Brain Fact Friday ”Using Neuroscience to Explain Why Our Dreams Are So Weird, Highly Emotional, and Often Forgotten”
Manage episode 332426485 series 2836634
“As long as we dare to dream and don’t get in the way of ourselves, anything is possible—there’s truly no end to where our dreams can take us.” Hilary Swank
On the episode you will learn:
The Neuroscience behind
✔ Why our dreams are so weird, highly emotional and often forgotten.
✔ With a BRAIN STRATEGY you can use to improve your waking life, with your brain and sleep in mind.
For returning guests, welcome back, and for those who are new here, I’m Andrea Samadi, author, and educator, with a passion for learning, understanding difficult concepts, and breaking them down so that we can all use and apply the most current research to improve our productivity and results in our schools, sports environments, and modern workplaces. On today’s EPISODE #226 and Brain Fact Friday, we are going to dive deeper into the research of Dr. Baland Jalal, who has studied the phenomenon of sleep paralysis and dreams for the past decade, and see what we can learn from our brain, while dreaming. To do this, we are going to review what’s happening to the brain during sleep paralysis, and during our REM/dream state to see what we can learn from this understanding. I hope this will open up our level of awareness and help us to understand how our dream world can impact our everyday, waking world.
What is Sleep Paralysis?
Dr. Jalal and I discussed this terrifying experience in depth on our recent interview, episode #224[i] and most of us can relate to this experience, but wonder what it is, and why it happens, in addition to many other questions I had about dreams themselves. You can see Dr. Jalal’s lectures on this topic, where he explains what happens to our brain when we sleep and that we even see things we might say were ghosts. Now that I have heard Dr. Jalal’s explanation of what happens to our brains when we are dreaming, I definitely think of my brain now, when analyzing my dreams, with this new awareness.
Which brings us to this week’s Brain Fact Friday where I want to explore sleep paralysis, why dreams are so weird, and why are they highly emotional, and do this, with our brain in mind.
DID YOU KNOW that during REM sleep (when we dream) there’s a part of the brain in the brain stem that paralyzes the body to keep us (and our sleeping partner) safe[ii] and another part of our brain (the cortex) that’s responsible for our perceptual awareness. Occasionally, we can wake up when we are still in REM sleep, and are perceptually aware, but unable to move as we are paralyzed. This is sleep paralysis, and can feel terrifying, if you have no idea what’s going on.
I learned from Dr. Jalal that in this state we can also see what we think is a ghost, or which he explains is “an illusion that your brain creates” in the Temporal Parietal Junction (that’s close to our Occipital or Visual Lobe) that can project a sense of our self, outside of our body. Have you ever felt or seen something like this and thought it was a ghost? Seeing something like this, paired up with feeling paralyzed can be a terrifying experience as I told him in the interview, and he agreed, with his own sleep paralysis experience.
Then, our brain doesn’t like the feeling of incompleteness and it will make up a story of what you are seeing. Dr. Jalal explains that in all of the years he has done this work, he has found that our cultural background can influence what we think we are seeing. It took me some time to make the connection, but the ghost I saw, was not far off from an 18th Century Englishman, or even someone wearing the outfits of the guards at Buckingham Palace. I did grow up with a photo of the Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in my house, and this made me think it could have been the reason why my ghost was of British decent when I was actually in a house in Vancouver, Canada. My brain created this image from a past, cultural memory.
WHY ARE DREAMS SO WEIRD?
DID YOU KNOW that there’s a part of our brain called the Dorsolateral PFC[iii] (a region of the frontal lobes associated with executive functions like working memory and attention) (Curtis and D’Esposito, 2003) that put concepts together in a meaningful way in our life—and that during REM sleep, or when we are dreaming, this part of the brain “shuts off”[iv] so we aren’t usually aware that we are dreaming?
If you have ever thought “that dream felt so real” this is the reason why, and it also explains why everything in our dreams is messed up and backwards. One minute we are on a bus with friends we haven’t seen in years, you grab one of your friends’ hand, jump off the bus, and go to the movies, and the next minute, you are back in your childhood home, drinking tea. This is one of my bizarre dreams, and I’m sure you can relate with your dreams. Now that I understand Dr. Jalal’s explanation of the part of my brain that puts concepts together in a meaningful way, shutting down during REM sleep, I can clearly see why everything in my dream is disjointed and doesn’t make much linear sense.
WHY ARE DREAMS FILLED WITH STRONG EMOTION, PAST MEMORIES AND PEOPLE?
DID YOU KNOW that during the REM state, or while we are dreaming, that “four areas of the brain fire up: the visual spatial regions (that help people to find their way around the world), the motor cortex (creates movement in the body), the hippocampus (our memory center) and amygdala (that processes strong emotions like fear, pleasure or anger)”
“Which is why dreams are often filled with movement, strong emotions, past memories, people, experiences and are irrational.” Mathew Walker[v] tells us on his podcast that’s all about why we dream.
If you can keep a dream log, over time you can see what’s going on in your waking hours, and learn from your dreams. Usually our concerns, worries and fears will show up in our dreams in some way, and you can solve them once you are aware of what they are.
