For the first time in history, a group of scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston managed to define physiological function of dreaming. They found out that dreaming is essential for unconscious processing of the previous experiences and receiving a new layer of knowledge. The results of this study were published in April 2010 in the online journal Current Biology.
Robert Stickgold, a leader of the study and psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, explained the essence if the experiments as the following. Several participants were asked to remember the layout of a 3D maze at the computer screens, and then 5 hours later they were placed again at a random location in virtual space and asked to find a landmark tree. It turned out that those people who were allowed to have a nap and reported about seeing the task in their dreams managed to complete it much faster.
The first author of the study, Erin Wamsley, PhD at BIDMC and Harvard Medical School, says: “Our findings suggest that if something is difficult for you, it’s more meaningful to you and the sleeping brain therefore focuses on that subject – it ‘knows’ you need to work on it to get better, and this seems to be where dreaming can be of most benefit.” That is why the scientists recommend modern students to do their main studies right before going to bed, hoping that their brain and memory will consolidate during the sleep.
“What’s got us really excited, is that after nearly 100 years of debate about the function of dreams, this study tells us that dreams are the brain’s way of processing, integrating and really understanding new information,” says Robert Stickgold. The specialist is certain that dreaming is linked to better memory and enhances the abilities of human brain to work on given tasks at various levels.