Science Journalism

Like in a dream

From Sarah Schoch

With kind permission of The Inquisitive Mind (In-Mind) Original source

We often dream about things that occupy us in daily life. A new study now shows that the incorporation of a task into a dream is associated with a better performance in this task in the next morning. 

Dreams have always fascinated humans. The night gives us the opportunity to immerse into other worlds and experience things, which are not possible in reality (e.g. flying). Sometimes we are even able to realise that we are dreaming and we may influence our dreams (so called „lucid dreaming“). However, the functions of dreaming are still unclear. Because in sleep important processes of memory consolidation are taking place, the hypothesis exists that dreams are related to memory.

In a new study we investigated if we can have participants dream of a memory task and if so, if this influences their performance in the memory task. We invited 22 participants for 3 nights into the sleep laboratory. In the first night participants got used to the new sleep environment. In the other two nights they learned a word-image association task und were asked to report their dreams. In one of the nights they were awoken 6 times to collect their dream reports. In the other night we only collected dreams in the morning. After both nights participants were asked to recall the task in the morning.

First, we analysed if the targeted awakenings had a general influence on awakening. We found that while the awakenings impaired both the subjective and objective sleep quality, there was no significant effect on memory performance. In a second step we found that the participants incorporated the task into their dreams. This could however only be measured when participants were woken up to collect dream reports. If dreams were only collected in the morning, then no such task incorporation was found. This is likely due to the fact, that people forget most of their dreams and only remember little details in the morning. Additionally, we found that the incorporation of dreams was positively related to the performance the next day. However, this was only the case in dreams collected from NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep and not dreams collected from REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

This study shows that waking people up to collect dream reports is appropriate and necessary to study dream and memory processes. Additionally, it gives the first hint that there is an association between dreams and memory consolidation during sleep.

Schoch, S. F., Cordi, M. J., Schredl, M., & Rasch, B. (2018). The effect of dream report collection and dream incorporation on memory consolidation during sleep. Journal of sleep research, e12754.

Photo from Ella Jardim on Unsplash

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