Your Brain on Dreams and Doom

Remember the crazy dream you had last night? You were walking in the forest, when a bear jumped out and chased you to the edge of a cliff. You jump off, but instead of landing in the ocean below, you’re suddenly in Manhattan, face to face with a screaming hot dog vendor. As he’s shaking his fists at you, his face morphs into an alarm clock – the shrill bell telling you to get out of bed. OK, maybe that wasn’t your dream, but turns out, even those nonsensical dreams are functional.

I will be working on a 3-month multimedia series on the brain, so I have been "brainstorming."

One topic that I am looking into is dream science, since it's an emerging field in neuroscience.

People frequently associate dream analysis with Sigmund Freud, who famously wrote, “The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.”

These days, scientists interpret dreams differently. They think dreaming plays a central role in memory formation and emotion, but exactly how? Researchers are hooking up volunteers to MRIs and EEGs and then waking them up mid-dream to record what they remember.

“To say you’re going to study dreams is almost academic suicide,” said University of California, Berkeley’s Matt Walker to New Scientist.

Some scientists believe that people don’t simply replay events while they dream, but they also process them and integrate information for future use. In one study, scientists made 22 volunteers play the video game Doom for an hour before bedtime. Volunteers who dreamed about Doom that night were more likely to improve their game the following day.

“Most of the dream studies that have come out have been either just categorizing what’s in the dreams or seriously driven by Freudian theory,” said Robert Stickgold of Harvard Medical School to New Scientist. He carried out one of the video game studies. “We try to approach it from a memory-processing perspective.” [HealthyState.org]