Activation Synthesis Dream Theory Explained


What was your last dream?

Sometimes you can have a vivid dream that seems to be happening in reality. Some dreams can feel like they are premonitions. Then there are times when you wake up and don’t remember having a dream at all.

The Activation Synthesis Dream Theory is an attempt to explain why it is that humans dream. It is a question that scientists, philosophers, and clergy have attempted to solve for thousands of years. Under this theory, dreams are an attempt by the brain to make sense of neural activity which occurs while people sleep.

What Happens to Us When We Are Asleep?

The human brain remains active even while people are sleeping. The activation synthesis process suggests that a dream is therefore caused by the physiological processes that are happening while someone is unconscious. There is a wide variety of neural activity that continues to happen while you sleep.

Your brain is organizing the memories that you’ve formed over the day, which is the equivalent of nearly 40 GB of data. At the same time, your brain is making sure your heart keeps beating, your lungs keep breathing, and you are given the fundamentals needed for life so that when it is time to wake up, your eyes actually open.

When a person entered rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, it activates circuits within the brain stem. This causes the amygdala and hippocampus to become active, which help to influence the brain systems that control sensations, memories, and emotions. This neural activity is then interpreted by the brain as an internal activity.

Dreams would then be an attempt to create some sort of meaning from those signals.

The 5 Characteristics of Dreaming in the Activation Synthesis Dream Theory

Because dreams under this theory are an interpretation of internal activity, there are 5 characteristics to each dreaming session which are common to humans.

  1. Dreams contain content that is illogical.
  2. They carry with them intense emotions.
  3. The brain accepts illogical content as being real.
  4. Strange sensory senses are accepted as normal.
  5. There is difficulty in remembering the content of a dream upon waking.

What is notable about the Activation Synthesis Dream Theory is the fact that it looks at the biological processes of dreaming instead of attempting to interpret what the meaning of a dream may be. If you’re dreaming about going to school in your underwear, this theory says the content is illogical and a specific meaning shouldn’t be associated with it.

That’s not to say that a dream is a meaningless experience that is caused by a natural biological process. According to this theory, a dream provides humanity with its most creative conscious state. It is both spontaneous and chaotic, creating elements of novel information in various configurations. These ideas may be nonsensical, but they can also be beneficial in relieving stress, solving problems, or finding a final creative idea to finish a project.

What Does the Activation Synthesis Dream Theory Mean for Me?

A quick search of the internet will find numerous pages that will help you to interpret a specific dream you may have had. Sometimes our dreams can be disturbing and this causes us to seek out a specific reason why such a nightmare occurred. Instead of trying to interpret a dream literally or using the components of the dream to find some sort of meaning, the Activation Synthesis Dream Theory suggests that there is no universal standard in place.

Your dreams are your own. They reflect what your brain is attempting to interpret from its own natural activities. That means your experiences, emotions, and personal preferences all influence the interpretive process.

Whether you have premonitions in your dreams or you can’t even remember the last dream you had, there are some steps you can take to release the emotions that this theory indicate can build up. Keep a notepad or diary next to your bed and a writing utensil so you can jot down what you remember about your dream. Document every detail you can remember.

Then don’t be afraid to talk to your family or friends about your dream. Sometimes dreams really do come true. There could be a connection to the energy of the universe that our brains can tap into and that information can become available to us at night.

A dream can also be a reflection of the mind simply doing its job as it should every night while you sleep.