… Will be spent dreaming. Not sleeping, that bit is about a third, but dreaming away deep in the REM part of your own lalaland. There is no real consensus as to what is the biological benefit of dreaming, as biology is a fairly practical gal which removes all unnecessary things. So we need it for something, right?
The reasons why we need to sleep are far clearer. Without sleep you’d die or go insane, whichever comes first. It a body’s way of regularly going into repairs on cells and synapses, a way to renew energy reserves and clear the gunk left as the by-products of burning energy. Our brain will literally shrink during the night as a sponge draining (so it’s advisable to not eat 4 hours before bed a couple times a week and sleep on your side or with your head a bit more elevated so that gravity and metabolism can do their thing and rinse out your brain cells). We’re so deeply connected to the planet that we’ve synced up and, come nightfall, the day hormones keeping us awake and alert in alpha brain wave state get replaced by sleep hormone melatonin released by the pineal gland. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep it may be something as simple and easily fixable as staring at screens way too late so your eyes are bombarded by light when your surroundings are supposed to go darker so you distort your circadian rhythm. Darken the rooms and stay away from screens half an hour to an hour before bedtime for a blissful nights slumber.
Sleep is not this one homogenous blob of just lying there unconscious. It’s a complex dance and sequencing of various stages which repeat in 90-minutes intervals. There is one REM stage and 3 NON-REMs (NREM-s) in those 90 minutes. The NREM-1 is the first phase of a light sleep lasting up to 7 minutes. If you’re a sleep jerker, you’re most likely to jerk (fancy term for it is hypnagogic event) in this phase. The respiration, heart rate and brain waves slow down and your muscles relax. You can be easily awakened by light or sound in this stage and you would feel groggy and sluggish. NREM-2 is a bit deeper sleep where the brainwave pattern shows rapid changes called sleep spindles. You can still be woken up relatively easily by loud noises or light, but will most likely not feel groggy but refreshed. In this stage the system continues to slow down and your body temperature starts to lower. This stage lasts about 25 minutes. The NREM-3 is the one where you get the real full brain shift into slow delta waves: here is where the muscle, immunity fortification and growth take effect and this stage is extremely important for recovery and rebuild. It’s harder to wake us up in this stage but if we do, we’ll be pretty much out of it for a while. It is possible to have some dreams in the first 3 stages but they will be brief and fragmented. The real dream generating state which gives you the fantastical landscapes and unexplained strangeness, which the most obscure screen writers today couldn’t have conjured up, is REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. In this stage the brain is very much functional and busy, especially the motor cortex. In healthy sleep cycles the brain stem blocks the signals from the motor cortex so we can’t enact scenes from our dreams aka it paralyzes us to not get hurt and our blood pressure and heart rate go up.
Use this information to bio hack your sleep. If you’re big on napping make sure you tweak the waking up time to wake up in stage 2 (so 15-30 minutes) and you’ll get a real power nap, getting benefits without the grogginess. If you’re into longer naps, do the whole 90-minutes cycle and make sure you wake up in REM cycle. Waking up in NREM 1 or 3 will make you feel like you’ve been hit by a train.
Ah to sleep, perchance to dream. The study of dreams is called Oneirology and lives somewhere where psychology and neuroscience meet, taking its name from the Greek word for dreams. Why do we dream? No one knows exactly or there is zero chance for a singular explanation. Freud wrote a work called Interpretation of Dreams in which he depicted dreams as wish fulfilment, a censored and symbolic way of resolving conflicts or our own personal dramas where the objects in the dreams represent something else. What? Well it’s highly personal and depends on how your psyche is structured. On a more scientific note, the purpose of dreams might be fortification of memory, or information processing where we sort out information of the day trying to make sense of them and store them more permanently in our memory. We also practice life skills in our dreams turning on the same brain structures as would be switched on if we were doing the action in awoke state. There is also a theory that we dream mainly to foster neural development and preserve neural pathways aka strengthen the brain connections by providing it with stimulation. That’s why babies sleep and dream more, as their brains are rapidly growing and learning new skills. Or they can just be a random white noise of the brain buzzing on non-stop? Less likely, but possible.
In our dreams there is no eyebrow rising to the strangeness of events we witness. Time and space implode and there is no need for causal relationships between storylines. Yet, if time is only linear to us as a point of view and all matter is pretty much empty space, reality is far weirder than you having a tea party with an otter as Abe Lincoln plays the cello and drinks some mint mocha in the background.