Every night, every person around the world “watches” a unique movie in the form of interrupted stories, made up partly of memories, with frequent shifts of scenes. The “watcher” may sometimes even take part in the movie. This sort of movie is called a dream. Dreaming is a form of mental activity occurring during sleep that is different from thoughts while one is awake. Even though dreams are imaginary, they are usually related to real experience in the dreamer’s life.
Dreams can be pleasant, some annoying, and others frightening. The reason why people dream is not fully understood.
Some scientists have suggested that biological discoveries about dreaming have made psychological theories false. An excerpt taken from the World Book Encyclopedia states that “dreaming sleep may play a role in restoring the brain’s ability to handle such tasks as focused attention, memory, and learning. ” Dreaming, therefore, can be very meaningful and helpful in life. B. Brain Waves and Different Stages of Sleep In 1953, American sleep researchers Eugene Aserinsky and Nataniel Kleitman have shown that a dream takes place in a biological state of its own.
Dreaming, like all mental processes, is a product of the brain and its activity. Regardless of whether a person is awake or asleep, electrical waves are continuously given off from the brain. These waves are measured with an instrument known as an electroencephalograph. There are five different stages of sleep where brain waves vary: * Stage one sleep is the transition stage between wake and sleep lasting 1 to 5 minutes and occupying 2 to 5% of a night’s sleep.
* Stage two, occupying 45 to 60 %, is when one is actually asleep. * Delta sleep, or stages three and four are “slow wave” sleep, which lasts approximately 15 to 30 minutes.
Brain activity slows down dramatically when compared to the waves in stage two. These two stages are completed within the first three hours of sleep. These are the deepest stages of sleep and the most restorative. They can occupy up to 40 % of all sleep time. * Stage five, REM-Sleep (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep), is when dreaming takes place. After that, the sleeper goes back into a deep stage four sleep. Again, the sleeper goes into an REM stage after a short period and cycles through REM and stage 4 until the sleeper is woken up. These five stages are essential in a night’s sleep.
Each, in it’s own way, helps in the body’s restoration processes. C. REM-Sleep Eugene Aserinsky was the first who discovered REM-sleep (rapid-eye-movement sleep) when he was watching an infant sleep. It seemed as though the child’s eyes were moving under its eyelids quite rapidly at regular time intervals. It is a very active stage of sleep where breathing, heart rate, and brain wave activity quicken. REM-sleep occurs every 90 to 100 minutes, 3 to 5 times a night, and lasts longer as the night progresses. The final REM period may last up to 45 minutes. Together, REM-sleep usually occupies 25 percent of the night’s sleep.
During this stage, the person’s eyes move rapidly as though the sleeper is watching a series of events. If one is awakened during REM-sleep, the person is most likely able to recall the details of a dream. Dreams usually include events and feelings that the dreamer has experienced. These can be events from the day before or minor incidents that took place in the hours before sleep. The body cannot move during an REM period. This is caused by the blocking of nerve impulses from the brain to the muscles. Even though one cannot move, the senses are greatly present during dreams.
Visual experience is present in almost all dreams; auditory experience in 40 to 50%; and touch, taste, smell, and pain in very small percentages. These senses, such as touch and sound, can be incorporated into a dream if someone else uses these senses on the dreamer during REM-sleep. D. Nightmares and Night Terrors Not all dreams are of a perfect fantasy or have a fairytale ending. Some are terrifying and leave a sense of disbelief. These are nightmares, which are the darker side of dreams. A nightmare is defined as a frightening dream from which sleepers have difficulty in arousing themselves.
According to Ernest Jones, true nightmares have three cardinal features. The first cardinal feature is a feeling of agonizing dread and sense of oppression. The second cardinal feature is the weight upon the chest leading to difficulty in breathing. The third and final one is a conviction of helplessness. Many people cannot differentiate nightmares from dreams. Nightmares are very distressing dreams which usually force at least partial awakening. The most common theme of nightmares is being chased by an unknown male figure. Children are normally being chased by an animal or fantasy figure.