DreamsTheories attempting to explain the origin and functions of REM sleepinclude: (1) that REM sleep provides stimulation for the development of thebrain; (2) that it performs a chemical restoration function, since during REMdreaming neuro-protein synthesis occurs along with the restoration of otherdepleted brain chemicals; (3) that it provides oculomotor (eye movement)coordination, since during non-REM sleep the eyes move independently of eachother; (4) that it provides a vigilance function, since REM sleep (stage I) ischaracterized by a level of consciousness close to the awakened state; (5) in amore recent and controversial theory, REM dreaming performs a neurologicalerasure function, eliminating extraneous information build-up in the memorysystem; and (6) that, in a more cognitive psychological explanation, REMdreaming enhances memory storage and reorganization.
Contrary to popular belief, dreaming is not caused by eating certainfoods before bedtime, nor by environmental stimuli during sleeping. Dreaming iscaused by internal biological process. Some researchers have proposed theactivation-synthesis hypothesis. Their neurological research indicates thatlarge brain cells in the primitive brain stem spontaneously fire about every 90minutes, sending random stimuli to cortical areas of the BRAIN.
As aconsequence, memory, sensory, muscle-control, and cognitive areas of the brainare randomly stimulated, resulting in the higher cortical brain attempting tomake some sense of it. This, according to the research, gives rise to theexperience of a dream. Now, as in the past, the most significant controversycenters on the question of whether dreams have intentional, or actual personal,meaning. Many psychotherapists maintain that while the neurological impulsesfrom the brain stem may activate the dreaming process, the content or meaningfulrepresentations in dreams are caused by nonconscious needs, wishes, desires, andeveryday concerns of the dreamer. Thus, such psychotherapists subscribe to thephenomenological-clinical, or “top-down,” explanation, which holds that dreamsare intentionally meaningful messages from the unconscious.
The neurological,or “bottom-up,” explanation maintains that dreams have no intentional meaning.In between these two positions is an approach called content analysis. Contentanalysis simply describes and classifies the various representations in dreams,such as people, houses, cars, trees, animals, and color, though no deepinterpretation is attributed to the content. Differences in content have beendiscovered between the dreams of males and females, and between dreams andoccurring in different developmental stages of life. What these differencesmean is under investigation.Some recent research seems to indicate that dream content reflectsproblems that the dreamer experiences in life, and that the function of suchdreams is to facilitate the emotional resolution of the problems. Numerousaccounts exist of scientific problems being resolved, and literary works beingdeveloped in dreams after dreamers had consciously immersed themselves in aproblem for an extended time.
Cognitive psychologists are concerned with logic and thought processingduring dreaming, and how they are different from mental processes during thewaking state. In studies of the developmental cognitive processes of children’sdreams, for instance, it has been found that the increasing complexity ofchildren’s dreams parallel waking cognitive development. Many researchersbelieve that knowledge about dreaming is important for understanding wakingimagination.Current and future research issues involve further establishing andextending all of the above areas. Anthropologists are studying cross-culturesimilarities and differences in dreams. Research into NIGHTMARES and bizarredreams continues.
In addition, REM research is important for understandingpsychobiological abnormalities. Some findings indicate that epileptic seizuresare suppressed during REM sleep. Narcoleptics, people who may involuntarily fallasleep at any time, enter REM sleep almost immediately. Research continues onthe variations in dream recall. For instance, artists tend to recall moredreams than scientists, and, for the population at large, only a smallpercentage of dreams are recalled.
Lucid dreaming, the ability of dreamers tobecome aware of and to control their dreams while dreaming, is also the focus ofsome current research. Some lucid dreamers can learn to communicate withresearchers through nonverbal signals. New research also promises to yieldsignificant knowledge about memory, storage and retrieval, cognitiveorganization, psychobiological processes, human consciousness, and specificoperations of the mind Science