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Shutterstock / Belinda Pretorius

Shutterstock / Belinda Pretorius

Science has experienced great progress in deepening our understanding of dreaming. Still, there is no answer to the question: Why do we dream? There are, however, a great number of theories being explored. While some scientists posit that dreaming has no direct function — but instead is a consequence of other biological processes that occur during sleep — many scientists studying sleep and dreams believe that dreaming serves a primary purpose. Theories of dreaming span scientific disciplines, from psychiatry and psychology to neurobiology. Some of the current theories of the purpose of dreaming suggest that dreaming is:

• A component and form of memory processing, aiding in the consolidation of learningand short-term memory to long-term memory storage.

• An extension of waking consciousness, reflecting the experiences of waking life.

• A means by which the mind works through difficult, complicated, unsettling thoughts, emotions, and experiences, to achieve psychological and emotional balance.

• The brain responding to biochemical changes and electrical impulses that occur during sleep.

• A form of consciousness that unites past, present and future in processing information from the first two, and preparing for the third.

• A protective act by the brain to prepare itself to face threats, dangers and challenges.

There is not likely ever to be a simple answer, or a single theory that explains the full role of dreaming to human life. Biological, cognitive, psychological — it’s very likely that dreaming may serve important functions in each of these realms.

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