Dreaming in Psychology


By Pierre Khazen

Written in 2005


Physiological Psychology:


All of us spend some time sleeping and we know its necessity. When we sleep, we are not conscious and not able to know what goes around us. When we sleep, we go through physiological changes called physiological correlates of sleep which act according to what we experience when sleeping. There are different levels of sleep such level 4 sleep where people are relaxed, deeply asleep, and find it hard to wake up. In level 2 sleep, people are a little asleep and could be easily awaken up. They are 4 levels of brain activities that we move from one to another through our sleeping at night. When sleeping at night, we experience 5 to 6 cycles of sleep. A typical night of 7 – 8 hours will let us go through 5 – 6 cycles of sleep where the first cycle of sleep would reach level 4 while the others would decrease levels in each next cycle of sleep. Oddly to what has been said earlier, when a person has gone through a cycle of sleep and goes back to level 1 in the next cycle of sleep, he seems to be deeply asleep as if he were in level 4 and this case is called paradoxical sleep while the other conventional sleep is called orthodox sleep. In paradoxical sleep, people tend to make fast movements in their eyes and tend to report that they have been dreaming. It seems that people dream at this stage of sleep. It has been suggested that in the areas of cerebral cortex in the brain, there is a mechanism called reticular activating system which is responsible for us to focus attention and arousal and sleep or wake up.


The above was concluded by performing EEG tests to measure electrical activity in brains of volunteers.


The patterns which we reflect during the 24 hours are called circadian rhythms while diurnal rhythms are of the day and nocturnal rhythms are of the night. Human beings are diurnal creatures as we are active during the day and go to sleep at night. Our internal body clock relies on external clues such time of day, daylight and darkness, temperature but if we are unable to identify them then the 24 hour rhythm could slip slightly but the over all pattern of active and passive periods are still similar. Shift work such nurses who some times work at night has been discovered to be able to adjust to their new time table.


Dreaming: The discovery that people dream during paradoxical sleep or REM for alternative term, gives us the opportunity to investigate this phenomena where investigators could identify different characteristics of dreaming. Study by investigators concluded that all of us dream at night for different periods of time although some times we do not remember it and that is related to the period and sleep cycle in which we wake up from. People who wake up from a period of REM sleep tend to remember their dreams while people who wake up from level 2 or 3 sleep tend to forget them.


There were different investigations regarding the nature of dreaming and it was concluded that dreamers are not completely unconscious to external stimuli or to what was happening around them. One example was spraying lightly some water at the volunteers while they were sleeping and then wake them up who reported that they dreamt about rain or washing. Investigations concluded also that dreams last for longer than what we thought and they are not rapid. Another kind of dreams is lucid dreams where you are aware that you are dreaming but you carry on dreaming. Investigators who observed volunteers in laboratories got to the conclusion that there was a light electric signal when dreamers got to the REM sleep phase. This signal was not strong enough to wake them up but it would let them know that they were dreaming now and from that moment they are in the lucid dreams phase. The participants of such researches helped to identify eye movements as signals to dreaming where 3 rapid flicks to the left meant the start and 4 would mean the end. The participants were able to control their dreams while they were dreaming and that is by thinking about some thing they wanted it to happen so they would fit it into their scenario of the dream. Another way to control our dreams is by inserting a realistic thing that would fit to the context of the dream.


The Psychoanalytic Approach:


Why do we dream? There were different theories about this matter and Freud’s theory in 1901 was the most acceptable saying that in dreams the unconscious part of mind comes to the fore. Dreams express our hidden desires and wishes that are very buried in our minds to the degree that we are not aware of them consciously. These desires need to appear in the dream because our conscious mind is not aware of them so they wear a mask. Freud to this issue created a theory called dream symbolism claiming that the images that we see in our dreams symbolized things that our conscious mind was not aware of. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory was mostly based on interpretation of dreams where his theory of personality claimed that mind is made of one part that is the ego that is the consciousness while the id and superego part were in the unconscious mind. Having the superego and id are always trying to reach the ego, the ego tries to defend itself by blocking them as it sees them as threatening factors. In dreams the situation is the same, so the demands of the id and superego have to be done in a disguised way. Dreamwork is a term that Freud uses to describe how these wishes are disguised. Dreamwork uses symbols to show hidden desires. Some examples to illustrate the point.


1. A tall tower may symbolize a penis 2. Cave could symbolize female genitals 3. Houses may symbolize the womb 4. A vulture may symbolize death.


Freud’s theory relies very much on sexual imagery as he considered sex as the most important factor to our behavior.


Freud mentioned other aspects of dream work as he referred to the unconscious mind as capable of creating various images of opposite essence to avoid detection.                                                                                                                            


Another theory about the functions of dreaming was established by Evans in 1984 saying that we dream to let the brain organize the big number of impressions that we had during a whole day by deciding what should be forgotten and what has to be sorted out.


The highlight of words refers to basic terms in Psychology.