Friday, 4 February 2011

Psychology Friday: To Sleep, Perchance...

Perchance? Perchance to what? Perhcance to dream? Well, yes, in the original. But at the moment I'd happily settle for that long, dreamless NRAM version. NRAM? That's non-rapid eye movement to you and I. But until Dement and Kleitman did their research into sleep and dreaming in the 1950s, no-one really knew when dreams occurred, how often or still less, why. There'd been an awful lot of tosh talked about them, not least by that colossal fraud, Freud. But to this day, no-one really knows why we dream. But thanks to Dement and Kleitman we at least know when. And the answer is roughly every ninety minutes.

Basically, in five easy stages we sink deeper and deeper into sleep (as measured by our brain activity) until - by stage five - our body is as relaxed as it can possibly be: falling out of bed relaxed. But it's at this last stage of near paralysis that something interesting occurs: our brain-waves speed up to levels normally only seen when someone's wide-awake. And although our eyes are closed, they're moving. Rapidly. Hence, rapid eye movement sleep. And this, so the study ascertained, is when we dream.

And not just us. Babies do it, as do animals. But why we do it is a scientific mystery. Some suggest that dreams have a predictive quality; others  (Freud is an example) that they're manifestations of repressed memories; the most scientific answers suggest that dreams are problem-solving in some way, or the means of sifting memories. But they're only theories.

Dreams remain fascinating, though, on any number of levels. And recalling our most vivid and interesting ones is something most people do from time to time.

Just a pity this dog can't tell us what he's dreaming...

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