Why Do We Dream? Surprising Truth Behind Why Dreams Feel So Real

by Madonna Watts D'Souza
Why Do We Dream? Surprising Truth Behind Why Dreams Feel So Real

January 2, 2021

Dreams- intriguing aren't they? Not just for us, but various researchers have dedicated their lives to crack down this beautiful nightmare. In this article we try to break down the reason we dream, how we dream, and why some people experience lucid dreams.

A pleasant dream makes up for a happy morning. Dreams are also synonymous to what we actually aspire for, they are also reflective of our darkest fears. The unknown lands, the wildest fantasies, the strongest aspirations, our dreams have shown us all . Let’s move to the pertinent question in the words of Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

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Dreams - A Stage in the Sleep Cycle

A dream is a pictorial story created in our minds when we fall asleep. Dreams can be tedious, funny, engaging, exhilarating, horrifying, and even death-defying and usually happen during the Rapid Eye movement or the REM stage. But before we go forward, let us first understand what the stages of sleep are.

Sleep takes place in 5 stages, and all of these stages combine to form a sleep cycle. An average human being can go through at least 4 to 6 sleep cycles when asleep. This is the body’s intelligent way of giving itself some rest and being completely aware and vigilant when danger arises.

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Comparative brain activity, between Awake, Asleep, and REM Sleep

The Stages of Sleep Cycle

Non REM sleep or NREM 1

When you initially fall asleep, you enter phase 1 of non-REM sleep. Muscle movement reduce, and your eyeballs have calmer and slower movements behind your eyelids. Also known as the “twilight” stage of sleep, since you are aware of your surroundings. This is a light stage of sleep, and noises or other disturbances can usually awake you.

Non REM sleep or NREM 2

This is the stage where you are now completely asleep and unaware of what all is going around in your surroundings. This stage observes the slowing down of heartbeats and body temperature lowers. Your once frantic eye movements now slow down or even stop. Happy dream journey!

Non REM sleep or NREM 3

Brain waves slow down in stage 3, and only a few spurts of activities can be noticed. This is the state where your body’s muscles take a break, relax, and your breathing slows down further. You cannot be easily woken up in this stage, and you will need something rugged, like that irritating alarm clock, to snap you out of this stage.

Non REM sleep or NREM 4

Stage 4 is when your sleep reaches more profound than the Mariana trench! Just kidding, this stage observes your body slipping further into slumber, and your brain waves slow down even further. Researchers reckon that this is probably the stage where most tissue repair occurs (explains the infamous muscle soreness you get after sweating it out in the gym).

It’s even harder to wake someone up from this stage, and you’d maybe have to pick them up and shake them violently like a pepper bottle if you want to wake them. Hormones related to growth are also released in this stage. This is your body’s servicing and repairing process.

REM sleep or Rapid Eye Movement

Congratulations! You have now reached the dream stage, where everything comes true for a while. The REM stage is achieved 90 minutes after you’ve fallen asleep. Your eyes now start to hurry, with both breathing and heartbeats picking up pace.

Your body usually paralyzes itself to prevent you from acting that action scene you’re seeing in your dream and hurting yourself or someone next to you. The purpose of REM is believed to help stimulate the regions of your brain related to memory and learning. It’s also a way for the brain to store information, explaining why you can remember some of your dreams.

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A higher percentage of non-REM sleep was associated with a decreased risk for gestational diabetes.

Dreams Keep Our Eyes Busy

You’ve read that, right! Your dreams protect your optical system from turning redundant and keep them active and working. The reason? When we sleep, our eyes are shut behind our tender eyelids. But your ears, nose, and other senses are yet open and more active. However, your eye now feels vulnerable and fearful of what will happen to you if danger arises.

So to keep itself engaged, it produces and processes visual images and a fascinating storyline. Your brain protects your eyes by keeping them busy in dreams. Along with the eyes, the visual cortex is a region in the brain that finds it necessary to defend its territory from other brain regions by engaging itself in dreams.

What do you mean there’s a territory war happening in our brains? In an experiment conducted in permanently blind people, it was observed that since they lost their vision, the visual cortex has been made redundant. This leads to rewiring in the brain. The visual cortex now has been conquered by other senses to help them survive. This explains why blind people have exceptional hearing and sensation skills.

