Sleeping and Dreaming Essay

This essay has a total of 4902 words and 26 pages.

Sleeping and Dreaming

Sleeping And Dreaming

Despite the large amount of time we spend asleep, surprisingly little is actually known
about sleeping and dreaming. Much has been imagined, however. Over history, sleep has been
conceived as the space of the soul, as a state of absence akin to death, as a virtual or
alternate reality, and more recently, as a form of (sub)consciousness in which memories
are built and erased. The significance attributed to dreams has varied widely as well. The
Ancient Greeks had surprise dream encounters with their gods. Native Americans turned to
their dreams for guidance in life. Shamans dreamed in order to gather information from the

Sleep and dreams have defined eras, cultures, and individuals. Sigmund Freud's
interpretation of dreams revolutionized twentieth-century thought. Historical archives
record famous short sleepers and notable insomniacs—some accounts reliable, some not.
When Benjamin Franklin counseled, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy,
wealthy, and wise," he was using sleep habits to symbolize his pragmatism.

Important public policy issues have arisen in our modern 24-hour society, where it is
crucial to weigh the value of sleep versus wakefulness. Scientific knowledge about sleep
is currently insufficient to resolve the political and academic debates raging about how
much and when people should sleep. These issues affect almost everybody, from the shift
worker to the international traveler, from the physician to the policy maker, from the
anthropologist to the student preparing for an exam.

In 2004-2005, the Penn Humanities Forum will focus on the topic of "Sleep and Dreams."
Proposals are invited from researchers in all humanistic fields concerned with
representations of sleep, metaphors used to describe sleep, and sleep as a metaphor in
itself. In addition, we solicit applications from those who study dreams, visions, and
nightmares in art or in life, and the approaches taken to their interpretation.

We also welcome proposals about the effects of dreaming on the dreamer, and the resulting
emotions, behaviors, and actions taken or foregone in response to dreams.

In this Forum on Sleep and Dreams, we will see how the diversity of academic disciplines
can help to answer important questions about sleep and dreaming—questions that may touch
the basis of human intellect. The Forum is fortunate in having an expert on the
psychophysiology of sleep and dreaming, Hans Van Dongen, as the Topic Director for
2004-2005. His knowledge of advances in biomedical sleep research (which is vibrant at
Penn) will complement the Mellon Fellows' cultural and historical perspectives on the
subject arising from books, paintings, sculptures, movies, music, and other forms of

According to Professor Van Dongen, the functions of sleep and dreams are still largely
unclear to scientists. Whereas artists and humanists have long been concerned with sleep
and dream states, the sciences mostly ignored it until the discovery was made that there
is brain activity during sleep. It has now been documented that sleep is a necessity for
health, for well-being, for the ability to think clearly—that is, for the overall
quality of wakefulness. While much is known about the neurobiological underpinnings of
sleep and dreams, however, the reasons behind these processes are still a mystery, and the
question "what are sleeping and dreaming for?" awaits definitive answers. Under the
circumstances, humanists have much to offer, not only to each other but to science as
well, for the understanding of this fundamental aspect of life.

Myths and Facts about sleeping :

1. Snoring is a common problem, especially among men, but it isn't harmful.
Although snoring may be harmless for most people, it can be a symptom of a life
threatening sleep disorder called sleep apnea, especially if it is accompanied by severe
daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea is characterized by pauses in breathing that prevent air
from flowing into or out of a sleeping person's airways. People with sleep apnea awaken
frequently during the night gasping for breath. The breathing pauses reduce blood oxygen
levels, can strain the heart and cardiovascular system, and increase the risk of
cardiovascular disease. Snoring on a frequent or regular basis has been directly
associated with hypertension. Obesity and a large neck can contribute to sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can be treated; men and women who snore loudly, especially if pauses in the
snoring are noted, should consult a physician.

2. You can "cheat" on the amount of sleep you get.
Sleep experts say most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for
optimum performance, health and safety. When we don't get adequate sleep, we accumulate a
sleep debt that can be difficult to "pay back" if it becomes too big. The resulting sleep
deprivation has been linked to health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure,
negative mood and behavior, decreased productivity, and safety issues in the home, on the
job, and on the road.

3. Turning up the radio, opening the window, or turning on the air conditioner are
effective ways to stay awake when driving.

