Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dreaming Consciousness

I found some interesting information that I read in the second volume of The New Science of Dreaming that deals with waking and sleeping consciousness. I shared this information with R and figured that it should be shared with the readers since it is such exciting info to myself.

When we are awake the part of our brains called the thalamus is one of those things that is on the list of activated items. This in turn activates the cerbral cortex causing what we consider as waking normal consciousness. During the first stages of sleep just the opposite is accruing, as the thalamus is considered as inactive. However, in stage 2 of NREM the thalamus shows partial activation and in turn shows full activation as it reaches REM. This process is controlled by the cholinergic system as well as many other types of brain activation functions. As this comes to a shock to me and raises many different questions, it does make some sense as it is a means for why we dream in NREM stage 2. It also disproves the aspect that all dreams have no meaning, based on the concept that we are conscious while asleep and can make conscious decisions regardless of the scene around us. It also shows that we are somewhat conscious during the transtional phase between NREM and REM where sleep paralysis as well as the sudden shutting down of what seems to be important waking aspects (long term memory ect..)as well as the activation of the fearful amygdala.

Here is the model showing these transition with the updated key points of the thalamus:

I ask this now, is it possible that we are always at least slightly conscious during the transition between NREM and REM and experience these terrible effects of auditory and visual hallucinations while partially awake as well as sleep paralysis but just don't remember it?



  1. that's a great final question.... and impossible to answer! all we have are the "artifacts" of dreaming: our memory of the experience, and its communication (via journal, dream sharing, artwork, or other communicatory event.) I have heard Tibetan Buddhists claim they remain conscious throughout the sleep cycle (and Ken Wilber has made similar claims). early studies of proving this have focused on alpha wave spikes in the EEG. what would be interesting is to run an experiment with experienced meditators and see if their cholinergic systems show "irregularity" in NREM.

  2. Ryan,

    Thanks for the comments and you are correct it is impossible to answer the question with 100% certainty. The evidence is some what supporting though in the fact that people can experience sleep paralysis, lucid dreaming, and auditory and visual hallucinations while in NREM phase 2 sleep. I myself have known that I lucid dreamed many times, but just remembered the thought that I had, and not what about. Though its not a very powerful hypothesis, I still would suggest that its a fact of teaching themselves to remember things like OBE and LD rather than achieving the act themselves. This teaching of remembering is based on physically changing the chemical makeup of sleep and disrupting the sleep pattern that we consider as normal.


  3. love the way you put that - "teaching of remembering." I practice this as learning to create connections between waking and dreaming consciousness, which, who knows, may be disrupting the chemical makeup of alertness too!

  4. I completely agree with you Ryan. I would absolutely love to do a study, (assuming one hasn’t been done already) regarding individuals who claim to be able to be able to stay conscious during the entire sleep cycle. One wonders what the effects of this kind of training are to your brain and body. L and I were just talking about how some serious Buddhist meditators, (I’m thinking particularly of Lama Yeshe) look like they are on the verge of falling asleep at any second. Perhaps you are right, in that the ability to connect the dreaming and waking aspects of consciousness may have negative aspects on an individual’s ability to stay in an alert state! Which, in our ever-demanding “on the go” society, may indeed be perceived as a negative.

    Thanks again for your great comments and for reading the blog.

  5. Also to add to this, I noticed that when I was experiencing lucid dreaming I had felt sleepier during the day than days that I did not experience the effects of lucid dreams. I continue to believe more and more that we all experience this lucid dreaming type of event, but its so early on in the sleep phase that our brains are built to forget it. I noticed that many different groups who teach individuals how to lucid dream better seem to point to the aspect of remembering as being the key point. I think that the other type of energy work that they do just helps the mind remember the effects. I have even had lucid dreams that I forget about until something later in the day triggers my memory and I remember that I had this amazing control over my dream world.

    Thanks for the info Ryan and great support!


  6. Dear L&R,

    Indeed memory is a key factor, but I challenge the claim that a sleeper can stay fully aware (and remember) their entire sleep/dream cycle. Dreams are a powerfully emotional experience and even the best lucid dreams become fragmented memories with time. Remembering a few of the better dreams is fine, but staying alert with a fully capable memory during sleep/dream is at odds with what the neuroscientists know is going on chemically. To see what it must be like to try to stay fully conscious with a fully active memory, spend an entire waking day trying to remember everything that’s happening to you. I tried this once for a few hours and it was quite taxing mentally. Because you have to simultaneously be alert and aware of your present experiences plus be able to reflect upon all the memories that immediately preceded those experiences. This may be a bit easier in dream because your external senses are suppressed, but the brain is creating its own simulated senses and that requires thought energy. Another exercise it to try and remember what you did (and felt) just a few hours ago with a normally alert mind, and think how hard that exercise is during dreaming. Doing memory work and meditating does strengthen the mind, but when the natural chemical processes of sleep/dream take over the mind weakens. I believe the Tibetan dream/sleep Yoga’s do lead to a higher sense of inner awareness during sleep/dream, but it is difficult to cause the dreaming brain (with thought power alone) to alter its neurochemical state. And recall that the controlling mind itself is under the influence of these neurochemical changes; it’s like pulling on a rope attached to yourself to move forward, or being in a feedback loop. We are getting closer everyday to understanding theoretically how we sleep/dream, but it will be sometime before we reveal the mystery of why we do it.


    Scot Stride

  7. Scot,

    Thanks for your post. I think you may have misunderstood what I said from the post. The research that I was reading about only said that we are partially conscious during NREM stage 2 of sleep and fully conscious during REM. Its at least as conscious during REM as waking, but other parts of our brain are deactivated and activated, changing how we think. The change in consciousness that we feel, I believe is not an subconscious but just an altered state of our many consciousness. You are right when you say we know very little about the dreaming world.