Welcome Dr. C. back to the Dream Theories! I like to think she lends a bit of respectibility to our endeavors, as I obsess about one of my favorite metaphysical subjects: dreams and how our sleeping mind’s work can impact (and improve) the conscious things we do all day. My latest heroine, Shaw Cassidy, is fighting her dreams to the point of putting her life in danger. She either remembers and deciphers her dream imagery, or she’s in a whole passle of trouble. I wonder if Dr. C. knew that, when she sent me her latest guest post?
Midnight Mental Meanderings
Several of my patients have been mentioning a recent BBC article, The Myth of Eight-Hour Sleep, about the reality of split sleep: which references historical and scientific research to propose that waking in the middle of the night for a couple of hours is a natural pattern. The way it works is that a couple of hours after dusk, the “first sleep” period starts, and then the sleeper wakes for two hours and then falls off again to “second sleep.” During those waking hours in the middle of the night, people in pre-industrial (and therefore pre-artificial light) times talked to their bed mates, made babies, visited neighbors, and pondered their dreams.
It was the pondering of dreams that caught my attention. That they were part of the culture at the time, and the potential advantages of earlier vs. later night dreams. If we recall the hypnogram (yes, I know I keep referring to it, but it’s important), we could suppose that the middle of the night awakening happened after the first or second sleep cycle, so Rapid Eye Movement, or REM, sleep hadn’t become as prominent. To that point, the main deep sleep has been stage N-3, or slow wave sleep, with shorter periods of REM.
This is where things get interesting. Traditionally, we think of REM as being dreaming sleep, but we can actually dream in any stage. There are differences in the types of dreams we have in REM and non-REM (nREM) stages: the main one being that memories tend to be sources of dream content in nREM sleep, and semantic knowledge, or what’s already in the brain from learning, is the source of dreams in REM sleep. That’s how you end up with poltergeists in your office, as in some recurrent dreams I had last year. My brain took work stress and translated it into a haunting.
A 1992 study from Italy* examined dream content during the first half of the night, and had participants describe their dreams after ten minutes of either slow-wave sleep or REM sleep. (more…)