Dreaming: A Dynamic State

Sleep and Dreams

While you sleep, you might be surprised at how active your brain is. In studies that measure sleep brainwaves using electro-encephalograms (EEG’s), there’s one phase of sleep that is most similar to wakeful patterns: Rapid Eye Movement (REM). It’s during this phase of sleep that dreams occur, usually around 90 minutes after falling asleep. While the body is in a state of near paralysis, the muscles of the eye and inner ear continue to function. We cycle through the 5 phases of sleep (1, 2, 3, 4 and REM) throughout the night. On average, a person spends more than 2 hours dreaming each night. Science is not sure why most mammals experience REM sleep but reptiles and cold-blooded animals do not. Well-known psychologist and author, Sigmund Freud, felt that dreaming was a safety valve for unconscious desires. For many, dreams are non-linear experiences that are often bizarre and hard to describe after waking.  Some scientists believe dreams are what we make out of signals that the brain cortex receives during REM sleep. Since the cortex organizes and interprets information, it’s possible that we weave a story out of disconnected fragments. It is also thought that dreams may be an early survival mechanisms that allowed humans to imagine and prepare for a variety of predators and catastrophic situations. Dreams that are commonly reported by people include falling, missing teeth, failing a test, missing a boat or plane, car troubles, and forgetting to wear clothes in public. Many books have been written about the meaning of, and the symbology contained within dreams. These are hardly scientific, but you may find them interesting in your quest to decipher your dreams. Even the Old Testament tells of Daniel interpreting the dreams of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, thus earning him a place in history. The bible also tells a more well-known story of Joseph interpreting a puzzling dream for the Pharaoh of Egypt. Joseph is summoned and says that the Pharaoh’s dream is a prophecy of the next seven years. The kingdom will experience seven plentiful harvests followed by seven years of famine. Joseph advises Pharaoh to store grain from the plentiful harvests to be used during the famine, thus saving many lives.

There is no consensus on what the purpose of dreaming is, or what they mean. It’s something we all do, whether we remember them or not. Perhaps someday science will unravel this mystery.


Dreams that Changed History


Here’s several famous dreams that reached into our conscious world:


                -In 1845 Elias Howe dreamt that he was taken captive by a tribe who danced around him with spears that had holes near the tips, which led to his successful invention of the sewing machine.

                -In 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson dreamt up "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," which was completed within a ten-week span.

                -In 1964, golf pro Jack Nicklaus invented a new golf swing after dreaming that he was holding his golf club in a different position then he typically did.

                -Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards dreamt (and evidently played) the chords to ‘Satisfaction’ in his sleep. He didn’t realize it until the next day when he saw his tape had run to the end, played it back, and heard the opening chords to ‘Satisfaction’ followed by 40 minutes of snoring!

                -Stephenie Meyer's, a stay at home mother of 3, had her life change dramatically in 2003 when she woke up from a dream featuring seemingly real characters that she could not get out of her head. Meyer invented the plot during the day while occupied with her young sons, and wrote late at night when the house was quiet. Three months later she finished her first novel, Twilight. The film went on to gross $400,000,000!

                -And among the most famous scientific dreams was Albert Einstein's awakening to the theory of relativity. It was inspired by a dream, where he was going down a mountainside very fast, watching the appearance of the stars change as he approached the speed of light.


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