What are the neural mechanisms and physiological functions of dreams?

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Dreams are mental experiences, including perceptions, thoughts, and emotions, that occur during sleep. In dreams, hallucinatory perceptions, particularly visual and motoric, are often accompanied by negative emotions. When people dream, they perceive them as real even though they are bizarre and distorted in time and space. People often cannot recall their dreams, even though people dream every night. Dreaming is a strange physiological phenomenon. Research has demonstrated that dreaming is closely associated with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. It is known that dreaming also occurs during non-REM (NREM) sleep, but the content appears to be different. Dreams during REM sleep tend to be longer, more vivid, more story-like, and more bizarre than those during NREM sleep. In this review, the neural circuits underlying dreaming and the physiological functions associated with it are summarized. Two major theories have been proposed regarding the neural circuits involved in dreaming. One is that dreams are generated by the activation of neural activity in the brainstem and its signal transmission to the cortex. The other is that dreams are caused by forebrain activation by dopamine. Whereas the physiological function of dreams remains unclear, several hypotheses have been proposed that are associated with memory and emotions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNeuroscience Research
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Dopamine
  • Dream
  • PGO waves
  • REM sleep
  • Threat
  • Unlearning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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