How dreams make you smarter and braver
The benefits of dreams are considerable. When you get enough sleep, the muscle and immune systems are restored, even your wounds heal faster. Meanwhile, when you dream, you repair your mind and emotions. Strange dreams, in particular, help us adapt to new conditions. What if you could hack your dreams to enhance your creativity too? Scientists are working on it.
Here are five reasons why dreaming is valuable:
1. Improves Memory
A Harvard study found that dreams can improve memory. The study involved 99 participants playing a virtual reality maze and remembering all of the objects in the maze. Half of the volunteers took a 90-minute nap after the game, and the other half (the control group) did not.
And of course, those who took a nap recalled more items than the group without a nap. But, remarkably, those who dreamed of the maze remembered the objects ten times better! According to the Harvard team, dreaming reorganizes and consolidates memory.
2. Aids in emotional healing
Your dreams are like an overnight therapist. What you see in your dream is not real, but the emotions attached to those dreams are.
During dreaming, the brain can deal with very stressful events by disconnecting emotions from memory. According to Scientific American, these dreams can help us process negative emotions by making them inactive. This is vital because dealing with negative emotions can reduce anxiety and depression.
3. Provides better sleep
A study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that dreaming helps you sleep better, while not dreaming can disrupt sleep.
4. Helps overcome fears
Interestingly, lucid dreamers are aware of being in a dream and can manipulate the dream. You can practice coping with fear or anxiety in a lucid dream since you have nothing to lose. Additionally, dreaming can help reprogram your brain so that you lose fear when you wake up.
5. Improves your mood
A study published in Psychiatry Research found that dreams improve your mood. For example, you may fall asleep in a sad mood and after dreaming all night, you may wake up happier. The study recruited 60 participants who felt depressed before sleeping. Their dreams started out negative, but towards the end of the night they had fewer negative dreams. When participants woke up, they reported waking up in a better mood.
A study conducted last year suggests that strange dreams are particularly beneficial. They help our brain generalize our daily experiences in a way that allows for deeper learning. According to research, as a human has a strange dream, they develop brain power, similar to how artificial intelligence systems are trained to recognize real-world data in order to become smarter.
Almost all mammals and birds dream, but the reason for this is unknown. Neuroscientists are divided on whether dreaming is a side effect of brain function or if it serves a single purpose. However, there are several theories as to why we dream, including:
- Dreams are necessary to build and store our memories.
- They help prepare us psychologically to encounter real-world phenomena.
- Dreams are essential for regulating our emotional health (the grandson of Freudian theory.)
The study, published in the journal Patterns, offers a new theory: Dreaming helps our brains understand our everyday experiences, helping us adapt to unique circumstances. Study author Erik Hoel, Ph.D., of Tufts University in Medford, MA, calls his theory the “over-equipped brain hypothesis.”
It is partly based on the learning process of artificial neural networks, which are computer algorithms that search for patterns in large data sets. For example, these systems usually receive training data similar to the data they will examine later. Meanwhile, the practice data is usually purposely polluted with additional chaos and noise to avoid “over-fitting”. In other words, the disorder can prevent the neural network from becoming too “close-minded” and later unable to recognize the bigger picture.
According to Dr. Hoel’s hypothesis, sometimes bizarre dreams with distorted perspectives keep our brains from focusing too much on the specifics of a task and allow us to generalize better. “Dreams are there to keep you from becoming too adapted to the pattern of the world,” says Dr. Hoel. However, Dr. Hoel’s theory does not necessarily reject other sleep or dream hypotheses that have much empirical support.
Dr. Hoel says the evidence for his theory already exists. For example, repeatedly performing a task while awake will most likely cause you to dream about it that night. He suggests that repetitive actions like this activate the brain’s defense against overtraining, and strange dreams are the result.
Meanwhile, in 2020, a team of researchers from the MIT Media Lab Fluid Interfaces Group and the Dream Lab developed a glove-like wearable device called Dormio, which helps the user track and interact with their dreams to improve their waking life. The gauntlet ultimately gives them control of their dreams. It does this with a multitude of sensors that detect the sleep state of the wearer. For example, the glove plays a pre-recorded audio signal when the wearer is in hypnagogic sleep.
Whether you’re struggling with creativity challenges, memory issues, anxiety, depression, or have a huge test to pass, Dormio is the answer. The ultimate purpose of this device is to improve memory and creativity.
Dormio is designed to alter dreams by manipulating and prolonging the hypnagogic stage of sleep (that strange, semi-conscious state we experience before sleeping). Hypnagogia is the brain’s first stage of sleep, similar to REM. The main difference between REM and hypnagogia is that we can still hear what is happening around us in the latter.
Dormio serves as an interface to hypnagogia. Researchers believe that this liminal period is a fountain of creativity that is lost when the person falls into a deep sleep. The hypothesis is that if you can transition into hypnagogia long enough before falling asleep and then regaining consciousness, you will creatively benefit from the strange micro-dreams experienced during this transition to sleep.
Once the wearer is in the hypnagogic phase, Dormio delivers audio cues to guide their dream to a specific theme. Then, while recording the responses, Dormio will prompt them to say what they see in their dream if the wearer begins to fall into a deep sleep.
Adam Horowits, a master’s student at MIT, who led the research, pointed out:
This is not surprising in light of historical figures like Mary Shelley or Salvador Dalí, who were creatively inspired by their dreams. The difference here is that we purposely induce these creatively beneficial dreams in a purposeful way.
Besides Dormio, MIT’s Media Lab is also developing wearable sleep diffusers. These devices release an odor that the user associates with a positive memory or behavior, which the researchers believe will help improve sleep retention, mood and quality. Additionally, lead researcher Judith Amores believes these devices could help trauma victims with PTSD and lingering painful memories. For example, when trauma victims experience a nightmare, the device would release scents associated with a positive memory, allowing them to heal while dreaming.