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Psychology: Dreams and Dreaming

Dreams, a nightly gift and a part of the natural process of being alive, are being rediscovered by our publisher. The meaning and value of your dreams will vary according to what you and your society decide. Our society is changing. We used to only value dreams in the context of psychotherapy. There are also a few assumptions about dreams. One is that you are always the final authority on what the dream means. Others can offer insight, suggestions and techniques for exploration and expression, but no one knows what the final meaning and value of the dreams will be for you, except you.

Another assumption s that dreams come in the service of wholeness and health. If you find an interpretation that does not fit this, perhaps you need to change methods of interpretation. Dream interpretations that lead you toward self-criticism, depression or despair are simply wrong and if these conditions persist you may wish to seek help from others. Finally, there is no such thing as a dream with one meaning. If you feel stuck on one meaning or feel another person is pushing one meaning, it is time to reconsider your methods and approach. (Lemley p. 7).

Clinical dream work is done within the context of psychotherapy and linical and sleep research have different approaches and goals than peer dream work. (Koch-Sheras p. 16). A dream is a period of spontaneous brain activity usually lasting from about 5-40 minutes that occurs during sleep several times a night usually about 90 minute intervals (Barret p. 8). There are also certain types of dreams. There are fantasy, daydream and waking dreams. There are also lucid dreams, nightmares and night terrors. There are also certain stages in the dream cycle.

In the first stage, your body temperature drops, your eyes close and your brain waves begin regular alpha rhythms, indicating a relaxed state. Muscles lose their tension, breathing becomes more even and your heart rate slows. Second, random images begin to float through your mind mimicking the dream state. Jolting or involuntary movements will take place at this time. Third, muscles lose all tightness, breathing becomes slower, heart rate decreases and blood pressure falls. At this point, it will take a loud noise or disturbance to wake you up. You are now fully asleep. Finally, you are in a deep sleep.

This is the most physically rested period of sleep and longest in duration. (Time-Life Books p. 97). Jubera 2 Whether awake or asleep, one of the brain’s most critical functions is he construction of the model of the environment that we perceive as our conscious experience (Barret p. 9). While we sleep, very little sensory input is available, so the world model experience is constructed from what remains, contextual information from our lives, that is, expectations derived from past experience, and motivations. As a result, the content of our dream is largely determined by what we fear, hopeful and expect.

From this point of view, dreaming can be viewed as the special case of dreaming constrained by sensory input (Koch-Sheras p. 15). Dreaming experience is commonly viewed as ualitatively distinct from waking experience. Dreams are often believed to be characterized by lack of reflection and inability to act deliberately and with intention. (Barret p. 20). Although we not usually explicitly aware of the fact that we are dreaming while we are dreaming, at times a remarkable exception occurs and we become reflective enough to become conscious that we are dreaming.

During such lucid’ dreams it is possible to freely remember the circumstances of waking life to think clearly, and to act deliberately upon reflection or in accordance with plans decided upon before sleep, all while experiencing a dream world that seems ividly real. (Time-Life Books p. 57). As previously stated, lucid dreaming is dreaming while knowing that you are dreaming. Lucidity usually begins in the midst of a dream, when the dreamer realizes that the experience is not occurring in physical reality, but is a dream. (Lemley p. 3).

A minority of lucid dreams are the result of returning to REM sleep directly from a awakening with unbroken reflective consciousness. When lucidity is at a high level, you are aware that everything experienced in the dream is occurring in your mind, that there is no real danger, and that you are asleep in bed and will awaken shortly. With low level lucidity you may be aware to a certain extent that you are dreaming, perhaps enough to fly or alter what you are doing, but not enough to realize that the people are dream representations, or that you can suffer no physical damage, or that you are actually in bed. Time-Life Books p. 58).

Lucid dreams usually happen during REM sleep. Research has been demonstrated that most vivid dreaming occurs in REM sleep. It is characterized by an active brain, with low amplitude, mixed frequency brain waves, suppression of skeletal muscle tone, bursts of rapid eye movements, and occasional tiny uscular twitches (Barret p. 20). Jubera 3 The sleep stages cycle throughout a night. The first REM period normally happens after a period of delta sleep, approximately 90 minutes after sleep onset, and lasts from about 5-20 minutes.

REM periods occur roughly every 90 minutes throughout the night with later REM periods occurring at shorter intervals and often being longer, sometimes up to an hour in length. Much more REM sleep occurs in the second half of the night than in the first. (Lemley p. 16). Most of the muscles of the body are paralyzed in REM sleep to prevent us from acting out our dreams. However, because the eyes are not paralyzed, if you deliberately move your dream eyes in a dream, your physical eyes move also. (Time-Life Books p. 1 ). Referring back to the stages in sleep-the first stage is a transitional period between waking and sleeping known as hypnagogic state, the muscle relax and the person often experiences a sensation of floating or drifting. The eyes roll slowly and vivid images may flash through the mind-perhaps an eerie unfamiliar landscape, a beautiful abstract pattern or a succession of face. As those sensations and visions come and go, a sudden spasm of the body called ypnagogic startle may momentarily waken the sleeper.

