This week’s episode is the first in a new multi-part series all about dreams! Today, Matt focuses on the question of how your brain generates these things called dreams.
Matt starts with an unexpected statement: last night, when you were dreaming, you became psychotic. 5 things happen when you dream that justify his diagnosis: 1) you see things that aren’t there, 2) you believe things that could not be true, 3) you become confused about time, place, and person, 4) you have wildly fluctuating emotions, and 5) you wake up in the morning and forget most of this dream experience, amnesia. If you experience any of these symptoms while awake, you might seek psychological attention. Yet, dreaming is both a normal and, essential biological and psychological process.
Matt explains that REM sleep is not the only stage of sleep when we dream. However, the things that most of us call dreams, involving movement, emotions, past memories, and rich narrative, largely come from REM sleep.
Over the past 20 years, a new scientific view of REM sleep has given rise to an understanding of 3 basic questions regarding dreaming. 1) how does the brain create this neural activity called dreaming? 2) can we explain if dreams have their source in our experiences, or are they de novo experiences generated by the brain? 3) what is the function of REM sleep dreaming? The advent of brain-imaging machines allowed scientists like Matt to create beautiful 3D visualizations of people’s brains as they dreamt.
When the brain switches from deep non-REM sleep over to REM sleep, something remarkable happens: the brain erupts with spikes of activity in the MRI scans. Specifically, 4 areas of the brain fire up when dreaming starts during REM sleep: the visuospatial regions, the motor cortex, the hippocampus, and the amygdala. In contrast to all of these areas, one part of the brain does the opposite. The left and right sides of your prefrontal cortex becomes markedly deactivated during REM sleep. This is important because your prefrontal cortex controls logical reasoning. This is, in part, why dreams are often filled with movement, strong emotions, past memories, people, and experiences, yet are utterly irrational.
Finally, Matt reminds us of one last fact. When we are in REM sleep dreaming, the body is paralyzed, preventing us from acting out our bizarre dreams. Otherwise, we would put ourselves in danger and be popped out of the gene pool rather quickly!
Be sure to tune in for the rest of the series to uncover even more fascinating information about these things we call dreams.
Please note that Matt is not a medical doctor, and none of the content in this podcast should be considered medical advice in any way, shape, or form, nor prescriptive in any way.
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