Shared Common Sense(s): Literally

But is this power only in blind people? Not at all! Scientists were surprised to see how the brain quickly rewires itself to strengthen other senses when one sense turns unresponsive or undetectable. Don’t believe us? Well, then you can try this out for yourself but be safe.

Have an assistant with you, sit in the center of a room, and ask them to play some random sounds in any corner of the room. Then you try reading letters which are engraved.

Next, try blindfolding yourself with a cloth that doesn’t allow light and is firmly but not tightly tied around your eyes. Then after a few minutes, ask someone to help you and have them produce random bursts of sounds from different corners. Also, have them write alphabets in a dotted manner.

You will notice that your hearing has sharpened suddenly, and your sensation of touch feels more receptive and readable. Your brain has rewired itself to make up for your temporary loss of vision. Once you take your blindfold off, your brain will restore itself, and you can continue viewing the world around you.

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Farrokh Sohrabi, Dream Research Study, 2013

Vigilant Dreaming: The Infamous Lucid Dreams

Lucid dreams are a unique type of dreams in which your brain is vigilant and active in the dream. Lucid dreams happen is not yet well known, but it isn’t a shared experience. Most people have experienced a lucid dream at some point in their life. It is assumed that a lucid dream occurs when a person is tired or has slept with their brain being engaged in a stimulating activity.

Lucid dreams are random, but they are incredibly realistic and vivid. You can most often even control what is going on in your dreams. Lucid dreams are often accompanied by sounds and, even rarer, sensations of touch, taste, and smell. But why do these happen if only your visual cortex is engaged in dreams? The answer is that the other regions in your brain are still active to monitor involuntary functions like breathing and circulation.

These sensations are known as hypnagogic hallucinations, where the dreams are incredibly vivid and feel real due to real feelings. However, why do people have it is yet, a mystery to scientists. Although these hallucinations are generally harmless to most people experiencing them, they could indicate underlying conditions like narcolepsy and schizophrenia.

Actual Manifestations

Usually, a metallic taste during the gustatory or taste type of hallucinations is related to epilepsy patients. But you can even enjoy your dream with all of this. What has confused scientists is how some people can frequently taste, touch, or even smell their dreams? Or, if lucky, can have all of those sensations. “Maybe they have super active brains?” you think.

The simple answer is that these sensations are mostly created by the brain and aren’t usually influenced by surrounding smells. Scientists haven’t yet dived deep into this aspect, but what is assumed is that most of these sensations felt in the dreams were already observed, felt, tasted, or smelt in real life.

However, there are incidences where the person hasn’t encountered such experiences in real life, but they feel it in their dreams, Eg. a person who felt the sharp pain of stabbing and blood oozing out never experienced this in real life.

Dreams Are a Thirsty Mystery, For Now

It seems like we still don’t know where we all are lost when we fall asleep. How active is the subconscious, then? How often can I lucid dream, pleasant dreams? How do I hallucinate in my dreams? How can I reduce nightmares? The simple answer is to get a decent night’s sleep.

For those wanting to try Lucid Dreaming, just make sure to sleep with a stimulated brain and memory, and you may end up in one of the most sought after type of dreaming. However, be careful here as you can slip into sleep paralysis, which is the evil twin of lucid dreams. Here your mind can create petrifying visuals, and you cannot move to escape them since your body is paralyzed. However, your eyes and ears sense it entirely and are active during the sleep paralysis.

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Our eyes and ears are active during the sleep paralysis

In case you end up in a sleep paralysis event, you can try your best to wiggle your toes, move your head from to and fro, or try to blink rapidly. You should soon be awakened from it. Though it may last for a few minutes, people who’ve ended up in the sleep paralysis state claim it’s eternal torture for anyone.

Nevertheless, it looks like our dreams are still a mystery with many questions left unanswered, and only postulations are being made. If you’re in the lucky club, you could be blessed with constant Lucid dreaming, but for the rest of you reading this, ask yourself in tonight’s dream, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?


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Leave a Comment


Shubham January 3, 2021 - 11:26 am

Amazing article!
Looking forward for more of these.

Saurav Singh January 3, 2021 - 5:16 pm

Typo in the last paragraph. Please edit it.


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