The Functions of Dreams

The Functions of Dreams

When it comes to understanding dreams, there are two distinct schools of thoughts. One school believes that there is a connection of REM sleep and dreaming. The other school believes that dreams are formed because of unconscious, repressed impulses which can be explained with psychoanalytic symbolism. This school believes that once this process is understood, it may lead to understanding of the root cause of mental illness.


According to Freud, “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious”. They can be analyzed to reveal the hidden impulses of the unconscious. They have the power to explain who we really are, what we actually want and how may we attain these goals. However, a number of noted psychiatrists have suggested that instead of this semantic view of our dreams, they occur as a result of simply random firing of neurons in brain when the body is at rest. These neuron firings are responsible for the images. We do not act physically during these images as the body is kept under temporary paralysis to safeguard against external injuries.


Dreams can also be viewed as defence mechanisms to remove all repressed desires which can bring harm to the psyche. The dreams perform the protective function of release of excess stress, repressed impulses and traumatic thoughts.


The recurring dreams

Some theories give the notion that some repressed thoughts or recurring occurrences can manifest themselves in dreams via images. Also, trauma or an event containing significant emotional aspects can cause recurring dreams.

On a broader level and taking into account all literature, dreams can have five basic functions. These are discussed below:


1. The dreams with clinical functions

Contemporary psychologists believe that dreams are close knit to mental disorders. As a matter of fact, a number of mental illnesses can be attributed to certain dreams in the individual’s past and what triggered them. As of now, the clinical value of dreams has been established in psychoanalysis but its full potential in physiology is clouded.


2. Cognitive functions

Dreams are helpful in learning. The scientific studies have shown that dreams play a cognitive role in children. Kids have higher frequency of dreams and REM sleep than adults. As a result, the kids tend to learn while dreaming and it has positive effects on their physical skills. This could be a plausible explanation as to why so many discoveries were made in dreams. The dreams apply various permutations and combinations and show various possibilities to our thought process. Thus, they provide some solutions to real life problems. So, to sum up, dreams could be very effective as a learning tool.


3. The adaptive functions of dreams

Dreams help us to adapt to our surroundings. Although the evolutionary concept of dreams is not very clear, however, the fact that we still dream makes them an indispensible part of our passive life. In the adaptive sense, the dreams help in restoring the body balance between mental and physical well-being.


4. The cathartic functions of dreams

Dreams help in emotional purging. They help release stress. By symbolic representation of images, they help eliminate the fears, impulses and urges out of our lives. They act as shields to our own release of negative thoughts. Thu, dreams are highly cathartic.


5. The defensive aspects of dreams

By catharsis, we release our fears and enhance our adaptive functions. We are able to adapt to situations and thus, we develop instincts to deal with them. Dreams release the excess stress which can cause severe problems both physically and emotionally. To sum up, dreams provide a regulating mechanism for releasing excess thoughts from mind as well as body.


In a nutshell, dreams are the excretions of minds. They help us improve our mental health in aspects which cannot be overlooked. However, whether the dreams are regulatory or rudimentary, this can only be decided by delving deeper into the psychology of dreams.