PsychologyThe empirical evidence suggests that sleep and dreaming play an important role in supporting cognitive performance in such areas as learning, memory, and cognition.
The topic of dreams has always fascinated me. When I used to teach Kafka's The Metamorphosis, because Gregor "wakes as if from a dream," we used to do an introductory unit on dreams. Sigmund Freud has had a great deal to say about dreams. However, I don't know that there is anything that can be established concretely because so little is known, still, about how the mind works: perhaps more accurately, the working of the brain is not as much a mystery as the capacity of what the brain can do (especially in that we use so little of it).
We see the power of the dream again in "Young Goodman Brown," whose entire life is affected by something he may have really seen or only dreamed. I believe that dreams allow us to contemplate issues that are on our minds; they allow us to imagine things that could never come true. (And sometimes, this is a good thing.) Do we face our fears in dreams? Perhaps. Do we think of things differently because of dreams? Maybe.
Cognition is defined as:
The mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.
How much do we really take from dreams that can help in these areas when many times we cannot remember what we dreamed? Or the dreams are not rooted in reality? I wonder how scientists can measure the benefits of dreams on cognition, learning, understand, etc., when some people don't dream and/or don't remember dreaming. I see dreaming more as a release. Sometimes they give me something to think about. However, I would need more information regarding scientific studies to know if I agree with this statement or not.
I certainly agree with this. I have never conducted any formal research on the issue, but I have taught various courses that were five-week, ten-week, or fifteen-week courses, and one reason I believe that the longer courses are more effective for learning is that there are more nights of sleep in between the presentation of content. I think of this as a kind of "percolation" process, although I doubt that really describes what is happening physiologically. But clearly, the brain continues to do something while we are asleep and that something deepens our learning. I am fairly certain that things in our short-term memory can be shifted to our long-term memory as part of this process. There are good reasons that we are advised to not stay up all night cramming, to not try to study immediately before a test, and to get a good night's sleep before an exam,. Certainly, being well-rested is important, but additionally, sleeping and dreaming play a part in the process of learning.
speamerfam makes a particularly interesting suggestion. I hadn't thought before about the possible connection between the length of an academic term and the absorption of the material through such means of reinforcement as dreaming. It certainly sounds plausible. I know from my own experience that sometimes it does help to put a project aside for a while, let it percolate in the brain, and then return to it. Rushing or forcing projects before the unconscious mind has had a chance to mull them over sometimes seems counter-productive. If you are looking for genuinely empirical research on this topic, I suggest that you plug it into Google Books and see what turns up. Google Scholar might also be a good source of information on this topic.
Clearly, satisfactory sleep is crucial for cognitive performance.
The benefit of dreaming, on the other hand, is more difficult to prove.
We all have had the experience of "sleeping on" an unresolved issue, and then solving the problem the next day. But how can we prove that something happened during sleep that provided the solution? The real value of the sleep may have been distraction, that is freeing our mind of the anxiety associated with the problem, thereby allowing the mind to relax and rethink the issue more effectively the next day.
I am not a psychologist or sleep specialist, however the internet has many interesting articles on the value of dreams.
Is there not research that shows how listening to lectures or facts whilst asleep helps us to remember them more effectively? I must admit I agree with #3 about the importance of sleep and teaching material over longer periods to help the material "percolate" through the brain and into the long term memory. There is definitely a sense in which subliminal learning is a very important aspect of psychology and of our learning in general.
I used to tell my students that they needed to put material they were trying to learn "on the back burner", explaining that this meant they should focus on it for a period of time and then let it "simmer" in the background. "Sleep on it" reflects the same type of process. Allowing for time and internalization of concepts is definitely important when trying to get information into long-term memory.
Do you have a question for us to discuss or do you simply want our reactions to this idea? Some theorists hold that dreams are a way of rehearsing for things that might be dangerous to us in real life. They think that there might have been an evolutionary benefit to dreaming. Here's a link.
There might also be a simpler, more practical reason for the occurrence of dream activity. It's possible that the brain, in the absence of images and stimuli to process, creates its own, as it never completely powers down even when we sleep. It's possible that dreams are simply an outlet for energy that, while we sleep, can find no other exit.
I think that dreams are often helpful in the creative aspects of our minds as well. Often times dreams are odd juxtapositions of things and time can stand still or go fast and all other sorts of odd things can take place. This mixture can create some creative and innovating things.