These "aids" are ineffective and can be dangerous to the person who is driving while
feeling drowsy or sleepy. If you're feeling tired while driving, the best thing to do is
to pull off the road in a safe rest area and take a nap for 15-45 minutes. Caffeinated
beverages can help overcome drowsiness for a short period of time. However, it takes about
30 minutes before the effects are felt. The best prevention for drowsy driving is a good
night's sleep the night before your trip.

4. Teens who fall asleep in class have bad habits and/or are lazy.
According to sleep experts, teens need at least 8.5 - 9.25 hours of sleep each night,
compared to an average of seven to nine hours each night for most adults. Their internal
biological clocks also keep them awake later in the evening and keep them sleeping later
in the morning. However, many schools begin classes early in the morning, when a
teenager's body wants to be asleep. As a result, many teens come to school too sleepy to
learn, through no fault of their own.

5. Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep.
Difficulty falling asleep is but one of four symptoms generally associated with insomnia.
The others include waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep, frequent
awakenings, and waking up feeling unrefreshed. Insomnia can be a symptom of a sleep
disorder or other medical or psychological/psychiatric problem, and can often be treated.
According to the National Sleep Foundation's 2002 Sleep in America poll, 58 percent of
adults in this country reported at least one symptom of insomnia in the past year. When
insomnia symptoms occur more than a few times a week and impact a person's daytime
functions, the symptoms should be discussed with a doctor or other health care provider.

6. Daytime sleepiness always means a person isn't getting enough sleep.
Excessive daytime sleepiness is a condition in which an individual feels very drowsy
during the day and has an urge to fall asleep when he/she should be fully alert and awake.
The condition, which can occur even after getting enough nighttime sleep, can be a sign of
an underlying medical condition or sleep disorder such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea. These
problems can often be treated, and symptoms should be discussed with a physician. Daytime
sleepiness can be dangerous and puts a person at risk for drowsy driving, injury, and
illness and can impair mental abilities, emotions, and performance.

7. Health problems such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression are unrelated
to the amount and quality of a person's sleep.

Studies have found a relationship between the quantity and quality of one's sleep and many
health problems. For example, insufficient sleep affects growth hormone secretion that is
linked to obesity; as the amount of hormone secretion decreases, the chance for weight
gain increases. Blood pressure usually falls during the sleep cycle, however, interrupted
sleep can adversely affect this normal decline, leading to hypertension and cardiovascular
problems. Research has also shown that insufficient sleep impairs the body's ability to
use insulin, which can lead to the onset of diabetes. More and more scientific studies are
showing correlations between poor and insufficient sleep and disease.

8. The older you get, the fewer hours of sleep you need.
Sleep experts recommend a range of seven to nine hours of sleep for the average adult.
While sleep patterns change as we age, the amount of sleep we need generally does not.
Older people may wake more frequently through the night and may actually get less
nighttime sleep, but their sleep need is no less than younger adults. Because they may
sleep less during the night, older people tend to sleep more during the day. Naps planned
as part of a regular daily routine can be useful in promoting wakefulness after the person

9. During sleep, your brain rests.
The body rests during sleep, however, the brain remains active, gets "recharged," and
still controls many body functions including breathing. When we sleep, we typically drift
between two sleep states, REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM, in 90-minute cycles.
Non-REM sleep has four stages with distinct features, ranging from stage one drowsiness,
when one can be easily awakened, to "deep sleep" stages three and four, when awakenings
are more difficult and where the most positive and restorative effects of sleep occur.
However, even in the deepest non-REM sleep, our minds can still process information. REM
sleep is an active sleep where dreams occur, breathing and heart rate increase and become
irregular, muscles relax and eyes move back and forth under the eyelids.

10. If you wake up in the middle of the night, it is best to lie in bed, count sheep, or
toss and turn until you eventually fall back asleep.

Waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep is a symptom
of insomnia. Relaxing imagery or thoughts may help to induce sleep more than counting
sheep, which some research suggests may be more distracting than relaxing. Whichever
technique is used, most experts agree that if you do not fall back asleep within 15-20
minutes, you should get out of bed, go to another room and engage in a relaxing activity
such as listening to music or reading. Return to bed when you feel sleepy. Avoid watching
the clock.

