Freud believed that we dream so that we can release the deep, Secret desires that we are not allowed to express in real life because of the rules of polite society. Most people know about Freudian dream analysis – a dream about a train going into a tunnel is a dream about sexual intercourse. But couldn’t it just be a dream about travelling on a train?
Another theory is that dreams allow us to solve problems that we can’t solve in real life. We go to sleep with a problem and wake up with the answer. This may be more of a way to ‘use’ our dreams than a ‘purpose’ of dreaming. If you believe that your dreams are important then analysing them may help you to focus your mind on the problem and help you to find the solution.
The modern image is that dreams are the brain’s way of cleaning up the computer’s hard disk, organizing the events of the day into folders and deleting the rubbish that it doesn’t want to keep. But we all know that very little of what we dream every night is concerned with what happened to us that day.
Another idea is that dreams are the brain’s way of practising the behaviour that we need to survive. So we dream about being chased by a monster because one day it might happen! It’s a bit like a pianist practising her scales every day even though she doesn’t need to use them at that moment.
Others believe that dreaming is the brain’s way of exercising the pathways between the brain cells. This may be an important element in why we sleep rather than why we dream. We die if we don’t sleep but we can live without dreaming. Some patients with brain injuries lose the ability to dream but don’t seem to suffer any ill-effects.