To dream is to act out risky behaviour

Why do we dream only in the middle of the night, why not at the beginning or at the end? I had that question too and it seems it’s because we experience longer periods of REM sleep in the middle of the night. I hope you’ve heard of REM sleep and non-REM sleep, the two kinds of sleep that we cycle through during our night. Haven’t? Don’t worry, you can still read the rest of this piece.

REM or rapid eye movement sleep is described as the part of our sleep cycle when our brains are active but our bodies aren’t. Think of REM sleep as the period when our brains are processing information subconsciously and non-REM sleep as just drowsiness and no activity, blank slate. So what exactly happens during REM sleep?

You dream. Yes, you only dream during REM sleep when your brain is active. You don’t dream during the drowsy non-REM parts+.

Remember I said your brain is active, well which part of your brain is active? Surely not everything or you’d be working on pet projects as you sleep. The limbic system which handles your emotions are active, churning out lots of emotional connections, which is why your dreams have a shade of emotions to them. Experiencing emotions isn’t just limited to your brain for these emotions also increase your heart rate and breathing rate. Hence, your heart is beating faster because of the emotions you’re experiencing in your dreams during REM sleep.

What are you dreaming about? You, my friend, are dreaming about what you can’t do in real life. The dorsolateral part of your brain that does rational planning, stops you from exhibiting socially incorrect behaviour is now taking a step back. You have been unleashed from your chains and in your dreams, you act out risky behaviour that you possibly can’t do in waking life. Part of this also includes sexual fantasies and that’s probably why there is penile erection and vaginal lubrication happening during REM sleep. You are acting out your wildest fantasies and what you are prohibited from doing in your dreams.

Then, the final part. What if I don’t dream at all? I don’t experience the REM active brain sleep you’re talking about. Is something wrong? No. There are individuals who take drugs for other diseases and the side effects result in them not having REM dream sleep. They’re doing fine. You’re just missing out on some fun and horror, that’s all;)

graph on REM sleep
Graph from the textbook, Neuroscience by Dales Purves

Featured image, House vector created by upklyak – www.freepik.com

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