The Science of Dreams

Let’s start at the beginning. There are two distinct types of sleep phases. One has been given the unpretentious acronym “REM,” for “rapid eye movement,” while the other is simply NREM, for “non-rapid eye movement.” By studying volunteers in labs, researchers have been able to observe this very distinct “REM” action. Actually, this eye movement has been seen in animals as well.

These two phases of sleep (REM and NREM) follow each other throughout the course of the sleep cycle. The only difference is the increase in the duration of REM as the sleep cycle goes on. The cycle of NREM and REM repeats itself several times throughout the night (or sleep cycle). This repetition occurs at approximately 90-minute intervals. So as the night progresses, our dreams increase in length. On average, the first one begins at about ten minutes, increasing to anywhere between 20 and 40 minutes in length. It is this last dream that most people remember upon awakening.

To be more specific, during our wake cycle we are in the Beta state – the state in which our fastest brain waves occur. As we lie down to sleep and become drowsy, our brain waves begin to move more slowly.

Then, as we begin to drift into the Alpha wave pattern, we can actually feel ourselves moving in and out of reality. As our brain waves continue to slow down, we move rapidly from Alpha to Theta, and finally to the Delta state. All this takes place in a matter of minutes.

Once we reach the Delta state for the first time that night, an interesting thing happens – our bodies become quite still. Researchers have commented that from a distance, it looks as if we are watching something. This, of course, is indeed true. We are watching our own inner dramas – otherwise known as our dreams!

Many times we have serial dreams. That is, many dreams that contain the same theme. Since our dream recall usually only centers on that final dream, we only realize that we are having serial dreams after having them for several nights.

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