I wanted to write today about a less researched area of dreaming that contributes to the effects of negative emotional hallucinations called Night Terrors (NT). This is a common subject for me because its one of those events that doesn’t make much sense to me, or most of the scientific world. It goes hand in hand with the question, why do our brains seem to have it out for us while we are sleeping? The answer is complicated but may relate to the area of our brain controlling emotion.
When someone experiences a NT (and are able to remember the events) they usually experience sleep paralysis along with a vivid hallucinations of negative effects. Sometimes the person feels like they are in their room and are being attacked by creatures or have the feeling of a presence in the room. If we break down these events into what science has shown us to be accruing during the transition from NREM to REM sleep, we can better understand the reasons for a NT.
For starters let’s look at the sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis has been shown to be experiences during the transitional phase of NREM to REM sleep. At this time the consciousness as we know it is starting to be broken apart as the brain starts to demodulate parts of the brain (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) that we count on in order to understand analytical thoughts and memory.
The brain also at this time is activating a defensive mechanism in the pontine brainstem in order to make it so the sleeping person doesn’t move around, hence the sleep paralysis. During this transition for modulation and demodulation most people either are unaware or don’t remember the events taking place (because of the demodulated prefrontal cortex). Both are a possibility because few people recall having a conscious recall of these events happening. People that do recall experiencing sleep paralysis comment about the ability to not being able to move no matter how hard they try. People with narcolepsy also sometimes experience sleep paralysis activation at any time. This explains why people have sleep paralysis, but not the full effects of a NT which include the traumatizing hallucinations?
The demodulation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is followed by the activation of the amygdale and parahippocampal cortex where emotions are given the controls to fly this emotional hypnotic dream plane called REM. With this dangerous combination, we have the flow of emotional anxiety along with the inability to remember much of what is going on as well as the inability to think correctly. This combination could easily result in a terrifying hallucination. For kicks, let us say that most people don’t experience NT not because they don’t remember them but because they don’t have them. This would mean that the natural activation of REM has something missing in what is described in the previous explanation.
Consciousness while dreaming is considered lucid dreaming. I find this definition of lucid dreaming is overly simplistic for me because of another question. If you don’t know you’re dreaming but are still fully conscious, and then what is that? I still consider it lucid dreaming but a different type of lucid dreaming. This event can only be described in one way and it also requires modulation and demodulation but in different terms of consciousness and subconscious control.
Let say that for the average person, the right hemisphere of the brain is another you, but not in the sense that we understand who we are, but a more emotional, less logical, and unable to speak you. During this transition from NREM to REM sleep we find that the switch from the conscious to the subconscious (the other you) is also taking place. During this transition from NREM and REM, if we were conscious we might experience the disassociation of self, or really two self’s meeting each other in the middle followed by the fearful hallucination thanks to our over activated amygdale. Some might ask, how could we get rid of this fearful event? Well the answer could be psychedelic drugs.
Users of psychedelic drugs also experience the same disassociation of self along with the conflict of conscious and subconscious communication. Feeling that there is a presence watching them seems to happen to users of psychedelic drugs but with most lower dose cases. These type of events were described in Dr. Strassmas research reports in New Mexico. If greater doses of the psychedelics were administered to patients the conscious disassociation would pass and the users would experience a fully psychedelic event.
Using psychedelic drugs as a model of what might happen to our brains during sleep, we can better understand which neurotransmitters and in what amounts may cause conscious disassociation during our transition from NREM to REM sleep. The obvious cause of conscious disassociation in relation to neurotransmitters is either too little or too much of a specific or group of neurotransmitters allowing the patient to linger in the between stages of NREM and REM and hence conscious and subconscious direct communication. Acetylcholine seems like a good neurotransmitter to put to blame since it has strong relations to the activation of REM. Administering a supplemented amount of Acetylcholine precursor would in fact disengage the sleeper from NREM and activate the REM cycle. In all reality however, it could be a number of neurotransmitters that cause NT's as an natural over-dose or under-dose. Either way we know more about the transitions between NREM and REM sleep today then ever before, allowing ourselves to separate ourselves from the pseudoscience of the past, and look to the future of scientific truths.
Strassman, R. (2001). DMT: Spirit Molecule. Rochester: Park Street Press.
LaBerge, S. & Levitan, L. (2004). Lucid Dreaming FAQ. Version 2.3, January 16, 2003
Barrett, D., & McNamara, P. (2007). The New Science of Dreaming. Greenwood Publishing Group.
Yuschak, T. (2006). Advanced Lucid Dreaming - The Power of Supplements. Lulu.com.
Hameroff, M. B. (Director). (2006). Dream Debate [Motion Picture].
Hobson, A. J. (2002). The Dream Drugstore: Chemically Altered States of Consciousness. MIT Press.
Hope this makes sense to someone.