Then as the subject slips into the first stage of sleep, the EEG shows the spiky rapid alpha waves of a relaxed but wakeful brain giving way to the slower more regular theta waves of light slumber. Sleeps first stage is short, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to 10 minutes. The theta waves soon decrease and are mixed on EEG tracing which a combination of 2 different brain wave patterns-groups of sharp jumps called spindles, which reflect rapid bursts of brain activity, and waves known as K- complexes characterized by steep peaks and valleys.

Although this stage is onsidered to be a true sleep phase, a person awakening from it may report having had brief bits of realistic thought or may even deny having been asleep at all. (Time-Life Books p. 97). Between 15 and 30 minutes after the onset of sleep, large, slow delta waves begin supplementing the K complexes and spindles of stage 2. The change makes the deepest of sleeps, called stage 3-4. Waking from stage 3-4 is difficult. An individual typically feels quite groggy and disoriented and even if an emergency demands alertness, must fight to overcome the compelling desire to fall asleep again.

Taking in one sleep, sleep walking and bedwetting tend to appen during this stage because of the brain’s partial arousal from deep sleep (Time-Life Books p. 97). After 90 minutes or so of sleep, most of it spent in stage 3-4, the spindles and K complexes of stage 2 briefly reassert themselves. The brain then shakes off the rhythms of non REM sleep passes into REM sleep-a condition so distinct physiologically from both wakefulness and the non REM stages that some experts call it a third state of existence. Blood pressure and pulse rate rise, and brain waves quicken to frequencies comparable to those of an awake, alert brain.

Despite this activity the body becomes remarkably still. The eyes begin their movements, but otherwise, except for grimaces and small twitches of the toes and fingers, the muscles are temporarily paralyzed. A person awakened from REM sleep may be unable to move for a few seconds. Scientists believe that nature has evolved this paralytic interlude, which seems to be controlled by nerve centers in the primitive brainstem, to protect the sleeper from the harm that might result if dreams were physically acted out.

The 2 antithetical conditions of the state-a vigorously active brain within an immobilized body- prompted French neurobiologist Michel Jouvet to name it paradoxical sleep. Time-Life Books p. 99). There are other physical characteristics of dreams as well. In adults and infants alike, the head and chin relax so completely that researchers can use the slackening of the muscle under the chin as a reliable signal that REM sleep is occurring (Lemley p. 19-20). After training in neurology Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) began to practice what later became a psychoanalysis.

Initially, following his colleague Josef Breuer ( 1942-1925), he used his hypnosis to treat cases of hysteria. He then replaced hypnosis with the technique of free association and began to explore is patient’s dreams for clues to their problems (Barret p. 14-15). Freud believed that dreams were wish fulfillment-in our dreams we represent our deepest desires, which in an adult are nearly always sexual. However, because these desires would be offensive to our sleeping conscious minds, or censor or superego, disguises our true intentions. The obscurity of dreams, Freud said is due to alterations in repressed material made by the censorship.

However this theory does not explain why we might have a heavily disguised dream one night and a straightforward dream of the same activity on another night. There are many problems with Freud’s ideas but he must be given credit for being one of the first modern thinkers to reexamine the symbolism of dreams. However he must also be criticized for seeing nearly every dream symbol in purely sexual terms. Freuds detractors also complain that his theories , based on evidence drawn from his psychologically disturbed patients, were not universally applicable.

Despite these criticisms, Freud created psychoanalysis almost single-handedly, and built a solid base for dream analysts to expand (Barret P. 14-15). Besides establishing the normal nightly course of dreaming and some of ts pathological aberrations, researchers have categorized 2 distinct but equally frightening disturbances: the nightmare and the much less common night terror (Time-Life Books p. 102). Everyone occasionally has a nightmare-a dream so frightening that he or she wakes up sweaty, short of breath, and with a pounding heart.

Such dreams usually occur during the second half of the night, when REM periods are longer and dreams are more intense. Psychiatrists such as Stanley Palombo of Washington, D. C. , believe that a nightmare (mare means goblin in Old English) dramatizes problems or anxieties one has recently ncountered in waking life, in addition, it evokes related unconscious memories and images, creating an emotionally powerful mix. The feeling of utter helplessness that so often infuses a nightmare probably harks back to infancy, some experts say, when a child is indeed powerless and at the mercy of a world he or she cannot understand or control. Time-Life Books p. 102).

According to Professor Hartmann, the common thread among those who have nightmares frequently is sensitivity. For a Boston study, he solicited volunteers who experienced nightmares at least once a week. A large number of ubjects were involved in creative work, such as art, music and theater, others were graduate students, teachers and therapists. (Time-Life Books p. 106). Many saw themselves as rebels or as different from other people, and some overly rejected society’s norms. They were all very open and vulnerable, he said, beneficial to their careers.

