Dream Theories: The Reasons Behind Why Do We Have Dreams

Why do we have dreams? How can dreams provide insight into the human mind? Are dreams somehow connected to the real world? Or are they just a relaxing break for our brains? Or are they something more? 

Humans have been intrigued by the phenomena of dreams since time immemorial. However, the meanings and opinions about a dream have shifted multiple times throughout history. The subject is now a full-blown branch of psychology called Oneirology. Despite such deep research, it is still unclear what happens when we dream and why do we have dreams altogether. 

To help you gain insight into the topic, we have compiled the top dream theories by renowned scientists. But before that, let us understand what a dream actually is. 

What Is A Dream?

Simply put, dreams are a string of emotions, images, or thoughts that one has while sleeping. They can range from being wonderful, senseless, funny, or even terrifying sometimes. They come in uncountable forms and have varied meanings. 

People can have 3-5 different dreams during one sleep cycle. However, most of these dreams go unnoticed as their memories are erased when you wake up from sleep. A person in the morning can recall only five percent of all dreams. 

Now that you have a basic understanding of what dreams are, let us dive into the main theories about why do we have dreams. 

Read more: Aphantasia – Being Blind In The Mind

Dream Theories 

1. Inner desires and wishes

Based on the works of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychology, this dream theory says that any dream, no matter how terrifying it gets, is the brain’s way of expressing what it wants. According to him, dreams are a channel for your brain to unburden the deeply hidden emotions you haven’t dealt with. 

2. Random neural signals

Dreams generally occur during the random eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. During this stage, your breathing gets rapid, and your heart rate increases. Your eyes are rapidly moving from side to side; hence, the stage is called rapid eye movement. During this stage, your brain processes and catalogs the previous day’s memories.

Harvard University professors Robert McCarley and Allan Hobson found another famous brain theory. According to them, during the REM stage, various electric signals pass through the brain. When the brain tries to make sense of or interpret these random electric signals, dreams are created. Therefore unlike Freud, they believed that dreams were just accidental side-effects of the brain’s working and did not serve an eternal purpose.

Read more: How To Manage Nightmares In PTSD

3. Threat Simulation Theory

Antti Revonsuo, a Finnish psychologist, is credited with discovering the threat simulation theory. Revonsuo found that during the REM stage of sleep, the brain’s amygdala (the fight-or-flight response center) works in similar ways as it would while dealing with a survival threat. Therefore, the basic function of all types of negative or terrifying dreams is a rehearsal for such events. This rehearsal helps in faster threat recognition and active response in the future when such actions happen. Simply put, dreams help us practice threats in order to be safe. 


Whatever the actual reason behind why we have dreams, scientific discoveries in the field of Oneirology will continue to evolve and surprise us with many more exciting dream theories. Ultimately, understanding the process and functioning of dreams is a step toward more advances in the field of dreams. This can include recording, controlling, or even stimulating dreams.

While dreaming is a fun activity for most people, it is a cause of concern for some. Maladaptive daydreaming disorder occurs when people are so consumed in their daydreams or fantasies that it affects their real life. To learn more about maladaptive daydreaming disorder, click here.

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