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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 cortex. 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 before sleep starts. It often happens in the twilight between consciousness and the unconscious. These dreams are not as complex as REM dreams and are more verbal as opposed to the visual REM dream. These dreams seem dull in comparison to the REM dream.
These dreams are very similar to sensory deprivation, meditation, and psychedelic drug use. Tranquilizers decrease dream time and many times cause distortions. Barbiturates make dreams more thought like. LSD increases dream time and nicotine withdrawal also increases dream time. The dreams of people that have just quit smoking are more intense than a dream of a normal person. Dreaming is a necessary physiological function. When people are prevented from dreaming they become anxious, fatigued, irritable, and have difficulty concentrating and remembering. If they are deprived of sleep and dreams long enough they begin to dream while they are awake. When these people are allowed to sleep the mind compensates for the time it has lost. This has been found through the many experiments that deal with dream deprivation and sleep deprivation.
During REM sleep there are very high levels of hormones in the body than at most other times. Some scientists believe that REM helps to maintain the proper balance of hormones in the body. It is also suggested that since there are some neurons that are dormant during REM, which suggests that that period of time is used for restoration and replenishing them. It is also possible that very traumatic dreams are used by the body as warning devices of serious physical illness to come. Some scientists suggest that the dreams that we have during REM sleep are used to keep the brain from falling into a permanent unconsciousness or even death. They also suggest that during sleep the brain is in a coma like state and REM dreams keep it activated and keep it from going into a complete state of a coma. What we dream about is controlled partly by what sex we are. Men are more likely to have dreams about outdoors kind of things and unfamiliar settings and also physical activity. Men are not as observant and do not remember things like color and clothing. Men also dream of other men more than women. Women are very observant about their dreams and remember things like facial expressions, colors, and clothing.
When aggressive is present it is usually more verbal than physical. Women’s dreams usually take place in area that is familiar to them and is usually inside. Women also dream of men and women about the same percent of the time. Pregnant women’s dreams contain a great number of references to animals, water, buildings, and their mothers(guiley). Women in their second trimester are likely to dream of amphibians like frogs and turtles. The sex difference is also evident in childrens dreams. Boys tend to show more anger in their dreams than girls do. Girls show more fear and positive emotions. The dream where fear is present is very common among children in general. Fear of animals is present in both boys and girls, although boys have more fear of animals. Girls dream more about mammals and boys tend to dream more of things other than mammals.
Older people often have dreams about lost resources for coping with problems and a vague sense of apprehension and confusion. Often if there is a solution to the dream problem, it involves receiving food or soothing physical comfort. It is very difficult to tell if animals dream. However in a experiment, a monkey was trained to press a lever when a particular scene appeared on a screen. Later while sleeping the monkeys were observed to press the lever as if they were dreaming about doing the same thing that they did while did while they were awake(Ackroyd). People that were born with the inability to hear have extremely colorful and vivid dreams. Even though people that had lost their hearing during or after birth have very vivid dreams, they are not as vivid. There is no evidence that people that are blind from birth see in their dreams, but their is evidence that rapid eye movement is present.
People who have lost their vision after birth have reported having sight in their dreams. The dreams of the blind also have a better sense of senses like touch and sound. In conclusion I think that with dreams we would lead very boring lives and would have many more problems to deal with. Without dreams to deal with some of our more major problems I believe that we would fall apart as people and would not be able to go through life every day.
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