Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious or Junkyard of The Mind?

More than 30 years ago it was noted that anti-depressant drugs suppressed rapid eye movement sleep, which is when we do our dreaming. Most of us have about one hour of dreaming sleep every night.

The majority of drugs in the tricyclic group of antidepressants (the most commonly used drugs to treat depression) reduce REM sleep dramatically. The drugs used prior to the tricyclics, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, suppressed REM sleep altogether.

A study of several patients on these drugs found that they had no dreaming sleep for up to and over one year; during which time their depression lifted. These observations suggest that the loss of dreaming sleep may in fact be therapeutic.

People who have been traumatized seem to adapt better to normal life if they have no recollection of their dreams than those with recurring, painful dreams of their experiences.

Experiments with depressed people have found that when they are deprived of REM sleep over several nights they feel better. And when most people are deprived of REM sleep, they notice no adverse effects. It is possible not only that dreams are disturbing to a depressed person but also that too much dreaming is not generally beneficial.

However, there is little scientific evidence for the notion of universal symbols and it is crucial to know the patient before making any interpretation. Some view dreaming not as a reflection of anxieties but as a process for solving emotional or intellectual problems.

Some view dreaming not as a reflection of anxieties but as a process for solving emotional or intellectual problems.

New technology inspired the idea that dreams represent the clearance of irrelevant memories. The mind may sort through the day’s events, storing key items and discharging irrelevancies as dreams to avoid cluttering up our memory banks.

This theory explains why dreams are seldom remembered — they are not supposed to be. However, attractive as the theory may be, there is no substantial scientific evidence in its support. People recollect their dreams if they wake up in REM sleep and go over the events of the dream consciously, allowing the memory to be recalled later.

Waking someone up five minutes after a dream produces only fragmented accounts and after 10 minutes there is little or no recall. Ignorance of one’s dreams may simply be a sign of good and undisturbed sleep.

Pleasant though dreams can be, it is possible that too much attention is paid to them and the importance of REM sleep. Evidence is growing that deep, non-dreaming sleep (core sleep) is more vital to well-being.

Sleep in a young adult is made up of 50 percent light, 25 percent REM sleep, and 25 percent deep sleep. After staying up all night, no light sleep, only a fraction of REM sleep, but all deep sleep is recovered.

Anyone who regularly sleeps only four to five hours a night maintains the normal quota of deep sleep, sacrificing light and REM sleep. So dreams may simply be the cinema of the mind — entertaining us during the long hours of the night.

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