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Sleeping and Dreaming

By Saanvi Aneja


It is a known fact that sleep is a common physiological behavior required in almost all animal species. But what happens when this behaviour is no longer carried out? Although the exact reason isn’t proven, scientists recognize that lack of sleep could trigger severe physical and cognitive deficits, and eventually lead to death. Common side effects of sleep deprivation include: depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.


While sleep is a necessary behavior, recent studies have shown that dreaming can be just as important. According to Mark Blagrove at Swansea University, the content of one's dreams are directly linked to both the strength of the experiences they encounter when they are awake, and the intensity of their brainwaves. The experiment conducted at Swansea University asked 20 students to keep a detailed diary of their daily lives, ranging from events that they had encountered to any major difficulties and worries they had. These were all accompanied by a note of emotions they had felt.


On the evening of the tenth day, these volunteers slept in a dream lab while wearing an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap that measured their brainwaves. During the REM stage of their sleep, each participant was woken, and if they were dreaming, they were asked to record a report of their dream. The REM stage is when the rapid eye movement of the eyes, plus the low muscle tone, leads to vivid and bold dreams. The team of researchers then looked for links between the dreams and the daily logs.


In the stage of REM sleep, activity in the brain fluctuates at a frequency of 4 to 7 hertz, generating brain waves known as theta waves. According to Blagrove’s team, the intensity of these theta waves were directly correlated to the number of diary items that were found in each participant’s dreams.They also found that events with a higher emotional impact on volunteers were more likely to appear in dreams compared to more neutral experiences.


In other words, the most intense and vivid dreams occur when one's brain is working overtime in order to process recent and emotionally powerful experiences. For example, an event involving the death of a loved one may lead to a more radiant dream, compared to a less emotionally impactful event, such as getting a bad grade on a test. Why is this important?


Blagrove and his team proved that dreams do somewhat work as “overnight therapy.” If this is true, it’s possible to manipulate dreams in order to make this prospect of therapy more effective. Although it hasn’t been done yet, Blagrove and his colleagues do have an idea on how to achieve this. He states, “If we stimulate and increase theta activity, do we start dreaming more of recent waking life experiences?”


It is evident from all data presented that both dreaming and sleeping are equally important, and can have extended benefits. We can only hope that this inspires more people to take sleeping, and dreaming, more seriously.



References

Hooper, R. H. (2018, July 18). We’ve Started to Uncover the True Purpose of Dreams. NewsScientist. https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23931873-300-weve-started-to-uncover-the-true-purpose-of-dreams/


Walker, M. W. (2017, October 24). Why Your Brain Needs to Dream. Greatergood.Berkeley.Edu. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_your_brain_needs_to_dream

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