Dreams are as mysterious to the dreamer as they are to the experts. But what we do know is that dreams are a neurobiological process, just like thinking.
Dreams are the result of heightened activity in our neocortex1, the outermost layer of our brain, although researchers are still understanding how different types of dreams (like lucid dreaming) activate different regions.
We haven’t yet pinned down why we dream or what our dreams mean—but we do have promising theories.
According to Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., board-certified sleep specialist, dreaming is all about data processing and data storage (and in that order). “One of the functional purposes of dreaming is moving information from your short-term to your long-term memory,” he explains. “That movement of data, we think, is represented in your brain as this kind of fantastical imagery we call dreams.” We all experience emotional events on the reg, and according to Breus, dreams are a reflection of processing, understanding, and storing these events.
And dream expert Leslie Ellis, Ph.D., agrees: “In dreaming, we appear to pull out those emotionally charged elements from the previous day or so and weave them onto our existing memories but also into a new kind of image or story,” she previously explained to mindbodygreen.
Beyond emotional processing and memory consolidation, dreams have been a source of creativity and inspiration throughout the ages. But what if we don’t dream or haven’t had a dream in years? Do we miss out on these benefits?