HomeHealthArchivesJan 2004

 

The World of Dreams

  The peaceful mien of the sleeper conceals an active world. Furiously sparking neurons, memories continuously picked apart and reassembled in bizarre forms, rhythmic waves of electricity...that's the world of dreaming, and the more researchers learn about it, the more they're convinced that dream images aren't bizarre or random. Instead, according to Vogue, dreaming seems to perform a healthy emotional function.

 Dreaming typically begins about 90 minutes after we fall asleep. As our pulse quickens and breathing becomes ragged and irregular, our eyes begin darting about wildly under their lids. The first period of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep has begun.

 During the three to five REM cycles we experience each night, the area of the brain that processes visual information is constantly stimulated by bursts of electrical impulses, causing the "visuals" we know as dreams.

 Scientists believe that a given night's dreaming is a logical, linear progression through memory "networks"-with the first dream tapping into one area of memories, and subsequent dreams going back to that area repeatedly, using the same and related memories in different ways. One scientist says memory is accessed like a filing system which can reveal more in one night about how a person's emotional world is organized than could "10 psychotherapy sessions."

 Dreams are "survival mechanisms," helping us use what we've learned over a lifetime to adapt to periods of great stress and emotional difficulties. Studies have shown a link, in fact, between dreaming about some emotional difficulty and actually being able to come to grips with it during waking hours.

 Men and women both use dreams this way, but the dreams themselves differ among the sexes. Women's dreams are more often pleasant, indoor interludes involving relationships. Men's dreams are more often full of confrontation and aggression, involve objects and take place outdoors. Women also more often experience bad things in their dreams, such as humiliation or belittlement-regardless of how assertive and self-confident they may be when awake.