Dream Research and the Science of Sleep
In 1953, Eugene Aserinsky of the University of Chicago noticed that the eyes of sleeping babies moved beneath their eyelids at certain regular intervals. This led to the discovery of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep periods, which occur at roughly 60-90 minute intervals throughout the night and which contain the dreams which are the most vivid and most often remembered. Since then, EEG (electroencephalogram) recordings, which monitor brain activity during sleep, have been used to map the various stages of sleep. These states are classified roughly into sleep onset (hypnagogia or stage 1 descending), non-REM sleep (deep sleep or stages 2,3, and 4), stage 1 ascending, and REM (or paradoxical) sleep.
Nightmares, Anxiety Dreams & Recurring Dreams
Almost everyone has experienced one or more dreams that contain anxiety or outright fear. These experiences can be quite traumatic or become recurrent. For some, unpleasant dreams or nightmares repeat in actual content. For others, the content may change while the theme remains the same, such as scenes of falling, or of being pursued, attacked, late or unprepared for class, a presentation or an exam. Some people even dream of being stuck in slow motion and unable to move, or of being naked in public, to name a few common themes.
Research has shown that most recurring dreams are described as being unpleasant. Furthermore, many dream theories converge in their view that this type of experience is associated with lack of progress by the dreamer to recognize and solve related conflicts in life. Fear of nightmares from early in life, or other anxieties or misguided beliefs about dreams and the unconscious can block dream recall, but this can usually be overcome by learning about the useful nature of dreams and by recognizing that many nightmares, like a bitter but quite necessary medicine, represent opportunities for healing and insight, and can warn of psychological imbalances that we need to remedy, or of current behaviors or decisions that may soon become detrimental unless we change them, as exemplified in this dream by Stanford University pioneer sleep researcher and one of the discoverers of REM sleep, Dr. William Dement:
"Some years ago I was a heavy cigarette smoker, up to two packs a day. Then one night I had an exceptionally vivid and realistic dream in which I had inoperable cancer of the lung. I remember as though it were yesterday looking at the ominous shadow in my chest X-ray and realizing that the entire right lung was infiltrated. I experienced the incredible anguish of knowing my life was soon to end, that I would never see my children grow up, and that none of this would ever have happened if I had quit cigarettes when I first learned of their carcinogenic potential. I will never forget the surprise, joy, and exquisite relief of waking up. I felt I was reborn. Needless to say, the experience was sufficient to induce the immediate cessation of my cigarette habit."
Fortunately, there exist treatments for nightmares that do not involve medication and which have shown to be remarkably effective, such as those at www.nightmares.info . Some of the most effective techniques include dream re-scripting, voice dialogue work, dream lucidity, guided imagery.
Other than nightmares, there are various sleep disorders which affect significant portions of the population. Insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or get enough sleep, affects up to one out of three Westerners (and perhaps more). It is often triggered by stress and results in worrying that inhibits proper sleep. Sleep apnea, actual lapses of breathing during sleep (mainly during REM sleep), is another common disorder often connected with obesity and/or intense snoring which results in excessive sleepiness during the day. It is harder to diagnose outside of the lab because the patient's asleep while it happens and has little way of knowing about the source of the trouble (though devices have now been developed for home diagnosis).
Sleep apnea may be one of the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome since the natural sleep cycle is often interrupted by unremembered microawakenings as the sleeper gasps for a breath. Sleep Paralysis is relatively common though rarely as a severe disorder. It occurs during sleep when a person partially awakens but is completely unable to move for some period after waking. It can be somewhat frightening, though there is no particular danger involved. It has been associated with parasomnias which are a class of disorders that include nightmares (which often occur during long REM periods), sleep walking and sleep talking, bed-wetting, body rocking during sleep onset and teeth grinding (which all occur during non-REM sleep, the latter often being identifiable by worn down teeth or a sore jaw).
Night terrors are also in this class, and differ from nightmares in that they occur during non-REM sleep and are usually very intense so that the sleeper awakes in panic, often screaming, with heart pounding, and with less recall of dream content. These are more prevalent in children, and some success at resolving these episodes has been noticed by adjusting the number of blankets on the child's bed or reducing the room temperature. Narcolepsy, often connected with sleep paralysis and vivid, frightening dreams at sleep onset, is characterized by irresistible daytime sleep attacks and collapsing at the onset of strong emotions (known as cataplexy) while remaining conscious (and so should not be confused with fainting).
___________________________________ Craig Webb is an author, speaker, dream analyst, and Executive Director of the DREAMS Foundation , a non-profit organization that offers information, courses and private counseling/training about dreams, nightmares , lucid dreams and their practical applications. He's made over 200 public/media appearances including the Discovery Channel, CTV, ABC, AOL, and many others. To find out about courses, private consultations, or DreamQuest outdoor retreats, email: [email protected] or contact: 514-990-2113.
Craig Webb is an author, speaker, dream analyst, and Executive Director of the DREAMS Foundation , a non-profit organization that offers information, courses and private counseling/training about dreams, nightmares , lucid dreams and their practical applications. He's made over 200 public/media appearances including the Discovery Channel, CTV, ABC, AOL, and many others. To find out about courses, private consultations, or DreamQuest outdoor retreats, email: [email protected] or contact: 514-990-2113.