Curious Kids: Where do dreams come from?

Scientists have a few ideas about where dreams come from – but nobody knows for sure. Flickr/Patrick, CC BY-SA

Curious Kids: Where do dreams come from?

This is an article from Curious Kids, a series for children. The Conversation is asking kids to send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. All questions are welcome: find out how to enter at the bottom. You might also like the podcast Imagine This, a co-production between ABC KIDS listen and The Conversation, based on Curious Kids.


Where do dreams come from? - Winifred, age 4, Selby, Victoria.

Hi Winifred. People have wondered about where dreams come from for a very long time. To be honest, scientists still don’t fully understand where dreams come from. But we have a few ideas.

Dreams are like imagining stuff while you are asleep, so you could say dreams come from your imagination. As you know, our imaginations can be very powerful – if you try imagining your favourite food, your mouth might even start watering.


Read more: Curious Kids: Why do we need food?


Going to sleep is like putting a computer into “sleep” mode. The computer is not completely switched off, it just is not working as hard. When we go into sleep mode, we can rest and save our energy but we don’t fully turn ourselves off.

When we are asleep our brain does not switch off. It keeps working, but not as hard. But the part of the brain that helps us make decisions when we are awake? It is resting. That’s when our imagination can run wild.

What is she dreaming about? Flickr/Jon Huss, CC BY

Why do we dream?

People who have done research on why we dream have found most dreams people have tend to be about common stuff that happens in our lives (like playing with a friend).

Or we dream about stuff that might be important to us (like an upcoming party).

We think this is the same for animals who dream, too. Cats seem to commonly dream about chasing things, because that’s what cats think about doing a lot when they are awake.

Scientists have found out that when we dream about stuff, it might help us to remember that stuff better when we are awake. So maybe our dreams help us make stronger memories.

It’s a good idea for kids to get a good sleep each night to help you remember what you are learning about each day.

Solving problems

Other scientists think that maybe dreams help us to solve problems.

Let’s say you are learning how to ride a bike or a scooter. You might dream about riding. Maybe you are trying out different ways to ride, get the balance right, and not crash. It’s like you are practising while you are asleep. Then when you are awake, you might even have an idea about how to get better at riding.

Have you ever dreamed you were in a strange place? Flickr/marco, CC BY

But what about strange dreams? Well, it might be that our brain is just trying to make sense of some strange thoughts that come to us while we are asleep.

Maybe nightmares are the brain trying to replay scary experiences in an effort to make sense of them. Researchers have shown that some people might be able to make their bad dreams less scary if they imagine and write down different endings for their dreams and “practise” them before bed.

Some people think dreams might keep the mind busy and entertained, allowing the body to have a good rest.

The truth is, nobody really knows for sure where dreams come from. Maybe the answer will come to you in a dream.


Read more: Curious Kids: Why do our brains freak us out with scary dreams?


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