Origin Of Dreams And Nightmares

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Why do we dream, and why do we have nightmares? Do they serve any purpose? Lets investigate.

The question of why we have dreams and nightmares has plagued humanity for the longest time. Based on my scientific understanding, observations and analysis, this is what stands out to me as the likeliest explanations: Dreams are like the mind's "screen savers", if you will. Just like if you leave a computer idling for long, it turns to running screen savers including fantastic scenes of exotic locales, fantastic creatures and people and natural phenomena, till someone touches the mouse and spurs the computer to attention and activiy again, so is the case with the human brain. Tired and exhausted after a hard day's work, low on glucose and ATP for energy, it shifts to a "sleep" mode, literally, to conserve energy. As it happens, the neurons in the brain still maintain a background firing of electrical pulses to re-wire the brain as it tries to make sense of what it learned and experienced during the day, and consolidate those memories. That is precisely why anyone preparing for a major exam or event the next day, should get a good night's sleep so that the brain is able to solidify all the learning and memories for full functioning. As it happens, the brain conjures up, amalgamates, fuses and dissolves all kinds of pictures, actions, images, people, and timelines, past, present and even future, all in order to maintain a sense of identity, learning and constant resetting of the person's learned experiences and feelings. Enjoy the fantastic light show while it lasts in your brain! Whether it is a sexy encounter with a beautiful stranger/someone close to you or a romp in a tropical rainforest.

 

Let's talk about the darker side of dreams now, namely nightmares, which disrupt sleep and make the whole experience that much more terrifying and uncomfortable. What's up with that? Imagine a group of prehistoric people out in the open savannah huddled together by a bonfire, millions of years ago, drifting off to sleep. After everyone is comfortably snorin g away, there are unfamiliar sounds in the background, a rustling of the bushes because a sabre-toothed cat or cave bear is stalking the puny humans, or a venomous snake slithering by, or even a group of  maraauding hostile tribes ready to plunder our peacefully sleeping ancient humans. Some of the group's members are jolted awake and respond to the unfamiliar sounds by running for cover/ adopting defensive postures. They survive whatever danger was out to get them. Their more heavily-sedated brethren and sisters are killed by the present threat. Few generations later, the only people who are alive and passing on their genes to the next generation are the ones who's brains are keenly attuned to unfamiliar and threatening sounds, smells and sensations even while asleep, and this trait is passed generations down. Fast forward to the present era. Humans alive today are all descendants of the same group of ancient hominins who were responding subconsciously to all these subliminal threats in their sleep. Fortunately, we do not have sabre-toothed cats and woolly mammoths to rip us apart or stomp us down, but we still have the unfamiliar and sometimes threatening sounds, smells and sensations of living in an urban environment, that elicit the same flight-or-fight reponse from us. You are sleeping in a new and unfamiliar environment, at a friend's house, in a motel, a new place, and your brain is picking up all these strange sounds, smells and sensations all at once, while asleep. It figures this could be a real threat. What does it do? It conjures up the most horrifying images it could muster, you being chased down by a demon/ wild animal/ tsunami, anything scary enough to jolt you awake because your very life might depend on it. That is a nightmare, and it has a survival value. In the past, it saved our ancestor's lives, and in the present, it is still responding to threats, either real or imaginary, in the same way. You will notice that you have the most nightmares and wake up in a sweat whenever there is some unfamiliar sound in the background, a ticking noise, thuds, wind howling, anything that the brain perceives as out of the ordinary and unusual, or someone cooking late at night with strange aromas in the air and gentle banging of pots and pans, or you are simply stressed out at work, relationships or life situations. Your brain will react to all of these unfamiliar situations the same way it did millions of years ago, by jolting you awake by any means necessary, even if it includes conjuring up a real horror story in your mind in the form of a nightmare. So, we might still thank our nightmares, just as much as our pleasant dreams, for working toward our survival and maintaining some order in our lives. It is a relic of the past, our inherited nocturnal baggage. Only when this becomes a chronic and debilitating issue, should professional medical and psychological help be sought. 


Submitted: January 07, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Fuad Khan. All rights reserved.

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Comments

88 fingers

Very good article. But for me, if the last thing I eat is chocolate, there is a very good chance that I will have weird very detailed dreams. Sometimes lucid dreams where I can control the action.
I don't know if there is something in the chocolate that does that to the parts of my brain that produces sleep and dreams, but it helps me with my writing.

Thu, January 7th, 2021 11:53pm

Author
Reply

Thanks! Well, chocolate does have a number of psychoactive substances, some that break down into the neurotransmitter serotonin, and serotonin is intricately linked to mood regulation and sleep. Maybe it is the serotonin that your brain reacts to in a way that promotes vivid and lucid dreams. Serotonin-generating drugs are also prescribed for depression(Prozac), OCD and some types of manic disorders. Interesting how individual brains interact with the environments and food substances.

Best

Thu, January 7th, 2021 4:01pm

LE. Berry

Consider the brain as a physical connection to creative energy...then it is more than a blob of matter. Nightmares and dreams still cause scientists to ponder that mystery. Well written piece Faud.

Fri, January 8th, 2021 9:55pm

Author
Reply

Thank you. Agreed. Appreciate the comment and your time.

Best

Fuad

Fri, January 8th, 2021 1:59pm

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