Why do people have dreams?

And what causes nightmares?

A brief intro to dreams

Dreams happen mostly during Rapid Eye Movement sleep, (REM sleep) and usally last five to twenty minutes. Most people have between three to six dreams per night, and when woken from REM sleep, one is more likely to remember their dream. Children are more likely to remember their dreams than adults are. Children are also more likely to have nightmares than adults are.

Theories on Why People Dream: Neuroscientific vs Psychoanalyic


  • Results of neurological activity
  • There to interpret signals from the body
  • Meaningless


  • Essential to our emotional health
  • Looking at content/ how it affects the dreamer

A New Perspective

Mark Solms, a South African neuroscientist, discovered that there may be a connection between a neurotransmitter called dopamine and one's dreams. It is what controls the flow of information to different parts of your brain. Dreams fill our mind with things our brain feels worthy of attention, that's where dopamine comes in. It directs out attention away from the important things so that they may recover from a day's work. According to Solms, we don't dream because we sleep, we dream so we can sleep.
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Personal Sleep Study

Above are the results of a sleep study I did on myself. I slept about of 9.5 hours a night, and dreamed an average of a little less than two dreams per night. With the most sleep I had the most number of dreams, however, with the least dreams I did not have the least dreams with the least sleep.

Why do people Have Nightmares

Normal Causes

  • stress/ anxiety
  • way to get through a traumatic event
  • reaction to an illness or an side effect of medicine
  • eating right before you fall asleep (due to metabolic changes)
  • brain trauma or injury

Let's Talk About That

There are categories for dreaming: Bad Dreams, Nightmares, and Night Terrors; and each getting progressively worse. Bad dreams have just disturbing content, night mares have even more strange content that causes you to wake, and worst of all night terrors cause you to partially wake, and may include screaming, kicking, thrashing, and even sleepwalking. These things may also be caused by brain disorders so be aware.


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