Dreaming has existed in humans since we became sentient. There’s plenty of studies about how and why we dream, but the true origin of it has always fascinated me. When we look at the beginnings of humans, it paints a fascinating story as to what and why we dream. I cannot truly answer “why do humans dream?” I do not have the skills or knowledge to do so. Instead, I can paint a fascinating story that I hope interests everyone to this secret world.
The Urge to Dream
Looking at why we dream, there are a few hypotheses regarding the benefits of sleeping and dreaming. One notion of why we sleep is that it helps us retain information and learn from our daily lives (Nixon, 2010). Per that article, by simply napping AND dreaming after learning a difficult task, we are more inclined to internalize something than someone who learns and doesn’t dream of the same activity and someone who learns a topic but doesn’t sleep. This paints an interesting evolutionary scenario. Did our ancestors evolve dreaming based on their prowess or did dreaming evolve sentience as the learned skills through the dream plane. Going further, one theory is that the diet of humans, as well as increased sleep quality, helped evolve the australopithecus into the Homo genus (Coolidge & Wynn, 2013). One fascinating aspect of sleep is that it is separated into essentially two phases, deep Non-REM sleep and REM sleep, the period in which we dream . Evolutionary speaking, the former just sucks. We are completely unable to move in any way (though this is truer in REM sleep), we take a while to wake up, and we often awaken in a confused state. What the hell, brain? With all this seemingly working against us, these tools helped humans grow and innovate. The previously mentioned article in the last paragraph mentions that tool creation may have been spurred by dreaming. That start to touch on where my topic started. Were dreams used by our ancestors to create a playground of life where they tried new things in the dream then replicated them in real-life? Imagine finding a tool in a dream that allows you to chop down trees for wood to create fire. This tool would change the way you lived your day to day life if your only tools previously were hands. What’s even more fascinating is the idea that humans could have even been lucid dreaming while creating these tools. Crazy! These early humans were likely taking the environment and their dreams were created as a practice for the world around them. They’d likely wake up, baffled as to how whatever predator that killed them in the dream didn’t actually kill them. The dream rehearsal, while jarring at first, would have given early man a place to practice how to hunt animals that they have only watched or how to evade predators that threatened them. Rachael Rettner reminds us that Sigmund Freud had a theory on why humans dreamed. “Sigmund Freud proposed dreams exist to fulfill our wishes. But such gratification in an imaginary world would do little to help us adapt our instincts to the physical world, which is one key point of evolution, Barrett said”(Rettner 2010). She proposes that dreaming is more likely a side effect of the sleep cycle that evolved through the years. Through further study and brain evaluation, we may one day cement the exact source of dreaming in the brain. Since early man didn’t have the distractions we do, they could have focus on sleeping when tired, regardless of time, and sleeping until rested or roused by danger. Modern humans have created a false sense of sleeping being at night, for 8 hours straight. Instead, humans are used to sleeping about 4 hours, waking, doing something, then going back to sleep (Hegarty, 2012 I am l). For the lucid dreamers out there, this is how a Wake-Back-To-Bed works. So, humans were predispositioned towards dreaming, and probably, lucid dreaming. In recent years, we’ve lost all respect and revere of our dreams. Because of that, we have lost a large portion our lives.
The Lost Quarter Century
We spend nearly 26 years of our lives sleeping (based on the calculation of 8 hours a night for 75 years) (Nixon 2010). Of those 8 hours, we spend roughly 1 to 2 hours in REM, which is where we dream. That translates to about 6 years of dream time for an average life-time. Using lucid dreaming, or at least paying attention to dreaming in general, can reclaim some of this lost time. A fascinating thing to try is to record your dreams nightly. After about a week, your dreams will become more vibrant and real, and you will start to recall more dreams than seemingly possible. I have filled two or three pages with single nights of dreaming. Even if you aren’t lucid dreaming, having a record of these trips at night are amazing to reflect upon, either creatively or for the sake of it being fun. As Nixon pointed out, dreams work to organize our day and the experiences in them. By keeping a solid record of these dreams, we can see how they actually work themselves out. Through various belief structures over the ages, dreaming has become viewed as a useless endeavor to a sign of possession. Watch this video: Sleep Paralysis, Demons My Story
While I feel sorry for someone to be tormented through their lack of education, his comments show no desire to learn at all that what he experienced is a natural phenomenon that can be broken. Instead, he propagates the notion that the experience is a demonic attack. By continuing this stupid notion, he is causing other people to fear dreaming and the normal aspects of sleep. Education will stop this perpetuation of fear, and once that is done, we will see progress in dreaming across the board.
Dreams are a natural part of our lives, and while there are a myriad of ideas about why we dream, it’s impossible to hammer down the exact reason without further dream research. Thanks to a lot of fringe groups grabbing on to lucid dreaming, and dreams in general, they are lost to the aether as useless and silly ideas that are more of a nuance or even dangerous. Through practice and exploration we can learn what dreams really do for us. Lucid dreaming is clearly the key to exploring the world of dreaming. We will never truly understand “what did Cavemen dream about?” without some revelation of records of their dreaming. Instead, we need to focus on making sure we are, and our dream materials, aren’t lost to time. Sharing dreams with friends or just recording your dreams for appreciate later will allow us to have a real record of how and why we dream for future generations. At the absolute very least, it’ll make our lives a bit more full rather than sleeping through a third of our lives.
- Nixon, R. (2010, April 22). Naps and dreams boost learning, study finds. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/9874-naps-dreams-boost-learning-study-finds.html
- Coolidge, F. L., & Wynn, T. (2013, October 14). How dreaming changed human evolution. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-think-neandertal/201310/how-dreaming-changed-human-evolution
- Hegarty, S. (2012, February 22). The myth of the eight-hour sleep. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16964783
- Rettner, R. (2010, June 27). Why we dream: Real reasons revealed. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/8373-dream-real-reasons-revealed.html