A couple months ago in AP Psych, we did dreams (and states of consciousness). A quick overview of what I learned:
1. There are five levels of consciousness: conscious, nonconscious, preconscious, subconscious, and unconscious. Sleep (which I always thought was unconcious) is actually conscious, that first level.
2. Sleep is on a 25 hour cycle of 5 stages.
- Stage 1 is that couple minutes when you're halfway between awake and asleep.
- Stage 2 is when you're fully asleep, but it's not deep sleep yet.
- Stages 3 and 4 are deep sleep - this is the stage where your body heals and grows.
- REM sleep is where you dream: it's often called paradoxical sleep, because your brain is active and your body is paralyzed (to prevent you from getting hurt while acting out your dreams).
- Freud (the man who came up with that stereotypical "and how do you feel?", lying on a couch, telling someone your deepest secrets) decided dreams are a roadway to the unconscious, that last, deepest level of consciousness. Dreams have underlying meaning; they'll help you solve your problems. They are censored stories that represent our innermost emotions.
- The activation-synthesis theory is more biological. Our brain is trying to interpret the random electrical activity we have while sleeping. This is why dreams make no sense: our mind is simply throwing random tidbits at us while we're asleep.
- (There's a 3rd theory, the information-processing theory, that basically says dreams are a way to deal with stress. I didn't really count this one as a theory, although AP Psych seems to.)
5. You can actually dream while you're not in REM sleep - it's called NREM sleep (non-REM sleep). REM sleep is associated with negative emotions, NREM sleep is associated with positive emotions: people with depression actually spend more time in REM sleep, which exacerbates their depression.
6. I remember a program I watched on dreams (I didn't write any notes down for that particular documentary -- I think it was NOVA -- which kinda irks me) that told about a man who decided dreams were actually a biological way to remember danger: your ancestors from Old Stone Age times passed on dreams of falling, of running away, of other dangers to the next generation (through handy genetics). It's been passed all the way down to you, to warn you of the perils of nature. That's why you have nightmares.
A lot of writers say they came up with the idea for their book (and indeed, a lot of people in history who aren't writers came up with their ideas) through dreams. Indeed, some of my favorite ideas come up through dreams. What do you think? Are dreams random images, a pathway into your deepest level of consciousness, or a genetic warning?
Have a blessed day, and watch your dreams! You never know what might happen.
(By the way, the information here is from my AP Psych class and an article, "The Meaning of Dreams" by Jonathan Winson.)