Dreams - Dream Interpretation With James Harvey Stout
The Body During Sleep
The body during non-REM sleep and dreams.
- The body during non-REM sleep. We have a uniform heart rate and
breathing. The eyes move slowly, in contrast to the rapid eye
movements of REM. The body is not experiencing "sleep paralysis," but
neither is it receiving instructions for movement.
- The body during dreams. It experiences an increase in heart rate,
blood pressure, gastric acid (in people who have ulcers), body
temperature, metabolic rate, blood flow in the brain, and glucose
consumption. Certain hormones are released, but others are suppressed.
The heart also becomes more vigorous; this might be one reason for the
heart attacks which some people experience during sleep. Our
respiration rate varies according to the content of the dream; if we
dream that we are running, we breathe rapidly. (During lucid dreams,
our heart rate and oxygen consumption are even higher than they are
during non-lucids.) Our large muscles become very relaxed and, in a
sense, paralyzed (thus, "sleep paralysis") -- probably so that those
muscles cannot "act out" any dreams which occur; however, muscles
might twitch in the face and fingers. The sexual organs are stimulated
(particularly if the dream has sexual content, or if the dreamer
during wakefulness has been sexually aroused or deprived); a man
experiences an erection (partial or full), and a woman's vagina
becomes moist. The body is more physiologically active during later
REM periods than it is during the first period.
- The eye movements. During a study of sleep-time EEG readings in
the 1950s, Eugene Aserinksy and Dr. Nathaniel Kleitman "discovered"
rapid-eye movements in infants; their first series of subsequent
experiments were based on the assumption that REM occurred only in
infants, and only later did they find that adults also exhibit REM.
The rapid-eye movements during REM occur probably because we look at
moving objects in our dreams. In lucid-dream experiments, when people
moved the eyes of their dream-body in a left-right pattern, their
physical eyes moved accordingly. Eye movements are measured in a sleep
lab by an electrooculogram (EOG).
- What is sleep paralysis? It is a natural condition which occurs
when we are in REM sleep; we might become aware of it when we are
falling asleep into REM or waking up from REM. In this state, we are
unable to move or speak. This is called "the cataleptic state" in
Oliver Fox's book, Astral Projection.
- Why does sleep paralysis happen? During REM sleep, a dream seems
real because the brain is issuing commands to the muscles to enact the
action which is depicted in the dream; from the perspective of those
parts of the brain, the dream scenario is happening physically.
Obviously we would be endangered if we walked and ran in our sleep
(with eyes closed and no sensory input from the physical world). To
protect us, the brain paralyzes most muscles so that they cannot
respond to the commands; this condition is described medically as a
"profound loss of muscle tone." The paralysis is accomplished by
"neural inhibitors" in the bloodstream; in experiments where these
inhibitors were blocked in cats (chemically or by surgically removing
the parts of the brain which inhibit motor activity during dreams),
the animals dramatized their REM sleep with vigorous movement. We
might experience sleep paralysis consciously when we wakefully enter
the REM state -- or when we awaken directly from REM (and, for some
reason, the endocrine system continues to release the neural
inhibitors which sustain the paralysis).
- Sleep paralysis is not total. The exempt muscles include those of
the lungs and heart -- and the eyes, as in "rapid eye movement." The
heart and lungs are obviously needed for the maintenance of life, but
we can only wonder why the eyes are also excluded. Other parts of the
body are able to exhibit some movement. Paralysis is most thorough in
the large muscles (and the voice muscles) which would dramatize our
dream (but we have all seen dogs twitching their legs during apparent
dreams). In laboratory tests, dreamers were awakened to describe their
dream actions; the muscles which would correspond to those actions had
been registering slight movements and increases in muscle tension and
electrical activity. During tests on lucid dreamers, the paralysis was
more acute, but the sleeping subjects were able to consciously create
physical-body twitches in their hands, forearms, and feet (with an
intensity corresponding to the dream-body's experience). The lucid
dreamers could also control their breathing -- "holding" it or
- Some people don't experience sleep paralysis. This rare condition,
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, prevents sleep paralysis, so the victims
act out their dreams with some or all of their muscle facility.
