A response to a story in the Daily Telegraph that REM sleep (i.e. the sleep wherein dreams occur) helps improve memories.
Firstly the evidence presented in the article actually tends to indicate nothing of the sort. The experiment was to give volunteers a logical test, then allow them to go to sleep for a while, experiencing REM sleep, and give them a similar test on waking. The results tended to show that their performance improved as compared to volunteers who had not had REM-sleep, or volunteers who had only rested lightly.
This is not a test of memory! It’s a test of cognitive ability! It’s not evidence to show that memory is affected one way or another! I.e. if I was presented with the question solve 2x+4=36 I don’t have to “remember” that the answer is x=16 I can work it out ab initio.
There are other criticisms that can be raised with the article: for example it does not say whether there was a control group of volunteers who were given no instructions whatsoever as to how to spend their time between taking the tests; nor does it specify whether the study was double-blinded i.e. the people administering the tests kept sufficiently in the dark so they they themselves would not affect the outcomes. This is not necessarily a criticism of the scientists themselves, it may just be the way the article was written up in a newspaper for mass consumption.
Nevertheless, despite my critical tone, in my capacity as a Lucid Dreamer, I am pleased that this research has been done, and I hope it represents a step-forward for enabling lucid dreaming to be appreciated more fully. It would be quite nice from my own point of view if it were proved that dreaming improves cognitive abilities, as this would be an excuse to promote the benefits of lucid dreaming, which is the conscious control of the dream faculty.
What I find ironic is that in my experience, it is not vivid dreams which improve the memory but the other way round: memory-improving or training techniques improve the vividity of dreams. When starting out attempting to lucid dream, complete novices are often faced with the problem of not being able to remember their dreams, or in fact whether they had any or not. However – the act of making a conscious effort to remember them actually causes the dreams to become more vivid and thus memorable. Usually it takes only a few days to notice a marked improvement.