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Rem Sleep and Theories on the Purpose of Dream

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REM Sleep and Theories on the Purpose of Dream

What can we learn from our dreams? Do they really have any meaning at all, or are they just something made up in our imaginations as we sleep at night? Do you have the kind of dreams that leave you scratching your head wondering what exactly was that? Sure you have, we all have had those mysterious dreams that we can’t figure out. There are many theories out there about why we dream and for what purpose we have these dreams. We know that these dreams occur during a state of sleep known as REM sleep. What exactly is REM sleep and what are some theories of the purpose of dreams?

REM sleep is a cycle of sleep when brain activity is at its highest point during the night. The letters REM stand for the rapid eye movements that are observed during this cycle of sleep. REM sleep was discovered during the mid 1950’s. The discovery was made at the University of Chicago by graduate student Eugene Aserinsky and physiologist Nathaniel Kleitman who noticed that sleep subject’s eyes dart around beneath their closed lids (Lamberg 125-126). The cycles last from 80-90 minutes and occur frequently during the night. The first REM cycle usually begins within the first hour of being asleep (Miller V21). Sleep subjects report vivid dreams after being awakened during REM sleep much more often than when awakened during other cycles of sleep (Encyclopedia Britannica). during REM sleep the body is paralyzed while the brain is very active. In other cycles of sleep the brain is un-active while the body may still be able to move (Kantrowitz 38+). We know that the brain stem is responsible for shutting down the portion of the brain that is in control of motor activity during REM sleep (Miller V21). Some people who suffer from REM disorders where their bodies are not paralyzed allowing them to act out their dreams as they are having them. William Dement and his colleagues described that these disorders normally occur in men over fifty years old. A lot of times the dreams are of a violent nature with the dreamer fighting an attacker (Kantrowitz 38+).

There are many differing opinions on the purpose of our dreams. Although some theories have been dismissed as being false, scientists still are not positive of the purpose of our dreams. They can only make a suggestion of what they think the real purposes are of these fairy tales or nightmares we experience in the night. In an article by G. W. Domhoff, University of California at Santa Cruz, titled “Dreams: The Purpose of Dreams” he offered that Sigmund Freud was possibly the first famous dream theorist. Freud stated, “the purpose of dreams is to preserve sleep.” He believed we only dream when we are about to be awakened by something such as a hunger pang, sexual urge, or a need to use the bathroom. The discovery of REM sleep in 1953 has disproved Freud’s theory that dreams are to “preserve sleep” (Domhoff). We now know that during the night we dream as frequently as we have REM cycles. Freud had a theory about something that he called “dreamwork“. He described it as the minds way of censoring what is unacceptable during consciousness. The mind takes a wish or desire and doesn’t allow it to come out during consciousness but allows it to be formed into a dream to suppress the wish in the most un-harming circumstances (Robbins 14-15). Freud strongly believed that if we acted in our waking life as we do in our dreams that we would be referred to as being insane. Our dreams are a product of the censorship are mind uses during ourwaking lives so that we do not act on our impulses, but experience them in another way (Freud 50+). What most scientists can agree with is Freud’s statement that dreams are “the royal road to the unconscious” (Henig Z11).

Another famous dream theorist was Carl Jung, who was originally a follower of

Freud himself. Jung believed that dreams originate in the unconscious just as Freud did, but unlike Freud, Jung believed that dreams are the creativity of our mind rather than a defense. He believed that our dreams are not distorted or deceiving but they naively tell us exactly what they mean, if not directly, indirectly. Jung describes dreams as something that “compensates” for something that we are missing in our waking life personalities, and psyche. He uses the example of a person that works extremely long hours and doesn’t have time to do activities outside of work. This sort of person would dream of

having fun and going to parties. This compensation, as he describes it, is the person’s brain telling it to try to fix the problem of working the long hours by attending a party or social event. Jung believed that in order to make an accurate interpretation of one’s dream, the interpreter must first be aware of some of the characteristics of the dreamer.

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