Dreams have been a source of inspiration, mystery, awe and instruction for countless centuries.
Ancient civilisations thought dreams were spiritual experiences. 20th century psychologists theorised that they were messages from our own subconscious minds. Poets across the ages used the ethereal nature of dreams to inspire romantic verses. Philosophers questioned the nature of reality on the basis of dreams.
Here, Professor John Groeger (Nottingham Trent University), an expert on sleep and psychology, explains what modern day science can tell us about dreams, and how they can be affected by brain injury.
“While it may seem obvious, dreams come from the same brain that enables us to do the incredible variety of things we do when we are awake. Anything we do leaves a ‘residue’ of that activity. We can argue about whether this is a ‘memory’ or not, but what we call ‘dreams’ depend hugely on what remains in your head after you have an experience.
“Dreams then are, quite simply, no more than some sort of muddled up version of things we have experienced while awake. It may seem ‘like real life’, or bizarre, because of which part of the brain accesses that information on that occasion, and what else is happening in the brain at the time.
“This is is a key point - your brain is very active while you sleep, some parts of the brain are almost as active as when you are awake, but the whole brain is not. That’s why what we can remember from while we are asleep can seem very, very strange.
“You are probably reading this because you have had, or someone you know has had a brain injury. Regrettably, the damage that is there when awake is there when asleep.
“Can you remember life before your brain injury? You probably can, although it may be upsetting to do so. Do you try to remember pre-injury life and feel upset? If yes, then you will do so when asleep, if not, you may still do so when asleep. Either way it will almost certainly disturb you in the night, whether or not you remember having that dream.
“When the brain has been damaged it will sleep differently and it will dream differently. Some of these different dreams may be no more than a difference in the life now led from that you had before. Some may result from the trauma suffered because the brain has been changed, or because the trauma experienced is posing psychological challenges.”
To find out more about Professor Groeger’s work and discuss any of the issues above, visit ntu.ac.uk/research/groups-and-centres/groups/sleep.
Friends of Headway Individual membership Join/Renew