Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"What Are Dreams?" (Nova Documentary)

This documentary was terribly fascinating (I found it on Netflix Instant Watch). They cover how researchers learned of the dream types by observing electrical activity in the brain and how our bodies become hypotonic during REM sleep so that we’re paralyzed and can’t act out our dreams.

They follow research done on mice that has been extremely helpful. The mouse’s brain activity was recorded as he ran a maze. Then, when he went to sleep, they observed that dreams during his non-REM state were bits of his maze experience in tiny second bursts, very brief, very sporadic. Then, in his REM state he replayed the maze experience like a full-feature film with his body paralyzed to keep him from acting out this very life-like scenario that feels like he’s experiencing this. REM dreams 5 times longer than non-REM dreams.

They assume that humans during non-REM are taking their pasts and seeing how it might relate to the future and in REM we are trying to experience and move into the future. Facing challenges and test possibilities ahead of time. The future is unknown, but we can step into it without risk in REM state, testing scenarios. Dreams have been responsible for noble prizes, scientific discoveries, novels, films, and visual arts. We can think outside the box and less linear.

Testing on subjects before and after sleep proved interesting results. Given a word association puzzle to solve, the subjects are graded. One third of them are left to sit and rest for a while. One third of them are left to sleep but awakened before REM sleep. One third of them are left to sleep through REM sleep. Upon completion of their quiet time, they’re given the test again, at which time the subjects who slept through REM sleep scored exceedingly higher compared to their pre-rest score and the other two groups had no improvement at all. It creates free association through the parts of the brain that solves puzzles more. Connecting old and new ideas and making new solutions.

About 50% of people can dream about a subject they want if they remind themselves before falling asleep, “I will dream about my term paper” and they will usually get a gratifying response to that desire with a sense of resolution.

Nightmares are actually very important. Primitive states show up in our dreams much like ancient man, being stalked by creatures. They were simulated rehearsals for survival in the waking world. As children, it might be creatures. As we get older, it’s more modern settings like forgetting your locker combination or phone number, serial killers, et cetera.

Some say we don’t dream, but we just don’t remember them. There are some people who actually have no dreams; those who have had strokes and had damaged parietal lobes. Parietal lobes combine our senses and the space generated for existing in dreams is produced from that region.

Do dreams mean anything? One scientist took elements in dreams and gave them a number and then coded dreams down. They can compare someone’s dream elements with the “norm.” Some people’s dream series show a repetitive pattern of helplessness or frustration, anger or depression. They can compare a man whose dreams are mostly about misfortune with the common man of his age and find out his are disproportionally higher than average and then notice that he has all women in his dreams and no male examples and his encounters with women are negative. He can guess this man’s life is filled with concerns with female relationship issues and issues which he feels helpless to fix which are occurring in his life. The scientist found out a few years later that man divorced.

Most dreams are about our waking emotional concerns and preoccupations in social lives.

As odd and freaky as dreams can be, they really are about puzzle solving and working our skills. If you have a dream where a chipmunk climbs out of your desk drawer and asks you for a bottle of beer, there might be a situation in your life in which someone did something or something happened that was completely out of your expectations. Now, your dream is working to make you ready for such situations in the future, sort of dress-rehearsing.

That animals dream, as well as humans, is intriguing. Apparently, we all have skills to work. Next time your dog is sleeping and his legs are thrashing--he's surely chasing a cat into the next county.


  1. That is one I wish I hadn't missed, but it should be on again. Please let me know if you hear anything.

  2. Mary;
    I got to see it on Netflix Instant Watch, but I found online some places that show it:

    1. well... i watched the documentary. I liked it but I wished,Mary, that you wouldv'e includid Ross who was also a major part in the program

  3. I love dreams and sleep. We spent a lot of time on dream and sleep theory in all my biopsychologies. The most interesting theory I found was that deep sleep was for memory consolidation and there has been alot of research showing that without deep sleep you don't remember as well. My professors seemed to think that dreams were the brain's way of interpretting random neuronal firing at night.

  4. I have so many books on interpreting dreams. Isn't it fascinating how our minds stay so busy when we're sleeping :-)
    Great blog as always

  5. The lack of freaky dreams ironically means that you are a freak! that's what my brother the psychologist said.