Where Memory Meets Emotion

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The Facts

So what exactly happens in our brain while we dream? Although sleep experts aren’t 100% sure on all points, they still have a clue as to what does happen.

In the first hour and a half of sleep, you start falling into a deep sleep, ranging from lighter sleep to deeper and deeper sleep. Upon entering the final cycle, known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, heart rate and breathing become irregular, eyes move rapidly and brain activity increases to the same level as when you are awake. And that is when you do about 80% of your active dreaming and when your dreams are most vivid. You’ll go through this cycle 3 or 4 times in the course of your slumber, until the morning comes and you awake.

Did you know that during REM sleep, though your eyes are moving rapidly, the rest of your body essentially becomes paralyzed? There is a simple, intelligent answer as to why that is the case, and here it is: It’s nature’s way of ensuring your safety while you sleep, so you do not act out your dreams and potentially harm yourself or others.

So what exactly DOES happen to our brains while we sleep? Experts say it appears that dreams are where our memories meet emotion. So what does that mean exactly? It means that on the one hand, our dreams can help us tap into the emotional issues in our lives. And on the other hand, they are a way for our brain to catalog our memories. Yes, your brain is a big memory cache and during your sleep is when your brain decides on what memories go where and files them accordingly. SO at the end of the day when you’re tired and lay down to rest, your brain gets to work storing your newfound knowledge and life experienced life events you acquired throughout the day. When we sleep, it allows our brain to access certain circuitry that improves our long-term memories as well.

So then you may be wondering, if our brains are filing our memories, why are our dreams so surreal, fantastic and seemingly make-believe? Well it’s simple; while we dream, the controls of our conscious mind are turned off, allowing our brain to cross examine memories, experiences, and sometimes they are put together in strange or unusual combinations, until our brain finds the place they should ultimately go in our memory cache.

We have several dreams a night, having looped our sleep cycle and entered REM sleep 3 or 4 times. When we awake in the morning, we may remember our most recent dream, but the others are usually too far gone to recall. Also, we experience more REM sleep during the early AM hours, which is why you are more likely to recall a dream in the morning while it is fresh and not so much if you wake in the middle of the night. We have less and less luck remembering dreams as we get older because as children, our brains need to exercise and develop more and need more stimulation than adults.

There is a way to decipher our dreams, but in order to do so, we must keep a clear record of the events we dream. To do this, it is best to keep paper and a writing utensil close to the bed, so when you wake up you can write down as much as possible. And if you feel as though it is slipping away from you, lay down in the position you were before you woke because it may help you recall the events of your dreams.

Perhaps you are experiencing a reoccurring dream or nightmare, many of us do. Nightmares are usually brought on by a worry or stress in our lives and can, with a little effort be willed away. If you are experiencing a reoccurring dream that haunts you, it is best to try and imagine the dream going differently while you are awake. First thing when you wake up and last thing you think of before bed, so given time, the poisonous snakes in your dream become playground jump ropes. Get it?

Sometimes in our dreams, we see ourselves, but not as we are in real life. Perhaps in place of us, we are another person or thing. This is not mere wishful thinking or cruelty on behalf of our brain, but instead it is a clue. Often we find that we share something in common with the thing depicted as us in our dreams. And the dream we are experiencing is aiding us to solve a problem or simply clue us into something about our lives. It pays off to pay attention. You are always smarter than you think you are in your dreams. Sometimes our brains create puzzles for us to solve. What will you find?