We need to dream every night
Whatever you feel about dreams, they are an enduring source of
fascination. Today, at numerous laboratories around the world, the
relationship between the 25 per cent of our sleeping time spent
dreaming, and our waking moods, memories and emotions is being
Pic- Google images
Although there is still much disagreement about it, the outline of a
new general dream theory seems to be coming clear. Much simplified, the
theory sees human beings as information processors equipped with two
ways of dealing with an infinitely complicated world.
The first, which involves the left hemisphere of the brain, is the
one we usually employ during our waking hours. It deals most effectively
with the constant bombardment of facts that must be judged as meaningful
or dismissed as irrelevant.
The second, which involves the right brain, is concerned more with
perceived feeling than objective fact and seems the mode of the dreaming
The stray feelings and random bits and pieces of emotion that are
recorded but go unrecognised and unexamined during the day must be dealt
with during sleep to see how they fit our most interior, most intimate
conceptions of ourselves.
This sort of processing of information is our regular nightshift
work. Mostly it concerns the personally relevant information that has to
do with who we are. At night we reconcile the new information, to our
old self, and put it all together so we can get up and fight another
About ten minutes after falling asleep, we gradually descend during
the next half-hour through five stages of sleep, each demarcated by its
own particular brain-wave pattern.
Stage 1 - light sleep, eyes move slowly, and muscle activity slows.
(4-5% of total sleep);
Stage 2 - eye movement stops and brain waves become slower, with
occasional bursts of rapid waves called sleep spindles. (45-55% of total
Stage 3 - extremely slow brain waves called delta waves begin to
appear, interspersed with smaller, faster waves. (4-6% of total sleep);
Stage 4 - the brain produces delta waves almost exclusively. It is
very difficult to wake us during stages 3 and 4, which together are
called 'deep sleep'. There is no eye movement or muscle activity. If we
are awakened while in deep sleep, we do not adjust immediately and often
feel disoriented for several minutes after we wake up. (12-15% of total
Stage 5 - During this stage, which has been found to be closely
related to periods of vivid dreaming, we suddenly stop tossing and
turning, our snoring ends, our breathing become irregular, sometimes
halting altogether for a few seconds. Brain temperature and blood flow
soar, and our bodies go limp, the large muscles of the arms, legs, trunk
becoming paralysed, with only tiny twitches of the hands and face
visible to an observer.
The eyeballs suddenly begin to dart rapidly back and forth, while the
muscles of our middle ears contract, as if listening to sounds.(20-25%
of total sleep time). Four to six times a night, at intervals of about
an hour and a half, we enter the REM stage ofsleep, each period becoming
longer until, by the fourth or fifth dream, it may last as long as an
hour. This 90-minute rhythm seems to be a basic pulse of human life.
More than a hundred different body functions, from stomach
contractions to hormone secretions-and many mental activities as
well-follow a cycle that repeats itself every 90 minutes.
Most dreams follow a standard sequence. The first and shortest dream,
usually set in the present, is a kind of overture; it often revolves
around a problem occupying our mind before we fall asleep, and sets the
basic theme for the dreams to come. The next two dreams, though they
incorporate feelings from the present, usually deal with the past.
The fourth dream is often set in the future and concerns some kind of
wish fulfillment ("What if I didn't have this problem?"). The fifth, and
for most people the final dream of the night, builds on material from
all the previous dreams, forming a grand finale set in the present.
All of us seem to need our dreams. By using drugs that eliminate only
REM sleep, researchers have demonstrated that dream-starved persons
undergo subtle personality changes: they become increasingly abrasive
and anxious, often unable to concentrate.
Yet too much dreaming appears to be almost as harmful as too little.
"When you doze late on Sunday morning, often you wake up feeling very
tired," says one researcher.
"The reason is that the longer you sleep, the longer your dreams
become. And dreaming is tiring work."
Why do we dream? Apparently, the process helps us cope with problems.
People faced with difficult situations, from an upcoming job interview
to mastering a new skill, usually show sharp increases in the amount
time spent in REM sleep.
The ability of the dreaming mind to pose solutions to unresolved
problems has intrigued dream researchers for years. Albert Einstein,
Mozart among scores of other highly creative people, regularly relied on
dreams for new insights. After spending many years trying without
success to discover the structure of the benzene molecule, German
organic chemist. Friedrich Kekule had a dream about a snake writhing in
a circle. Waking up, he recognized that the formation made by the snake
was a hexagon and saw the molecule's actual structure as hexagonal, a
flash of insight usually considered one of the most brilliant pieces of
prediction in the history of organic chemistry.
Friedrich Kekuleonce said, "Let us learn how to dream, and then
perhaps we will discover the truth." Modern history has proven he is