Dream theories developed by Freud suggest that dreams are psychological, revealing hidden urges, for example. Later research argues that dreams are physiological, beginning with random electrical impulses deep within the brain stem.
The meaning of dreams has remained a controversy for centuries. Sigmund Freud believed dreams serve to gratify unconcious wishes and longings. However more modern researchers view dreams as the surfacing of the conscious preoccupations of life.
Rosalind Cartwright found that during a time of crisis, the people who recover more rapidly also dream longer and sooner in their sleep cycle. Where as those in crisis who dream much less don't sort out their interconflicts as quickly. Biological researchers believe that dreams originate in the psyche. Francis Crick and Graeme Mitchison believe that during REM, synaptic connections are weaker, which makes memory more efficient and accurate. Applying this view, Mitchison and Crick believe dreams only to be mental garbage, a mass of new memories all jumbled together. On the contrary, Karini showed that memories for new skills usually improve during the time they are initially learned. Hence, REM may actually strengthen synaptic connections.
Extensions of Waking Life
Dreams May Provide Clue To Depression
Research being conducted at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago has provided doctors there with a glimpse into how the dreams of those who are depressed from a recent divorce may contribute to overcoming depression.
This may provide clues explaning why some people seem to recover from depression while others do not. Rosalind Cartwright, Ph.D. and colleagues developed a study to test the hypothesis that, if people depressed after a marital break up will emotionally adjust more rapidly if they are able to construct and recall well-developed, emotionally rich dreams.
"The preliminary data suggests that emotional problem solving takes place during dreaming," Cartwright says. Preliminary data reveals that when dreams of the ex-spouse are seen in a casual or distant manner, the recently separated or divorced person will begin to recover and cope with the life change.
Activation Synthesis Theory
This theory of dreaming states that during REM sleep the brain activates itself and then synthesizes the information generated into dreams. In 1977, J. Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley of Harvard Medical School proposed that dreaming was the brain's attempt to respond to stimuli that are being received. This theory was based on the findings of Dement in the 1960's that the brain stem sends messages to the visual center of the cortex during REM sleep, as it does during wakefulness. Since the person is asleep and cannot respond normally, the result is a dream.
Every 90 minutes during sleep, an automatic activation system turns on for 30 minutes. During this time, the part of the brain called the pons sends electrical charges to the forebrain. According to activation synthesis theory, the impulses, or charges, are bits of information stored in the brain, which are fired off without explicit order or meaning. The brain takes these bits of information and tries to make sense of them, knitting them together to form a narrative or story.
Despite researchers' divergent point of view, the theories developped since Singmund Freud reveal that the brain is very active, even at night.
Though many questions remain unanswered, researchers have developed numerous studies concerning the importance of sleep and the impact of dreams in our lives.