Dreams are one of the most mysterious phenomena in life. From the ancient times to the 21st century, it is still mankind’s highest quest to decipher the secrets hidden in our dreams and to understand role of dreaming in our lives precisely. Throughout history most of the religions / cultures believed that dreams are prophetic, visionary and psychic in nature OR dreams are an alternative reality. Dreams were also considered being capable to foretell the future. During the past, many religious/ cultural scholars have made efforts to decipher the secrets hidden in dreams and have offered elucidations for dreams which are diversified in nature and conflicting too.
On the other hand scientific researchers of today have offered conflicting psychological and neuroscientific explanations for dreams. Some have characterized dreams as meaningless and still another group believes that dreaming process is actually a process of unlearning. Only some researchers believe that dreams are indeed prophetic, psychic or visionary in nature. In a 1997 Scientific American article, researcher Jonathan Winson suggested that dreams can act as a pivot in designing the survival strategies.
2. Sleep Process
To be able to understand the dreaming process firstly one should be able to understand the sleep process. Human regular sleep cycle (only followed during normal night’s sleep or regular sleep) has been characterized by researchers as follows;
- Hypnogogic State is initiatory in sleep cycle which is a state of drowsiness immediately before sleep. It is a period of several minutes when thoughts cause fragmented dream like images. Hypnogogic state can be associated with one’s inner personal emotions or feelings. These fragmented dreams can either portray sleeper’s professional activities or can depict one’s beloved ones in dream. Prevailing emotions in waking life are also prevalent in dreams seen during existing state of sleep. This stage is followed by “Slow-Wave Sleep” when brain waves are low in frequency and large in amplitude. This stage lasts for 90 minutes or so.
- REM Sleep Stage A night's sleep is punctuated by periods in which the brain waves are irregular in frequency and low in amplitude—similar to those observed in awake individuals. These periods of mental activity are called D-sleep (dreaming, or desynchronized, sleep), or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The REM sleep stage is characterized by rapid eye movement, small movement in the muscles of the face, faster and more irregular pulse and respiration, and higher blood pressure. Autonomic nervous system is activated. REM sleep occurs cyclically. First REM stage last for 10 minutes. It progressively increases in length during second and third REM stage. In final fourth or fifth interval of REM sleep lasts for 20 to 30 minutes. It is easier to arouse someone from this stage. It constitutes about 25 % of night’s sleep.
- NREM Sleep Stage Normally at sleep onset there is a rapid movement from stage 1 sleep to stage 4, i.e., we go right into the deep Non-REM or NREM sleep also known as S sleep (for synchronized sleep) or stage 4 sleep. Pulse, respiration rate and blood pressure are lowered and no eye, facial or body movements are noted. Little activation of Autonomic Nervous System (The autonomic system that controls the action of the glands; the functions of the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and urogenital systems; and the involuntary muscles in these systems and in the skin) is found. The brain waves are more regular and lower frequency (1~4 cycles per second). Muscles relax, although whole body jerks may be observed. In this deep sleep stage it becomes more difficult to arouse the person. The sleep cycle alternating slow wave and REM sleep continues throughout night. As we continue through the night, we enter deep S sleep less often, and after about 6 hours remain between stages 1 and 2. We typically go through four to six dream periods in an eight-hour night, which might be surprising since we are often unable to recall even one of these dreams.
3. Nature of Dreams during Sleep