Neurosurgery and Brain Health Do Our Dreams Have Meaning? By Neurosurgery, March 16, 2016 Dreams have always been a mystery to people. Why do we have them? What do they mean? Scientists have been searching for more than a century trying to figure out why people dream and what significance is behind the stories in our head while we sleep. Often, dreams contain some elements of our daily lives and recent events, but they take strange turns. Sometimes they’re good. Sometimes they scare us. What Are Dreams? Dreams are the images that pass through our minds while we sleep. They may be the result of random electrical stimuli, or they may have a larger purpose. Scientists now know that while we sleep, the emotional part of our brain is highly active, which is why dreams are often vivid and intense. However, other parts of our brain are less active, which can make our dreams nonsensical. Although most often, we don’t know what’s happening when we sleep, sometimes we can have lucid dreams. This is when you realize you’re in a dream and can control what’s happening, while you’re still asleep. When Do We Dream? Dreaming happens during the fifth and deepest phase of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM). This stage can last for hours. Dreams can last anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. You usually have many dreams every night, but probably forget most of them. During REM sleep, your body is in a completely relaxed, almost paralyzed state. Because of this, you can’t act out while dreaming and hurt yourself. Why Do We Dream? The clear answer to this question remains a mystery. Researchers have tried numerous studies watching people sleep while studying their brain activity. Current data is coming from websites where people share their dreams, such as dreamboard.com. But, for now, researchers have a range of theories about why we dream. Sigmund Freud remains one of the most popular theorists about dreams. He believed that every dream has meaning and that those meanings were related to sexual longing. Since his research in 1900, others have suggested that dreams help us: Cope with emotions Solve problems in our daily lives Play a role in learning Regardless of their purpose, many artists, scientists, and everyday people have found long-sought answers, inspiration, and closure through dreaming.