Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Our dreams help us tie our shoes?

Prepping for this blog, I poked around and found an article by Ilana Simons, PhD., that gives five theories on why we have dreams. Here’s an excerpt that shares one of those theories with you:

#2 Dreams Create Wisdom

If we remembered every image of our waking lives, it would clog our brains. So, dreams sort through memories, to determine which ones to retain and which to lose. Matt Wilson, at MIT's Center for Learning and Memory, largely defends this view. He put rats in mazes during the day, and recorded what neurons fired in what patterns as the rats negotiated the maze. When he watched the rats enter REMBomb-Sniffing-Rats2may05 sleep, he saw that the same neuron patterns fired that had fired at choice turning points in the maze. In other words, he saw that the rats were dreaming of important junctures in their day. He argues that sleep is the process through which we separate the memories worth encoding in long-term memory from those worth losing. Sleep turns a flood of daily information into what we call wisdom: the stuff that makes us smart for when we come across future decisions.

*read the entire article HERE

**Ok, the picture above is not actually from that test,

but it does kind of sell it, huh?

So we dream to remember.

Spring-boarding from there, if dreams are our brain’s way of dial layers (2) sorting memories and deciding what to save and what to pitch, what kind of weird-o-meter is the “save” part set to in my noggin? I remember oddball facts about pop culture stuff, especially of the Star Trek or Star Wars variety and I have witnesses to prove it. (Though they are unlikely to call it wisdom when I’m kicking their tails at Star Trek Scene It or using words like Klingon or phaser or nacelle or Pon Farr in Scrabble.)

Then why does the trivia stick and the useful stuff not so much?

Jessica D. Payne and Lynn Nadel (of a webpage Here ) concur that:

“…the content of dreams reflects aspects of memory consolidation taking place during the different stages of sleep.” They say, “Our hypothesis, briefly stated, is that variations in cortisol (and other neurotransmitters) determine the functional status of hippocampal ↔ neocortical circuits, thereby influencing the memory consolidation processes that transpire during sleep. The status of these circuits largely determines the phenomenology of dreams, providing an explanation for why we dream and of what.”

Which seems to be a very big-worded way to say that when your neurotransmitters are lubed up right, you dream.

Payne & Nadel go on to basically say that there are two types of memory, procedural and episodic. Combining their definition with a little fine-tuning from Psychology wiki, those bold words can be defined:

procedural memory: aka: implicit memory. This lets you tie your shoes without thinking about it. Benefits from both early/NREM and late/REM sleep.

episodic memory: *semantic memory and episodic memory together make up: declarative memory. This is the memory of “events, times, places, and associated emotions.” Benefits only from early/NREM sleep.

Granted, this is only basic information plied into blog form by an admitted non-health-care-professional, but it seems clear that the trivia that will never get me a cool day-job or win me cash on a game show is cemented in the semantic side of episodic memory, and that must mean that—bless my little Trekkie heart—I’m sleeping way better early in the night than I am later in the night.

I hope you’re getting all the sleep you need, and dreaming your way to brilliance.

–Your Hump Day Word-Whore….Linda

PS> Here’s a lull-a-bye to help.

Half my life's in books written pages...


  1. Now I know why my dreams inspire my books. BTW, I LOVE your lullaby.

  2. THANKS Falyn! I love Dream On; Aerosmith kicks ass.

  3. Okay...apparently I'm just like you, sleeping better in the early part of the night because I can remember things no one else does as well as useless information no one else wants to remember.

    On the other hand, I frequently dream that I can drive a stick shift but never have...does this mean I can actually do it? Like tying my shoes? I'll have to bully someone into letting me drive their car to find out!

  4. Danica--um...I frequently have dreams like I'm a spy with a big gun, perfect aim, and a green ferrari, and that I blow up train-fulls of enemy spies dressed as clowns, or that I have a statue of Pegasus that comes to life and we ride around taking down bad guys that look like cartoon dogs in prison uniforms. Cartoons and real-life merge in my dreams. I dunno if that's counter to your hopes of driving a stick-shift, but I'm sure you can /learn/ to drive a stick-shift no matter what. :-D

  5. LOL!! Thanks for the vote of confidence, Linda, LOL, seriously cracking up over here. I suppose I'll have to learn the old-fashioned way, le sigh.

  6. Danica--driving a stick shift isn't as difficult as some fella's want us ladies to think. You just have to listen to the engine and feel it. (Yes, that means no radio 'til you get the hang of it, but afterward, you're all good. It becomes second nature like tying your shoes.) If you're gonna learn, I recommend asking a handsome fella to teach you. It's just more fun that way. ;-)

  7. Extra points for the Aerosmith! (They were my first rock concert, you know.)

    That's some pretty fascinating research up there. I don't think I'd ever really thought about it on that level, but it makes sense.

    @Danica - I can't drive stick either. I feel like I would be able to, but I've never tried.

  8. I burned through two clutches before Hotty gave up on my efforts to drive stick...shift. ~le sigh~

    If we dream to remember, then I'm in sheep dit since the sort of randomness I remember is mis-heard song lyrics and the color of a total stranger's shirt.

  9. Very interesting post, Linda! I've always been intrigued by why we dream--and why we dream what we dream--but no matter how much I learn about it, it still baffles me...