Psychotherapy Services in South West London

REM, NREM and Dreams

Dreaming is caused by brain activity during sleep that is both biochemically and regionally different from that of waking states. The brain mind exhibits periodic self activation during sleep, these periods of activity, which occurs every 90 to 100 minutes, are accompanied by rapid eye movements and acute acceleration of the heart and respiration rates. When sleepers were awakened and asked to report it was found that REM sleep was characterized by longer, more bizarre and vivid dream accounts that those given on waking from non rapid eye movement NREM sleep. Such studies have been replicated many times over, 90-95% of awakenings from REM sleep produce dream reports, whereas only 5-10% of awakenings from NREM produce equivalent reports. Studies based on PET scans do indeed reveal the highly selective regional activation pattern of the brain of REM sleep. Major groups of researchers note that in REM sleep the limbic system, especially the amygdala, is activated while the frontal or executive areas of the brain are deactivated. They therefore assign to REM sleep a significant role in the processing of emotions. It comes as no surprise that the regional activation shown in these imaging studies confirms what therapists have long known, namely, that dreams are the mind’s vehicle for processing of emotional sates of being, particularly the fear, anger, anxiety or elation that figure prominently in dreams. Hobson describes dreams as the transparent exposure of an individual’s cognitive associations to, and means of coping with anxiety.

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