events from the previous day: most common

Why do we dream? Various theories and critical reflections on this:

The question of why we dream has occupied mankind for thousands of years. Early theories held that dreams were messages from gods or spirits, while others believed that dreams reflect the subconscious or the brain sorting and processing during sleep. Modern science has debunked many of these theories, but still there is no definitive answer as to why we dream.

Freud's "wish fulfillment": Dreams provide a "psychological safety valve" - they express unacceptable feelings; Dreams contain manifest (remembered) content and a deeper layer of latent content (a hidden meaning). Emotions play a big part in our lives, and dreams can help us process and regulate negative feelings. Through dreams we can deal with our fears, worries and trauma and experience them in a safe and controlled way. But there is no scientific support for this; Dreams can be interpreted very differently.
  • Information processing: Dreams help us organize the events of the day and consolidate our memories. During the day we take in countless impressions that our brain has to process and store. During sleep, these impressions are then sorted and processed, which can help improve our memory and learning abilities. But why do we sometimes dream about things we haven't experienced, as well as about past events?
  • Physiological function: Regular stimulation of the brain through REM sleep can contribute to the development and maintenance of nerve tracts. However, this does not explain why we experience meaningful dreams.
  • Activation Synthesis: REM sleep triggers neural activity that evokes random visual memories which our sleeping brain weaves into stories. Brain activity is very high during REM sleep, when most dreams occur, and there is evidence that during this phase the brain is particularly plastic and able to make new connections between neurons. The brain of the individual weaves the stories that still tell us something about the dreaming.
  • Cognitive Development: The dream content reflects the dreamer's level of cognitive development - his knowledge and understanding. Dreams simulate our lives, including the worst scenarios. This approach does not suggest an adaptive function of dreams.
Although we are far from knowing everything about dreams, scientists have already made many interesting discoveries and deepened our understanding of how our brains work and how we process our experiences and emotions. One thing is for sure, dreams are a fascinating and important part of our lives that continue to hold many mysteries that we have yet to discover.
Written by Mara Schär

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