Imagine the danger and destruction which would occur if we portrayed
some of our dreams and nightmares; one man who has this condition
dreamed that he was attacked by a wild animal, and when he tried to
break its neck, he was awakened by the screams of his wife whom he had
supposed to be the beast.
- Sleep paralysis is harmless but it might be frightening. When I
first experienced sleep paralysis, I had never heard of it; I awoke
but could not move, and I was overwhelmed by terror and confusion. Now
I know that sleep paralysis is a normal component of REM sleep; in
that instance, I went back to sleep, but the immobilization would have
dissipated soon after this awakening anyway. When sleep paralysis
occurs, all that we can do is wait for the condition to wear off,
while gently trying to move our facial muscles and other muscles.
However, sleep paralysis might be fatal to infants; some researchers
have speculated that SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) occurs when
the neural inhibitors are released in excessive amounts, paralyzing
not only the muscles which need to be constrained but also the heart
- Certain effects might accompany wakeful sleep paralysis. During my
first incident of sleep paralysis, another phenomenon added to the
horror: I saw the image of a sinister-looking "spirit" sitting next to
me, and I concluded that it must be causing the paralysis as part of
an "attack." (I apparently misunderstood the paralysis, but I believe
that the spirit presence was real.) By the time I had my second
experience of sleep paralysis, I had read about it, but I was too
groggy to identify my condition as such; I distinctly heard the sounds
of two or three people walking around in my bedroom, and then I felt
them running their hands across my body -- and I wanted to jump up and
defend myself, but I was could not move, and I thought that the
paralysis was due to terror. During sleep paralysis, many people say
that they are assaulted by images which resemble people, monsters,
succubi and incubi (which are explained in the chapter on nightmares),
or a general fiendish presence. They might also experience
hallucinations, sounds (buzzing, hissing, roaring), and bodily
sensations (vibrations, electricity, a sense of being touched,
difficulty in breathing, or a weight on the chest). Some people feel
that they are leaving their body; this and the other symptoms do
parallel those of the out-of-body (OBE) state.
Sleepwalking. Sleepwalking -- or somnambulism -- is one of our
most unusual sleep activities.
- The characteristics of sleepwalking. Sleepwalkers have certain
attributes in common.
Sleepwalking and REM. Sleepwalking does not occur during REM
sleep, when "sleep paralysis" would prevent movement. It usually
happens approximately one hour after the start of sleep, when we are
in stage 4 of the first cycle. When sleepwalking occurs, this stage 4
period lasts for an extended period of time, and it is occasionally
interrupted by brief arousals.
The dangers of sleepwalking. Perception is limited during this
state, so sleepwalkers have fallen from balconies and staircases, or
walked into furniture or traffic, or suffered injuries from sharp
objects (or from the windows which they break). The sleepwalker's
environment should be a safe one -- with no dangerous items, and a
door which cannot be opened by the sleeper.
Sleeptalking. This related phenomenon generally occurs during
non-REM sleep; at that time, the utterances tend to be illogical and
unintelligible. However, sleeptalking can also occur during REM sleep,
because sleep paralysis does not affect breathing, and the vocal
apparatus is able to move enough to simulate speech. During REM, the
discourse is more likely to make sense.
|The families. Sleepwalking is a typical, normal activity of
young children; most people outgrow it (but the behavior is often
passed to their children). |
|Abilities. Sleepwalking children tend to move awkwardly and can
perform only simple tasks. Adults have achieved complex actions,
such as driving a car. |
|Behaviors. Sleepwalkers often engage in repetitive movements;
e.g., opening and closing a door incessantly. They might pursue a
forbidden venture, such as eating food which is not permitted by
their diet. |
|The wakeful precursors. Sleepwalking is most likely to occur
when the wakeful activities have precipitated an unusually deep
"stage 4" during the first cycle of the sleep period. That condition
might have been caused by exhaustion (from strenuous wakefulness or
from previous lack of sleep). |
|The length of time. Sleepwalking usually ends within 15 minutes.
|The motivation. Sleepwalkers are generally prompted by fear or
concern; they get out of bed to resolve an imagined problem. They
are not responding to a REM dream. |
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