The True Human – Dreams (Part I) – “What are Dreams?”
For those that do not believe God or a creator, for those who believe in a Supreme personality, for those who believe in a first mover, and for those who believe there is God or creator, whichever group you belong to; the remarkable act called dreams, though an act of the subconscious or unconscious beats to a remarkable degree present scientific strength. This human behavior is what makes us truly humans though other mammals have been found to dream too.
However, dream as an act of the subconscious is what we want to discuss here. Later in the series, we will discuss dreams again as an act of spiritual.
When we talk about dreams, it may be day-dreaming or night dreams when we sleep. Day-dreaming is still a conscious act though a little unconscious. However, night dreams are entirely unconscious. We would have spared some basics, but it’s important to explain some tidbits for those who have no knowledge.
When we sleep (just like other mammals), we experience the following stages:
Rapid Eye Movement. (REM)
Non – Rapid Eye Movement. (NREM)
The hypnagogic state is the period when we lie down, having normal feelings of sleep – we often daydream around the semi-wakeful state. Then we pass into the “twilight” state that is neither day-dreaming nor dreaming (Mavromatis 1987). We gradually begin to lose control of our body which is a voluntary form of control and sensitivity to external stimulus and most internal stimulus diminished. Our thoughts become more unrealistic and much enjoyable and in a relaxed state. Sometimes we suddenly jerk out of sleep or experience some falling – then Jerk! This is called myoclonia, and it results from our brain checking… like a computer shutting down, sending impulses to the muscles and jerking (Benjamin Lahey). Some persons explained it as the brain thinking the body is dying and sends impulses to wake and check if it’s still alive.
The loss of voluntary muscular control is due to the release of some hormones. An important one is melatonin, which plays a significant role in inducing sleep and is secreted more often when it’s getting dark. The brain also deactivates most voluntary muscle nerves. This function stops us from activity when we sleep otherwise some persons will be doing a good fight while sleeping.
Jouvet found out that a brain area near a structure called locus coeruleus deactivates all the key muscles when sleeping. If this part is damaged, humans or mammals can behave out of normal while sleeping. The loss of muscle tone while sleeping called atonia is particularly complete in the muscles of the back, neck, arms, and legs. Less affected are the muscles of the eyes and lungs.
In the REM state comes the meaningful dreams – and that is why we cannot call this state absolutely unconscious. In this state, the brain is active, almost as if we are not sleeping, though melatonin levels increase at first, it is inconsistent. It rises and falls, but then the adrenal stress hormone “cortisol” increases especially during this REM state. Heartbeat patterns become irregular; temperature drops gradually. It is not an unconscious state – it’s sort of semiconscious, or what we can call the subconscious state.
The periods of REM are also characterized by eye movements which occur because in the deactivation of voluntary muscles, the brain “forgets” to deactivate that of the eyes. The deactivation of ocular muscles does not take place so that as we sleep and dream, the eyes moves and swims around in the socket as if we are viewing and looking at something when we are awake. These movements are very rapid, up to 8 movements back and forth per second, so that they look like tremors and vibrations of the eyes. They occur in bursts called REM storms or autonomic storms and can easily be noticed in people that wake-sleep (sleep with their eyes opened).
An experiment was carried out using cats by Michael Jouvet (1958) who found out the locus coeruleus part of the brain, which is the part that inhibits the muscular actions while we sleep, when removed resulted in sudden acting by the cats, fighting and displays and sometimes purring while still sleeping. Thus, explaining the fact that while we sleep, the brain is still very much active, replaying and analyzing events, computing and estimating, setting up long term memory and discarding short term memory or whatever it considers not needed. In the process, it still sends out response and impulse. Sometimes minute impulse, though largely attenuated still gets to the brain inducing reactions. This can make the REM periods (dreams) include detail concerning the response. That is why sometimes, when there is probably a cold wind seeping through the room at this moment making the room cold, the sleeping person might be dreaming of walking in the snow, and the cold wind blowing strongly on his face. The same applies to a full bladder and the feeling of being pressed. Which is why sometimes, in the dream, you seem to take a time out to the toilet, and you actually ease yourself in the dream and funny enough, there appears to come along relief, though you will hardly complete the dream before you physically wake up to relieve yourself. This commonly occurs in children that bed-wet, of which instance, the bladder actually responded to the brain REM response to the stimulus without waking up physically. This aspect is typical during NREM sleep.
At times, there exist unusual scenarios where there is an incomplete or partial deactivation of the muscles. It results in sleepwalking, sleep-talking, common in some individuals, and is typical during the NREM periods where muscle deactivation is not intense as in the REM. However more frequent during REM is the kicking and twitching. Some people have punched their bed-mates, kicked, or even knocked out the other person out of bed. This, however, is common during REM states.
In NREM state, there is usually no dream, but a form of thought-like activity. Breathing and heart rate are slower and more consistent than during REM sleep. Large slow eye movements also occur.
The reason for the elaborate detail about sleep mechanisms is because it is indispensable in the further analysis of some occurrences such as “Nightmares,” which many of us very much want to understand how? and why?
Look out for “Dreams (Part II) – Nightmares, “How & Why?”)” next week!!
Mavromatis, Andreas (1987). Hypnagogia. A unique state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep. Routledge. 360 pages.
Benjamin Lahey (2011). Psychology: An Introduction / Edition 11
Michael Jouvet (1958). Behavioral and EEG Effects of Paradoxical Sleep Deprivation in the Cat. School of Medicine, Lyon, France.