Today’s modern explanation theories explore dreams’ function in memory consolidation. Dreams are a result of our brains organizing, consolidating, and transferring the information acquired as we sleep. This organization, consolidation, and transferring of information to either short-term or long-term memory while we sleep frees up space allowing us to continue to collect more information when we wake up. While much remains uncertain about dreaming, many experts have developed theories about the purpose of dreams, with new empirical research providing greater clarity. There are many unknowns about dreaming and sleep, but what scientists do know is that just about everyone dreams every time they sleep, for a total of around two hours per night. Traditionally, dream content is measured by the subjective recollections of the dreamer upon waking. However, observation is also accomplished through objective evaluation in a lab. In one study, researchers even created a rudimentary dream content map that was able to track what people dreamed about in real time using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) patterns. The most vivid dreams happen during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and these are the dreams that we’re most likely to recall.
We also dream during non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep, but those dreams are known to be remembered less often and have more mundane content. Sigmund Freud’s theory of dreams suggests that dreams represent unconscious desires, thoughts, wish fulfillment, and motivations. Freud saw dreams as a way of exploring unconscious desires. Moreover, dreams also empower our creative ability and help in storing important memories and things by getting rid of unimportant ones. Another theory about dreams says that their purpose is to help us solve problems. Under the continuity hypothesis, dreams function as a reflection of a person’s real life. Research has shown that those who experience greater levels of worry and people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder report higher frequency and intensity of nightmares. Psychologists and other scientists continue to study dreams, their origin, their reasoning, and what we can decipher from them. While there are no concrete explanations for why we dream, the elusive nature will keep us wondering.