To conclude this week’s Brain Fact Friday, that came from our recent interview with the world’s leading expert on sleep paralysis, Dr. Baland Jalal, we took a closer look at the neuroscience of our dream world, explaining why our dreams are so weird, often highly emotional and what we can learn from them.
I have four brain tips to make what we have learned about our brain when we sleep, useful in our daily life.
UNDERSTANDING SLEEP PARALYSIS: Once we know what sleep paralysis is, that our brain paralyzes our body to keep us safe, then we can understand what might happen if we become perceptually aware during our REM sleep, and stuck between our sleep and wake state.
BRAIN TIP FOR THIS FACT: OUR BRAIN DOESN’T LIKE CONFLICT OR INCOMPLETENESS: So figure out what your story is, if you have had a sleep paralysis experience and it’s left you feeling unsettled. I explained my British ghost that my brain created as an illusion to tell the story and fill in the blanks of the unknown. What was YOUR sleep paralysis experience, and how can YOU make sense of it?
WHY ARE DREAMS SO WEIRD AND OFTEN FORGOTTEN: Since we now know the Dorsolateral PFC, the front part of our brain associated with memory, attention and putting things together in a meaningful way in our life, shuts down during REM sleep, we can now understand why dreams are so weird and events that happen are all over the place. If the part of our brain responsible for our memory is turned off, this explains why “95% of our dreams we don’t remember” but we might remember the last few minutes, and last stage of our dreams if we are intentional about it.
BRAIN TIP FOR THIS FACT: REPEAT TO REMEMBER: (which is John Medina’s Brain Rule #5).[vi] If you want to improve this number see if you can remember your dreams when you wake up. Write them down before you do anything else, or they will be forgotten. Sometimes I’m not even awake yet, and I repeat the dream in my head while I’m brushing my teeth, to help me to remember and write it down when I can. Also, it will help if you are intentional about this practice and say “I will remember my dream” before you go to sleep at night.
LEARN WHY DREAMS ARE HIGHLY EMOTIONAL: When we know what parts of the brain fire up during REM sleep, especially our amygdala that processes strong emotions, or past memories and experiences, we can now look for messages in our dreams, over time to see what common themes come up. If we can solve the problems that we find in our waking hours, it will help improve the other 1/3 of our life spent in sleep.
BRAIN TIP FOR THIS FACT: SLEEP WELL, THINK WELL (John Medina’s Brain Rule #7).[vii] Here’s the im portance of sleep again. It keeps coming back on this podcast. John Medina writes in his Brain Rules book, that “people vary on how much sleep they need and when they prefer to get it, but the biological need for a nap is universal.” (Medina, Brain Rules)[viii] If there’s something bothering you in your waking hours, it will show up in your dreams in some way, and will impact your sleep. To truly sleep well, leading to improved “attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning and even motor dexterity” (Medina) work out your problems, and add a nap to your day to keep your mind operating at its highest levels.
While Dr. Jalal does put his neuroscientific mind first with every question I asked him, there were still some questions that he said science couldn’t prove, that have a spiritual side. Instead of saying that some things are not possible, he leaves this up to us to keep an open mind, and perhaps in the future, new advancements in science could move us forward so that we could find answers to the spiritual questions of our dreams in a way to benefit our waking life. Until then, I plan to keep on dreaming, and learning as much as I can on this topic to share with you here.
I hope you’ve enjoyed diving deep into sleep paralysis, why our dreams are so weird, and highly emotional with some tips we can all use to take our understanding and awareness to a new level. It really helped me to make sense of my sleep paralysis experience after interviewing Dr. Jalal, and thinking of ways that we can all use what we learned from his research. I do plan to keep an open mind moving forward to see what else I can learn from lucid dreaming, especially as it relates to improving our psychological well-being.
See you next week and hope you have sweet dreams this weekend.
[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #224 with Dr. Baland Jalal on “Expanding our Awareness into the Mysteries of the Brain During Sleep” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/harvard-neuroscientist-drbaland-jalalexplainssleepparalysislucid-dreaming-andpremonitionsexpandingour-awareness-into-the-mysteries-ofourbrainduring-sl/
[iii] Dorsolateral PFC https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/dorsolateral-prefrontal-cortex#:~:text=The%20dorsolateral%20prefrontal%20cortex%20is,Pathways%20in%20Clinical%20Neuropsychiatry%2C%202016
[vi] John Medina’s Brain Rule #5 Repeat to Remember https://brainrules.net/short-term-memory/#:~:text=Rule%20%235%3A%20Repeat%20to%20remember.&text=Which%20means%2C%20your%20brain%20can,have%20to%20repeat%20to%20remember.
[vii] John Medina’s Brain Rule #7 Sleep well, think well. https://brainrules.net/sleep/#:~:text=Rule%20%237%3A%20Sleep%20well%2C%20think%20well.&text=It's%20possible%20that%20the%20reason,reasoning%2C%20and%20even%20motor%20dexterity.
[viii] John Medina Brain Rules (Page 168) Published May 30, 2011 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B005Z6YGRC/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1