In a society that has gadgets galore, turns out the best one is still the human brain, and it even has its own snooze button.
Simply put – our brains need a break, and that’s where daydreaming comes in.
Daydreaming, though it may seem like a pointless waste of time, actually serves several purposes. However, research studies have been contradicting themselves regarding just what these are.
Everyone, everywhere, has been subject to daydreaming.
Though it varies for each individual, many of us can spend as much as 30 to 50% of our hours spent awake daydreaming.
A normal part of human behavior and cognitive activity, the daydreaming state is sort of like being in a wakeful stream of consciousness mode. This is referred to by neuroscientists as the default mode network, where the brain appears to be at rest but is actually active.
During daydreaming the brain employs different regions, including the area that is related to complex problem solving, the executive network.
Neuroscientists have reported that the brain can require as much 20% of the body’s total energy resources. This is a lot, considering the energy needed for a typically hectic day for most. Work, chores, family, endless daily decisions and to do lists – all of this hijacks our time, and our thoughts.
No wonder we daydream.
These sessions of momentarily tuning things out can actually help clear up the mind in order to be able to go on and concentrate to accomplish specific tasks.
However, not all daydreaming may be created equal.
The key to invigorating the mind may be when individuals are focusing on their daydreams, or the state of daydreaming, as this is a resourceful way for the brain to process material and emotions. Allowing the mind to wander, yet not to solely focus on the negative that creeps into the thought process, can lead to a more restorative state.
Although, there are some studies that have proposed that a mind with a tendency to wander could point to heightened levels of unhappiness. In contrast, a mind that lives more in the moment shows balance and wellness.
A study from the University of California San Francisco has suggested a correlation between daydreaming and the onset of aging.
The study examined the length of telomeres, which are protective caps on DNA that are located on the ends of chromosomes. Telomeres have a tendency to reduce in length with age and when faced with other stressors.
This length is a biomarker for cell and physical maturity, and was investigated in relation to self-reports from women in the study. The group evaluated themselves at different periods in time as either present or in a state of daydreaming.
With controls for depression and stress, it was concluded that women with reports of higher levels of daydreaming had shorter telomeres, and those who recounted being present in the moment and more focused had lengthier telomeres. Telomere shortness can be a predictor of diseases and fatal conditions.
Further research is needed that can uncover what it is exactly that causes the telomeres to shorten.
So the next time you’re caught staring off into space daydreaming, remember it could be for good reason. You may need to put yourself in hibernate mode. And then delve right back into the present.
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