Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Question of The Week: "I can’t tell if I’m sleeping or dreaming."

"I can never tell if I’m sleeping or not. I still hear things going on. My heart rate goes up. I once had a dream someone was trying to hurt my mom and I got a lamp to throw, but I didn’t know if I was sleeping. What is this?"

"What you are describing is the transitional phase between NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement). During this transition your body is paralyzed as well as different parts of your brain become demodulated or deactivated as well as activated. This deactivation and activation is one of the theorized reasons why we dream. One of the areas of your brain that becomes activated is the amygdala an area of the brain that deals with anxiety and fear. This could explain for your vivid hallucinations of fearful events. Also during this transition the prefrontal cortex part of our brain is demodulated which makes it hard to process new memories into long term memory. This makes it hard to remember our dreams. Many other areas of our brain are involved in this transition, but in this case don't seem to be as important.

What seems to be your problem is that if we are somehow conscious enough to remember this transition from NREM to REM we sometimes experience traumatic events such as paralysis or auditory and visual hallucinations. These hallucinations are considered dreams just as they appear in REM but are in NREM and remembered because of the absence of prefrontal cortex demodulation. The ability to dream in NREM is quite normal as 25% of our dreams are experienced during this phase of sleep, but your ability to remember them is not. This same type of event is experienced in patients that have REM behavior disorder (RBD) or sometimes called night terrors, but they have an absence of the paralysis aspect of the transition and act out their dreams.

As these dreams seem to be bothering you, it seems that they may have started to be remembered the event recently. Different foods as well as stress levels can have a profound effect on our sleep and either help or disrupt this transitional phase. Eating healthy, exercising, taking supplements that support the production of serotonin can all be healthy ways of supporting your sleep. There could however be underlying problems such as tumors that are effect different areas of the brain to cause these types of problems.

I would suggest visiting a doctor as problems with sleep seem to be indicators of possible serious deficiencies. Have them check magnesium levels and other possible areas for problems. Also start working out more and eating better as your symptoms may start going away shortly after."


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