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. 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!

  3. 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.