Mental HealthNeurology / NeurosciencePsychology / PsychiatrySleep / Sleep Disorders / Insomnia

Why do we forget our dreams sometimes?

The majority of people dream at night, but when they wake up, many do not recall their dreams. There are many possible explanations why a person can forget their dreams.

Some individuals can remember small, obscure fragments of a dream, while others have absolutely no memory of them.

A dream is a collection of images, ideas, and sensations that occur during sleep in the mind. A universal though little understood experience is the act of dreaming.

For centuries, dreams have fascinated philosophers and researchers. While a good understanding of the physiology of sleep has been developed by the scientific community, they have made far less progress in understanding dreams and their functions.

This article would try to address the issue of why certain individuals forget their dreams.

Why we forget dreams

Young lady sleeping

Everyone dreams, but upon waking, many people do not recall their dreams. Nonetheless, it is hard to tell precisely why one person can recall their dreams while another individual can not.

Dreams may occur as short- and long-term memory is sorted into knowledge by the brain. An individual can not recall the events of their dreams because once they are awake, they can not access the knowledge.

In a 2016 article in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences journal, researchers suggest that because of changing levels of acetylcholine and norepinephrine during sleep, individuals forget their dreams.

In one 2018 study , researchers tried to decide whether the brain structure of a person determines how well they remember their dreams.

In this study , the researchers explored the associations in brain regions associated with dreaming between the frequency of dream recall and the density of white or gray matter, such as:

  • the amygdala
  • the hippocampus
  • the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC)
  • the temporoparietal junction (TPJ)

There were 92 participants involved in the study. Based on their dream recall frequency, the researchers classified them into two categories.

Between the high and low dream recall groups, the brain matter density of the amygdala and hippocampus did not differ significantly. Nevertheless, in their MPFCs, the participants who recorded high dream recall had greater white matter density than the low dream recall group.

In the TPJ and MPFC regions of their brains, the authors of a 2014 study found that individuals with high dream recall also displayed increased blood flow.

The study authors conclude on the basis of these findings that increased activity in the TPJ may encourage the transition of dream experiences into memory.

What else do we know about dreams?

The essence of dreams and their purpose remain a mystery. While researchers can observe, monitor and interpret brain activity during sleep, they are unable to recognize precisely when a person dreams or decide the content of the dreams of a person.

Dream research currently relies on anecdotal evidence and the ability of people to recall and then explain their dreams in an interview.

The ability of a person to recall their dreams can be influenced by many factors. These include factors in lifestyle, patterns of sleep hygiene, and variations in brain physiology.

Why do we dream?

The question: “Why are we dreaming?” It is easy to ask and has certainly crossed the minds of many people at one point in their lives.

It is very difficult, however, to respond, because the medical community still does not completely understand the functions or mechanisms behind sleep and dreams.

Knowing more about sleep could help to reveal why we dream. In more depth, the parts below will look at this.

Why we sleep

A crucial part of our lives is sleep. Currently, most individuals spend about one-third of their lives sleeping.

In our physical and mental well-being, sleep plays many significant functions. Researchers think, for instance, that sleep improves physical health by:

  • reducing blood pressure , heart rate, and breathing
  • regulating hormone levels
  • controlling hunger and regulating the metabolism
  • promoting immune system activity
  • supporting physical growth and development

Sleep also supports brain functioning and emotional well-being. The brain enters a state of active rest during sleep in which it can rebuild and form new neural pathways.

The risk of obesity, heart disease , kidney disease, and diabetes may be increased by chronic sleep deficiency.

Stages of sleep

It is necessary to remember that it is not a passive state to sleep.

There are two forms of sleep: sleep with rapid eye movement ( REM) and sleep without REM, which is further divided into three phases. Around four to six times a night, the brain cycles between non-REM and REM sleep.

The lightest stage of sleep is stage 1. It happens from wakefulness to sleep during the transition.

Stage 2 begins about 25 minutes after sleep onset. The heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing decrease during this point. The temperature of the body decreases, and the eyes cease to function.

The deepest sleep process is stage 3. The brain produces slow delta waves during this process. The muscles become completely relaxed, and heart rate and breathing reach their lowest levels.

REM sleep happens about 90 minutes after the onset of sleep. REM sleep is characterized by rapid eye movements from side to side, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and irregular, shallow breathing.

The brain gives off mixed frequencies during this sleep period that closely mimic those of brain activity during wakefulness.

Read more here about the phases of sleep.

Why we might dream

Typically, dreaming happens during REM sleep. People who wake up while sleeping during REM also report having dream experiences. Having said that, during non-REM sleep, people may have dreams or dream-like experiences.

Although sleep researchers, neurologists, and psychologists have posited numerous theories about the function (or functions) of sleep, a consolidated understanding of dreams has yet to be developed by the scientific community.

Some potential reasons why we dream include:

  • consolidating learning and memory tasks that occur during consciousness
  • experiencing mental stimulation akin to daydreaming
  • reflecting on and processing emotional stimuli experienced during consciousness
  • reflecting on and processing emotional trauma that is too difficult to confront during consciousness

Some scientific study indicates that during REM sleep, the brain regions that process emotions during consciousness are also active.

There is no definitive evidence, however, suggesting that dreaming or REM sleep directly affects the emotional state of a person. In reality, for as long as 2 weeks, a lack of REM sleep has little to no impact on behavior.

Overactive dreams

Though we might not remember every dream in vivid detail, some dream encounters are so vivid that people remember them several years later.

Overactive or vivid dreams can result from:

  • sleep deprivation, especially a lack of REM sleep
  • alcohol use
  • substance use
  • frequent or chronic emotional stress
  • hormonal fluctuations, especially those that occur during pregnancy
  • mental health conditions, such as anxietydepression, and schizophrenia
  • sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy and REM sleep behavior disorder

Summary

The purposes for which we dream and the role (or functions) of dreams remain unclear. We do know, however, that everybody dreams and that at least certain dream elements can be remembered by most people.

Different variables refer to a person’s ability to recall their dreams.

It might be easier to remember vivid or upsetting dreams than dreams that imitate the events of everyday life.

In certain individuals, consuming alcohol or other medications, experiencing stress, and experiencing sleep deprivation may all lead to overactive or vivid dreams.

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