The Science of Dreams
A dream is a display, usually visual, that occurs during the night while we sleep in
order to deal with and asses the things that we have dealt with during the day. A dream is
a remembered residue in the form of creatively assembled visual metaphors(Guiley).
In 1900 Sigmund Freud wrote in the The Interpretation of Dreams that dreams are
disguised wishes arising from ones unconscious mind. Having been suppressed by the
conscious mind, the wishes sneak into the sleeping brain in the form of dreams. Due to
electoencephalograph machine that recorded the rapid eye movement during sleep and
research into the physical nature of dreaming, Freud\'s theory has been for the most part
proven wrong.
There is no definitive answer as to what a dream is. There is a raging debate over
the neuroscientific point of view and the psychoanalytical point of view about what it is
that actually causes dreams. In the next few paragraphs I will look at the proposed
answers from both the neuroscientific and psychoanalytical
The process of dreaming starts in the brain stem and is controlled by two
neurotransmitters that in affect turn the dreams on and of. The one that turns the dreams
on uses acetylcholine to begin the dream, and the part that turns the dream off uses
norepinephrine and serotonin to end the dream sequence.When the norepinephrine and
serotonin are suppressed, the other chemical, acetylcholine allows electrical signals to the
Norepinephrine and serotonin are necessary to imprint the dreams into your long
term memory. This may explain why we forget the majority of our dreams. Since the two
chemicals are suppressed during the dreaming process, most dreams are not stored in the
long term memory of our minds.
The brain stem neurons also start a sinusoidal wave known as theta rhythm the
hippocampus, a brain structure that looks like a sea horse which is believed to be
responsible for the storage of memory. While this happens, the nerves that usually carry
information from the world around us shut down(Guiley).
If the dream happens during the REM phase of sleep, the person sleeping will
experience an increased heart rate and a temporary paralysis. To prevent the sleeper from
acting out the dream, the brain freezes the muscular activity. Experiments have been done
on cats where the nueral fibers that freeze the movement during REM sleep were
removed. This resulted in the cats walking around and acting out there dreams. Some
people do act out there dreams. This disorder can be treated by a drug called Clonazepam
which is also used to treat epilepsy.
Dreams are different according to when the dream occurs in relation to the period
of sleep. During the REM stage of sleep and at other times or non-REM sleep. There are
four stages of sleep. As the sleeper goes through the stages of sleep the brain waves
decrease in frequency. After the sleeper goes through the four stages of sleep, the sleeper
goes back through the stages until they are back in stage one. This stage bone is called the
Emergent Stage One. This is the time in which most of the REM dreaming occurs.
In early 1953 is when the physical science of dreams really began when researchers
at the University of Chicago discovered physical signals like rapid eye movement and brain
wave patterns that signaled that dreams were in progress. Most all of the research since
then has focused on the REM stage of sleep. All mammals, and even a few birds and
reptiles go through the REM stage of sleep. In humans as we get older less time is spent
in the REM stage of sleep. Fetuses spend most all of their time in the REM stage and new
borns spend an average of eight hours a day in REM sleep. Fifty percent of sleep of
infants and small children is spent in REM sleep. Adults sleep is usually about twenty
percent REM sleep, and for older people only fifteen percent of sleep is spent in the REM
stage of sleep. Many scientist believe that this is because that REM sleep plays a part in
the learning process and is more important for the younger sleepers(Ackroyd).
Eventhough REM sleep has gotten all of the attention when it comes to research,
it must be remebered that we do not just dream in the REM stage. NREM are the dreams
that are usually more logical and are more likely to mirror our recent life experiences.
Hypnagogic dreams are the dreams that happen just