Dream research in it's most base form has been occurring for centuries.
The next major event in dream research occurred with the discovery in 1953 by Aserinsky and Kleitman of the phase of sleep called REM, characterised by rapid eye movement and intense brain wave activity.
Sleep laboratory research showed that people woken during this REM stage of sleep reported vivid dreams, leading to the conclusion that dreaming occurred in this stage of sleep.
This discovery opened the door to the experimental study of dreams. Using EEG (Electroencephalograph) the activity during this phase of sleep was recorded for researchers to see. It was evident that brain activity during this stage resembled that of the awake brain. And thus, the discovery that during sleep the brain is far more active than previously thought.
But what exactly this meant, is still unsure to this day. There are multitudes of theories on the topic though.
Sitting on one side of the fence are scientists like Allan Hobson of Harvard, who believes in the random nature of the content of dreams. In 1970 Hobson and colleague McCarley proposed the “activation-synthesis hypothesis”. This hypothesis claims that dreams are merely nerve impulses sent out during REM from an area called the pons.
This was unwelcome news to the general dream research community as it meant their research into this field was without purpose…if dreams were in fact meaningless.
Theories of late have regained the interest into dream research however. In 1997 Mark Solms, University of Cape Town, carried out studies in brain damaged people, and found that there was more than one area of the brain used in dreaming.
Over the past 50 years dream research has been made more accessible with the advent of sophisticated machinery such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Research into dreams can now be conducted via sleep laboratory awakenings, content analysis, cognitive development studies, and neuropsychological studies of brain-injured patients.
Through these techniques it is now known that the area of the brain most active in dreaming is the area that controls emotions…giving more credence to Freud’s theory of dreams revolving around emotions.
So over 100 years on from Freud, it could be another 100 years before we have a definitive answer to what function dreams really serve.