Friday, January 28, 2022

Why Do We Forget Our Dreams?

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Since the beginning of civilization, science has tried to unravel the mysteries of the human body. Top-notch brains with expert knowledge have been attempting to decipher why humans behave the way they do.

And in so many years of scientific advancement, there have been giant leaps of understanding. But what continues to amaze and confuse scientists is their very own minds- the human brain.

Dreams arrive in our sleep and originate from our brains. They are reportedly associated with memories, emotions, and feelings. While everyone hopes, no one remembers every single dream they had even in one night of sleep.

We might find ourselves getting up from sleep up with a vague impression of our dream, our senses still adjusting to conscious reality, but after a few minutes, the dream vanishes from our memories, as if it never happened.

Damir Spanic

Click here for an in-depth analysis on- why do we forget our dreams?

We spend a third of our lives sleeping, and in those hours, a lot of hours are spent in dreamland. But try as we might, dreams always fleet our mind even if we will them to stay. You may remember a few dreams of your lifetime, or you may feel like you never dream. Dreams are fun while they last, but they leave next to no impression on our memories. But why do we forget our dreams? Scientists, though still not sure, have multiple conclusive theories.

When Do We Dream?

Reportedly, we dream for around 25% of our sleep time. And dreams usually come in the final stage of sleep, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.

When we feel asleep, we first enter a stage of light sleep, where we can easily be woken up. In the next step, the body starts to relax and prepare itself to enter a deeper state of sleep. These are stages of non-REM sleep. After that, the body enters the first phase of REM sleep, which lasts 10-15 minutes.

The final phase of REM can last up to 90 minutes, and it usually happens right before we wake up, which is why many of us have a vague image of our last dream for a few seconds after waking up. Here is a chart explaining the stages:

Graph of Sleep Cycles
Image Source: Lumen Learning

The REM sleep is physically characterized by a rapid movement in the eyes and a paralyzed state of our bodies called atonia. Scientists believe that this might be because our eyes are seeing the image of the dream, like when our eyes move when we watch a movie at a theatre. Some theories suggest that the eye movement is causing a change in the scene in the dream. So when your eyes are darting around, they are actually changing the image of the dream, kind of like a director in a movie.

We dream when we are the stages of REM sleep. Our brain is the most active during this stage, thus causing vivid dreams. Research suggests that during our non-REM sleep, our dreams aren’t as crazy as they are in the stage of REM sleep.

Why Do Forget Our Dreams?

Dreams are Inessential

More often than not, dreams don’t hold significant significance in our lives. On most nights, they are ridiculous and bizarre, maybe even funny, but still not worth being stored in our memories because they don’t add any value to our lives. Evolution has made our brain self-sufficient. It automatically retains information that is important to our growth and survival and disposes of the rest of it.

Think about it- the mind is conscious for all the hours of the day we are awake and is subjected to an overwhelming and constant string of information. But not all of this is absorbed. If it is not of relevance to our lives, we forget it.

For instance, do you remember what you were thinking about in the shower today? Or that boring story your co-worker told at work? Chances are you don’t. This theory explains- why do we forget our dreams?

Sleeping Baby
Hessam Nabavi

Since we don’t remember things that aren’t important to us, our brains probably wipe the memory of our dreams almost as soon as we wake up. Fortunately, our brain gets rid of inessential things, or there would be an endless abyss of the most random information floating around in our heads.

But some dreams still stick, and they are usually ones that pertain to a specific memory or invoke some emotion or were simply beautiful. People also experience recurring dreams, where a similar pattern is repeated, such as being chased down a staircase or driving a car off a cliff. These usually stick in your mind because they occur often, and may even be a sign of a stress-inducing event in your life.

Check out this video to understand more about- why do we forget our dreams.

An Inactive DLPFC

The Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (DLPFC), found in the frontal lobes of the brain, performs an important job of forming memory, especially of important information. If your exam date is announced in class, the DLPFC will be activated; it will retain this information and store it for you. And while it is highly active when you are awake and most likely to be subjected to essential information, it is inactive when we sleep.

That could explain- why do we forget our dreams?

During the REM state of sleep, when we have our most vivid dreams, dreams can’t be stored in memory since the DLPFC isn’t active. But if a dream stands or relates to our life in a way that is special or emotional, activity in DLPFC is increased, making us remember them. That is why you might remember some nightmares or beautiful dreams you have had in your lifetime.

The DLPFC in Brain
Image Source: WordPress

The DLPFC also controls the logic and reasoning part of the brain. Since it automatically becomes inactive during sleep, our dreams become illogical and peculiar. But if the dream is profound, left an emotional impact in you or invoked feelings of fear, bliss, humor, or sadness, increased activity in the DLPFC may cause you to remember it. While emotions may run high in a dream, logic usually doesn’t.

This theory is supported by a broad consensus, but there is research indicating its controversiality. To know more, click here.

Lucid Dreams

Lucid dreams involve consciousness. In these dreams, you are aware that you are dreaming. You may still be in REM sleep, but you still know about and may even have control over the dream. Because the DLPFC is inactive during sleep, we are not aware of being in a state of dream.

But when there is increased activity in the frontal lobes of the brain i.e., the DLPFC, a person may achieve dream lucidity.  You can click here to read a research paper on this.

Inaccessibility to Hippocampus During Sleep

Hippocampus is part of the limbic system in the brain. It is where memories are formed. Much like some other parts of the brain, the hippocampus becomes inactive during our sleep, thus not allowing us to create memories. This is also the reason why dreams may not coincide with the real information we know, even if it is about people in our lives. For instance, your friend is an architect, but when she is an astronaut in your dream, you don’t question it.

While memories are formed in the hippocampus, they are transferred for long-term storage in the neocortex. The California Institute of Technology conducted an experiment where they observed rats during a state of deep sleep. They saw that the hippocampus and neocortex don’t work in coordination for the most duration of the dream.

However, when they are in sync, that is when memory formed in the hippocampus is stored in the neocortex, making you remember your dream. This may hold true for humans also. That means that during rem sleep, memories of the dream are created but not stored for long term memory.  To understand more, watch this video:

Dreams Are Not Coherent

Dreams don’t make much sense. They are illogical in every sense of the word. And unless we are in a state of lucid dreaming, we completely accept every situation we may face in our dreams. That could be an answer to the question- why do we forget our dreams?

Incoherent Dreams
Zhifei Zhou

We are used to organization and structure, characteristics our dreams lack. Since the frontal nodes of our brain aren’t working at full capacity, our dreams don’t follow patterns of reason or logic. Because of this, dreams don’t fit in the memories we have or are used to. That could be why our brains reject them.

How Can We Remember Dreams Then?

You may now have understood- why do we forget our dreams? But it’s natural to want to remember dreams. They are fun and make for good stories. There are ways you can increase your chances of remembering a dream. Researchers suggest drinking a lot of water before going to bed if you want to remember your dreams. When you wake up in the middle of the night for a pee break, once or twice, your brain will get time to register the information of your dream and pass it along for long-term storage.

You can also maintain a dream diary, where you can jot down your dreams right after you wake up when the memory is still fresh in your mind.

Some theories suggest that the people who wake up more often during their night of sleep or are woken suddenly during REM sleep, remember their dreams reasonably easily. This is because the memory gets transferred to the neocortex, where it can be stored for long-term when we wake up often or quickly.

Do you think your question- Why do we forget our dreams, is answered now? As in the case of any scientific research, we can’t jump to one conclusion. There has been and will be further research on the human brain until the end of time.

To know more about- why do we forget our dreams, click here.

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