Theories attempting to explain the origin and functions of REM sleep
include: (1) that REM sleep provides stimulation for the development of the
brain; (2) that it performs a chemical restoration function, since during REM
dreaming neuro-protein synthesis occurs along with the restoration of other
depleted brain chemicals; (3) that it provides oculomotor (eye movement)
coordination, since during non-REM sleep the eyes move independently of each
other; (4) that it provides a vigilance function, since REM sleep (stage I) is
characterized by a level of consciousness close to the awakened state; (5) in a
more recent and controversial theory, REM dreaming performs a neurological
erasure function, eliminating extraneous information build-up in the memory
system; and (6) that, in a more cognitive psychological explanation, REM
dreaming enhances memory storage and reorganization.
Contrary to popular belief, dreaming is not caused by eating certain
foods before bedtime, nor by environmental stimuli during sleeping. Dreaming is
caused by internal biological process. Some researchers have proposed the
activation-synthesis hypothesis. Their neurological research indicates that
large brain cells in the primitive brain stem spontaneously fire about every 90
minutes, sending random stimuli to cortical areas of the BRAIN. As a
consequence, memory, sensory, muscle-control, and cognitive areas of the brain
are randomly stimulated, resulting in the higher cortical brain attempting to
make some sense of it. This, according to the research, gives rise to the
experience of a dream. Now, as in the past, the most significant controversy
centers on the question of whether dreams have intentional, or actual personal,
meaning. Many psychotherapists maintain that while the neurological impulses
from the brain stem may activate the dreaming process, the content or meaningful
representations in dreams are caused by nonconscious needs, wishes, desires, and
everyday concerns of the dreamer. Thus, such psychotherapists subscribe to the
phenomenological-clinical, or "top-down," explanation, which holds that dreams
are 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. Content
analysis simply describes and classifies the various representations in dreams,
such as people, houses, cars, trees, animals, and color, though no deep
interpretation is attributed to the content. Differences in content have been
discovered between the dreams of males and females, and between dreams and
occurring in different developmental stages of life. What these differences
mean is under investigation.
Some recent research seems to indicate that dream content reflects
problems that the dreamer experiences in life, and that the function of such
dreams is to facilitate the emotional resolution of the problems. Numerous
accounts exist of scientific problems being resolved, and literary works being
developed in dreams after dreamers had consciously immersed themselves in a
problem for an extended time.
Cognitive psychologists are concerned with logic and thought processing
during dreaming, and how they are different from mental processes during the
waking state. In studies of the developmental cognitive processes of children\'s
dreams, for instance, it has been found that the increasing complexity of
children\'s dreams parallel waking cognitive development. Many researchers
believe that knowledge about dreaming is important for understanding waking
Current and future research issues involve further establishing and
extending all of the above areas. Anthropologists are studying cross-culture
similarities and differences in dreams. Research into NIGHTMARES and bizarre
dreams continues. In addition, REM research is important for understanding
psychobiological abnormalities. Some findings indicate that epileptic seizures
are suppressed during REM sleep. Narcoleptics, people who may involuntarily fall
asleep at any time, enter REM sleep almost immediately. Research continues on
the variations in dream recall. For instance, artists tend to recall more
dreams than scientists, and, for the population at large, only a small
percentage of dreams are recalled. Lucid dreaming, the ability of dreamers to
become aware of and to control their dreams while dreaming, is also the focus of
some current research. Some lucid dreamers can learn to communicate with
researchers through nonverbal signals. New research also promises to yield
significant knowledge about memory, storage and retrieval, cognitive
organization, psychobiological processes, human consciousness, and specific
operations of the mind

Category: Science