Helen Dreyer asked:
Why are we so creative in our dreams?
We put Helen's question to neuroscientists Heidi Solberg Økland...
Heidi - Sleeping and dreaming is not something we understand very well, but we do know a little bit about what’s going on in the brain when we're asleep and that might give us a hint as to why we might be a bit more creative in our dreams. So there are different stages of sleep and we dream in all these different stages, but the dreaming she's thinking about is probably the one that happens in REM sleep. So the Rapid Eye Movement sleep, that happens at the end of each cycle so we go through stage 1,2,3,4 into deeper and deeper sleep. During this stage, we know that the hippocampus, the bit of the brain associated with memories, sort of replays the memories we've been making throughout the day, basically just reactivates different parts of the cortex that were involved when we were experiencing something during the day.
Lets say we went blackberry picking from this bush we found, so then it's kind of playing that back, so we remember where this really nice bush of blackberries was and so we can find this bush again.
But in the REM sleep what happens is the hippocampus goes out of the picture.And then we try to integrate this memory to the other memories we already have. So then, you get different parts of the brain going off.
If you wake up during this time, then probably you'll be remembering these strange connections between things that don't really seem to be related, but then your brain may try and integrate that and make a story out of it, which is why dreams may be a bit weird.
Chris - And, the question she's asking, can we be this creative in waking life?
Heidi - Maybe we can! So one thing we also know about REM sleep is that the frontal part of your brain which is more sensible, you choose to do something not something else, so this is kind of your controller in a way, we know this shuts down in REM sleep which allows you to freely associate concepts that aren't usually connected. If you could do that when you're awake, then you could perhaps become more creative.