Dreaming for Wellness: Three Theories on the Mental Benefits of Dreams
By: Brian Acton
We know there are a number of health benefits to getting a good night’s sleep, including muscle repair, memory storage, and maintaining proper cognitive functions. Sleep is a crucial aspect of our general well being, and you can feel the impact if you aren’t getting enough.
But what about the extracurricular activities your mind practices while you’re sleeping? We’re talking about your dreams! Dreams could just be the mind’s way of occupying itself. But there are a number of theories on how dreams may actually support your mental well-being.
Here are a few of our favorite theories:
Dreaming May Help to Fight Depression
Some studies have suggested that dreaming can help fight depression. In one study, sleep researcher Rosalind Cartwright, PhD, collected data dreams of a group of recently divorced individuals suffering from depression. She recorded all dreams the study participants could recall over the course of five months.
Several of the participants’ depression improved over the course of the study. Those participants had frequently integrated their recent emotional experiences with older memories in the course of their dreams. They dreamt for longer periods of time and their dreams were more vivid, containing many characters and settings.
Those whose depression remained or worsened had shorter dreams or could not recall them at all.
While much more research is needed, the study suggests that detailed, memorable dreams can help us process grief or negative feelings and move through difficult times.
Lucid Dreaming Can Help Our Waking Abilities
Another interesting theory involves lucid dreaming - the experience of being aware you’re dreaming. In some cases, lucid dreamers can even control their actions in the dream.
There have been several studies on lucid dreaming and how it relates to our problem solving and learning capabilities. In one study, researchers at the University of Lincoln in England had frequent lucid dreamers and non-lucid dreamers solve a series of puzzles. Lucid dreamers were far superior
at solving the puzzles than their counterparts.
Other researchers have found a link between practicing an activity in a dream and successfully accomplishing it in real life.
We don’t know if there are other characteristics that frequent lucid dreamers possess that could explain these results. But it’s an interesting idea: that awareness and control in dreams could enhance your prowess in real life!
Dreams Can Help us Relax
In 2011, UC Berkeley scientists reported that during dream sleep, study participants’ brains contained fewer chemicals
linked to stress. That reduction, suggested the researchers, allows us to calmly process emotions and wake up emotionally strengthened and less stressed out.
Researchers have been studying sleep and dreams for decades. While they’ve found a number of suggestive results, there is little scientific consensus on the specific benefits of dreams. However, we do know that sleep bestows a number of benefits, so it stands to reason that dreams could have their own perks. As more time goes on, we could start to see more concrete findings and find out exactly how dreams effect our mental well-being.