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Dreaming Together

• Learning Leads:

• Dreams occur throughout the night.

• REM is one of six phases of dreaming.

• Dreaming and daydreaming link.

• Dreams allow exploration of possibilities.

We spend one-third of our lives asleep. Why? We spend a good portion of the day in mind wandering or daydreaming. Are the dreams of our nighttime sleep connected to our daytime mind wandering? In their book, When Brains Dream, Antonio Zadra, and Robert Stickgold lead us on a dream journey of exploration.

In the preface, they begin, "What Are Dreams? Where do they come from? And what are they for? Humanity has been trying to answer these questions for thousands of years without much success. But since the nineteenth century, scientists have been asking these questions anew, trying to unravel the relationship between brains, minds, and dreams. Now, in the twenty-first century, we may be close to answering."

Zadra and Stickgold define dreaming as "… everything from fleeting, fragmented, and thought–like forms of sleep mentation to dramatic, seemingly epical nocturnal adventures." With their focus "…on the more complex and involving forms of dreaming – those rich, immersive experiences that have given dreams their sense of mystique and have intrigued and perplexed humans from time immemorial."

Rapid Eye Movement Sleep and Dreaming

Zadra and Stickgold write of the most significant phase of sleep in crediting a classic paper by Eugene Aserinsky and Nathaniel Kleitman in the journal Science in 1953. Rapid eye movement sleep is marked by "…the presence of periods of rapid, jerky eye movements occurring throughout the night…. Aserinsky and Kleitman had discovered rapid eye movement sleep and its recurring appearance every 90 minutes across the night."

Zadra and Stickgold elaborate, "Although researchers learn more about the phases of sleep every year, the basics are now clear. Humans cycle in and out of sleep about every 90 minutes, all night long. Occurring between these REM periods are three distinguishable stages of non-REM sleep, called N1, N2, and N3, each representing deeper sleep than the one before.'" REM sleep is unique because of the rapid eye movements, the relative lack of muscle tone, and a wake-like appearance to the brainwave test called an electroencephalogram or EEG.

Dreaming through the Night

Zadra and Stickgold pose questions which they answer. "When exactly do people dream? We dream at sleep onset (N1) and in REM, but do we dream during N2 and N3 as well? Knowing when we dream helps us understand which brain mechanisms are involved. Moreover, how much of the night are we dreaming?" They respond, "The quick and dirty answers are that we dream in all stages of sleep; we probably are dreaming most of the night, but more consistently in some stages and at some times more than others; and, on average, our dreams are different from one sleep stage to another as well as from early to late in the night."

The Importance of Dreaming and NEXTUP 

Zadra and Stickgold explain, "dreaming is a form of sleep-dependent memory processing, albeit a phenomenologically complex one, that extracts new knowledge from existing information through the discovery and strengthening of previously unexplored weak associations. In doing so, dreams rarely replay active concerns directly or offer concrete solutions to them. Rather, they identify and strengthen associations that in some way embody these concerns and that the brain calculates may be of use in resolving them or similar concerns, either now or in the future."

They name their construct that explains the adaptive importance and necessity of dreaming. They call their model "network exploration to understand possibilities" with the mnemonic NEXTUP.

Dreaming the Dream

As Zadra and Stickgold conceptualize, "Typically, the brain starts with some new memory, encoded that day – may be an important event, a discussion overheard at work, or something related to a personal concern – and searches for other weakly associated memories. These can be from the same day, or they can be older memories from any time in the dreamer's past. The brain then combines the memories into a dream narrative that explores associations the brain would never normally consider. In doing so, NEXTUP searches for and strengthens the novel, creative, insightful, and useful associations discovered and displayed in our dreams."

Dreaming and Daydreaming Linked 

• Twenty years ago, neuroimaging researchers at Washington University published a seminal paper entitled, "A Default Mode of Brain Function." Zadra and Stickgold explain the significance of the paper’s research. " Scientists had been assuming that the activity pattern seen during quiet rest reflected the activity of a brain not doing anything. In retrospect, this was obviously a foolish assumption. Our brains are always thinking about something. Because of this, the brain areas that turn off whenever we start to carry out a mental task are regions that do whatever the brain does when we're 'not doing anything.' Together these regions make up the default mode network (DMN), whose discovery has helped us appreciate just how true it is that the brain never rests."

Zadra and Stickgold weave, "Indeed, much of the DMN is also active during REM sleep, suggesting that the term daydreaming may be more appropriate than we thought. William Domhoff and his colleague, Kieran Fox, have gone so far as to suggest that dreaming, or at least REM sleep dreaming, constitutes a brain state of 'enhanced mind wandering.' More recently, Domhoff has proposed that the neural substrate of dreaming lies within the DMN. When you put it all together, you get an exciting extension of our NEXTUP model."

Zadra and Stickgold describe parts of our dream cycles, "Each night begins with N1, moves to N2 and N3, and then moves to REM before cycling between N2/N3 and REM for the rest of the night. As the night progresses, non-REM decreases, and REM increases, allowing the brain to seek out weaker associations and our dreams to become more bizarre." Additionally, we experience hypnagogic and hypnopompic dreams. Hypnagogic dreams occur as we drift into sleep and hypnopompic as we drift out. As we awaken, we may wake up with a start, but we often slowly wake up and begin the daydreaming of the day.

Creating Dreams by Day Dreaming

So, it turns out that nighttime sleep dreaming and daytime mind wandering involve the same structures of the brain. Knowing that our daydreaming and dreaming link paths of the revelation of possibilities, what can you do to enhance your awareness of the possibilities in your life? You can permit yourself moments in your wakefulness to daydream and quietly reflect. Walking, gardening, reading, and playing with your dog or cat allow you moments to daydream.

Zadra and Stickgold speculate about the importance of daydreaming to nighttime dreaming and what may happen to dreams without daydreams. They connect mind wandering and memory processing. Memory activation is central to network exploration to understand possibilities or NEXTUP. "Although the increasing rates of insomnia around the world may reflect increased stress, we think there is another contributor – smartphones and earbuds. Take a look at people walking down the street, driving in their cars, eating alone in restaurants and cafes. Not so long ago, these people wouldn't be doing anything else. Their minds would wander, and they would daydream…Maybe all those worries come crashing in at bedtime because it's the only time we've left the brain to perform the critically important task of identifying and tagging memories for later processing." We are our memories, and memories are platforms for dreaming, daydreaming and imagining what is possible in life.

We Can Dream Together

My role in your life is to support your daydreams and dreams to enhance your awareness of the possibilities in your present and future based on the memories of your past. Together we work to realize your possibilities

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