Dreaming and The Stages of Sleeping.
One sleep cycle comprises of four stages and last for about 90-120 minutes. Dreams can
occur in any of the four stages of sleep but the most vivid and memorable dreams occur in
the last stage of sleep (also commonly referred to as REM sleep). The sleep cycle repeats
itself about an average of four to five times per night, but may repeat as many as seven
times. Thus, you can see how a person can have several different dreams in one night. Most
people, however, only remember dreams that occur closer toward the morning when they are
about to get up. But just because you can't remember those dreams does not mean that

they never happened. Some people swear on the fact that they simply do not dream when in
reality, they just don't remember their dreams.

The Stages Of Sleep

Some text lists four stages of sleep, while others say there are five stages. Some
consider the first five-ten minutes when you are falling asleep as a stage in the sleep
cycle. We think that it is more of a transitional phase. While the other stages of sleep
repeat themselves throughout the night, this phase of sleep does not. For this reason, we
have excluded it as part of the sleep cycle.

Stage 1: In this stage of sleep, your eyes move back and forth erratically. Often called
REM sleep, this stage occurs at about 90-100 minutes after the onset of sleep. Your blood
pressure rises and heart rate and respiration speeds up and becomes erratic.

Your voluntary muscle are paralyzed. This stage may also be referred to as delta sleep and
is the most restorative part of sleep. This is also where the majority of your dreaming

Stage 2: You are entering into light sleep. This stage is characterized by Non-rapid eye
movements (NREM), muscle relaxation and slowed heart rate. The body is preparing to enter
into deep sleep.

Stage 3 and 4: Also characterized by NREM, these two stages involves periods of deep sleep
with Stage 4 being more intense than Stage 3. Your body temperature drops and muscles
relaxes. You are completely asleep.

These stages repeat themselves throughout a night's sleep . Here are some myths about dreaming.

1) Being chased or attacked
More than 80 percent of people dream they're being pursued or attacked, although who or
what is attacking or doing the pursing varies from place to place. These dreams are a
natural response to life stress, Garfield says.

The origin of this dream dates back to an era when humans fought off beasts or other
tribal members to survive. The "monsters" of today more often are emotional beasts, she
says -- fear, anxiety, anger, hatred and envy.

Flip side: Being embraced or loved.
These dreams also have early biological roots. They're driven by our genes to mate and
produce children and include the sex dreams. Both men and women, it's been documented in
research, experience sexual arousal during REM sleep. These dreams can supply the desired
missing elements in an unsatisfying marriage, or heighten during an intense love affair.

2) Being injured, ill or dying
One myth about dreaming is that if you die in your dream, you die in life.
That's not true, of course, but dream deaths do occur. They involve deaths of famous
people, your parents or children, a lover and even yourself. Garfield believes that when
you dream about an accidental death of any person, that person's death symbolizes
something in you that is no longer functioning.

One of the more common scenarios under this theme is of teeth falling out or crumbling.
This might have a physical origin in people gritting or grinding teeth during sleep. Freud
suggested that dreams of teeth falling out are related to fears of castration, but women
have this dream as often as men, Garfield says. She believes the tooth troubles in dreams
are related to anger, with a dreamer acting out the clenching of his teeth. Other
psychologists believe the dream reflects anxiety about appearance and how others perceive

Flip side: Being healed, born or reborn
Rare, but good, this dream often accompanies a new start, a new job or first day of
school. Sometimes dreaming of rebirth represents your hopes for a loved one who has died.

3) Car or other vehicle trouble
Fairly common nightmare among all people and ages, whether or not the dreamers actually
drive. Sometimes they have problems with an aircraft they're flying. May occur when the
dreamer feels events in waking life are out of control.

Flip side: Vehicular pleasure
When your time in a car or another vehicle is delightful. This can represent freedom, or
moving in the direction of your choice.

4) House or property loss or damage
In these dreams, your house is damaged or destroyed by fire, water or other causes. These
dreams may surface because you feel that some valuable aspect of waking life is at risk,
she says.

Dreams about losing a wallet, watch or cherished piece of jewelry, such as a wedding ring,
also fall into this category. Meanings vary depending on what is lost or damaged.
Biologically, they may reflect a basic need to defend your territory.

Flip side: House or property improvement
You may discover new rooms in your home or dream about repairs or improvements. These
dreams may occur when you feel that some valuable aspect of waking life is improving.

5) Poor test or other poor performance
You've probably dreamed of arriving for a test and found the exam has already started. Or
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