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Study Identifies the Brain Parts and Functions Involved in Dreaming

One recent study has analyzed the brain parts and functions responsible for dreaming. The results could be groundbreaking for the understanding of their purpose as well as the purpose of consciousness. Also, scientists discovered potential clues about the meaning of dreams based on changes in the brain activity.

Scientists used to believe that dreams happen mostly during the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. There’s a rapid brain activity during this period similar to that when we are awake.

However, scientists also discovered that dreams could happen during the non-REM sleep. This discovery left them confused about the hallmark of dreaming.

The co-author of the research, Francesca Siclari from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, says the study could solve the mystery behind dreaming and the absence of dreaming occurring in these 2 separate stages.

Brain Parts and Functions of a Conscious vs Asleep Person

Scientists discovered that dreams with faces are related to increased high-frequency activity in the brain’s region involved in face recognition.

On the other hand, they connected dreams with movement, spatial perception, and thinking with brain’s regions involved in such tasks when awake.

Siclari said the conscious and the dreaming brain are extremely similar. They partially involve the same areas for the same kind of experience.

Scientists say the results from the research are very significant since they can help solve the riddle of what dreams are for, as well as the nature of our consciousness.

The director of the Swansea University’s sleep lab compares the discovery to that of REM sleep, saying that it might even be more important.

The Study

Siclari and colleagues from Italy, Switzerland and the US describe the experiments they did on 46 participants in the journal Nature Neuroscience. They recorded each of the participants’ brain activity using EEG (electroencephalogram). In other words, they placed 256 electrodes on the participants’ face and scalp to monitor the size and number of brainwaves of different speeds.

Researchers woke participants up at different points throughout the night. They asked them what they were dreaming at that specific point. Siclari said they did more than 1,000 awakenings.

They asked the participants how long they thought their dream had lasted and whether it involved movement, faces, or thinking. Also, if they could remember their dream experience was vivid and sensory.

EEG recording analysis showed that dreaming is associated with a reduction in low-frequency activity in the “posterior cortical hot zone.” This is a region in the back of the brain which includes areas involved in integrating the senses as well as visual areas.

It was the same result whether the participant remembered the dream or not and if it happened during non-REM or REM sleep.

Moreover, the scientists identified the brain’s region involved in remembering what dreams were about. They say dreaming occurs during the same changes in brain activity no matter if you’re in REM or non-REM sleep.

Siclari and the team of researchers succeeded to find out if the participants were dreaming while sleeping.


So, the study could help reveal what’s going on in our brains when we sleep and when we switch from unconsciousness to experiencing conscious situations. It could also contribute to making the nature of consciousness more clear.

This is extremely significant since there are numerous complicating factors involved in the comparison between an anaesthetised state and wakefulness.

Until now, researchers believed the conscious experience requires activation of large regions of the brain. However, this research showed that the conscious experience is generated by a very restricted, circumscribed activation of the brain.

As a conclusion, the impact of the research is profound. Realizing what is triggering the activity changes in the “hot zone” can tell if the dreaming has a purpose. Such activity changes can give some extra processing, part of which could be you simulate the world.