But most had had stormy adolescence sometimes followed by bouts with depression, alcohol and suicide attempts. Hartmann concluded that people who had frequent nightmares possessed a poor sense of their own identities and find it hard to separate fantasy from reality. Some ave borderline or potentially psychotic tendencies, he believes. (Time-Life Books p. 106). Night terrors differ from nightmares in both content and timing, and often occur in a deep slumber of stage 3-4. The sleeper may rouse with a blood curdling scream and sit up in bed, terrified and confused, heart racing. Time- Life Books p. 106). He may also walk or talk in his sleep. While people usually remember specific and sequential details of their nightmares, the victim of a night terror is short, lasting only a minute or 2. Night terrors seem to run in families, and researchers suspect they are triggered by a faulty arousal echanism: instead of following the normal shift early in the night from stage 3-4 sleep to a REM period, the sleeper partially rouses.

Children are more susceptible than adults to night terrors, perhaps simply because they spend more time in stage 3-4 (Time-Life Books p. 06). Message dreams are dreams that convey some information you need about your current social, emotional or physical life. These are teaching dreams in which someone is usually there to tell you something important directly: a teacher, a news announcer or clergyman giving you new information to apply to our waking life. At times, a message dream will come in the form of a disembodied voice; the dreamer may perceive this voice as a voice of the spirit or soul of God or an angel (Koch-Sheras p. 78). Recurring dreams repeat themselves with little variation in story or theme.

They can be positive, as with an archetypal visionary dream, but they are more often nightmares, perhaps because nightmares depict a conflict that is unresolved; also nightmares are more frequently remembered than other dreams. (Lemley p. 81). There are many reasons why people forget their dreams upon waking. In ur culture, and therefore in our families, dreams are generally thought of as unimportant or silly. Whether they are pleasant or unpleasant, your dreams are a vital and expressive part of yourself, so don’t discount them!

Another reason why people might forget dreams is that they are embarrassed by their content. In dreams, you might commit acts you would never do in your waking life, and it is natural to put those acts into the back of your mind rather than confront the issues the dream scenarios might have raised. (Koch-Sheras p. 113). Studies show that people who are good at recalling their dreams are generally better ble to confront their own fears and anxieties; poor dream recallers are those who tend to retreat from confrontation.

Learning to remember your dreams and discuss their meanings may help you to become a more assertive person (Koch- Sheras p. 113). If you yourself are a poor recaller, you may wonder who images manage to stow away in a person’s mind each morning. The fact is, people who enjoy sharing dreams are more likely to remember them. Any attention you pay to your dream life can help to increase your recall: keeping a dream journal, making a drawing based on a dream, acting on advice or insight gained from a dream Lemley p. 113).

In ancient times, dreams were often-but not always-believed to be prophetic, and people of all cultures shared what they had dreamed in hopes of catching a glimpse of the future or receiving a message of advice or warning (Lemley p. 26). The Egyptians, for instance, relied on an elaborately constructed list of interpretations, a kind of early dream dictionary. Even the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates considered dreams to be prophetic emanating from the Gods. For this reason, dreams figured prominently in ancient cultures’ religious rituals intended to evoke the dream spirits of Gods who would send hese vivid messages ( Koch-Sheras p. 6).

In many ancient cultures, dream life and waking life were simply 2 different dimensions of a single existence, a viewpoint that shows itself in many modern cultures and that is shared by many contemporary dream theorists as well (Koch-Sheras p. 32). It has taken centuries of interest to move beyond dream lore to a scientific understanding of dreams. Yet many myths are still taken as fact in interpreting our own and others’ dream behavior. Here are some myths and facts about our dreams. Myth: Some people dream only a few times a year-or not at all. Fact: Everybody dreams!

While some people may only remember a few dreams a year, they actually dream several times every night. (Lemley p. 6). Myth: Babies don’t dream. Fact: Babies do show evidence of dreaming, although what they dream about is anybody’s guess. Even a newborn infant will have REM sleep. As people continue to age, studies show, the percentage of time spent dreaming drops off to as low as 13% in some people (Lemley p. 7). Myth: Animals do not dream. Fact: As dog owners suspect, animals do dream. Dogs sometimes move their legs, wag their tails and even bark and growl while sleeping (Koch-Sheras p. 7).

In all mammals studied there is evidence of REM sleep. (Koch-Sheras p. 7). Myth: Blind people do not dream. Fact: Blind people do dream. All dreamers becoming blind after the age of 7 see in dreams even after an interval of 20-30 years (Lemley p. 8). Those who become blind after age 5, however, almost never see in their dreams (Lemley p. 8. ). A person who cannot hear often has a specially vivid visual content in dreams, and a person blind from birth distinctly remembers sounds and tactile experiences in dreams (Koch-Sheras p. 8). Even if our dreams are entirely random, they still have value.

The onnections we make as we examine our dream for images that have some symbolic meaning are valid, as points of curiosity, as jumping off points for further self-exploration, and perhaps as insights into the inner workings of our own unique personality (Koch-Sheras p. 72). Whatever your motivation-amusement, curiosity, self-growth, spiritually or something else-as dreamers we can pick and choose, using our dreams to guide and shape our own theory (Lemley p. 73). We have nothing to lose in developing our own theory or body of recurring symbols with which to interpret our dreams. (Koch-Sheras p. 73).

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