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Sunday, 24 April 2016

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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 intensively explored.

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 mind.

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 day.

REM sleep

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 sleep);

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 sleep);

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.

Sequence

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.

Why dream?

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 right.

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