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REM and non-REM dreams "dreaming without a dreamer".

Abstract: Research shows mental production throughout our sleep cycle, not only in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep but also in Sleep Onset, non-rapid eye movement (NREM) Stage 2, and in Stages 3 and 4, i.e., deep delta Slow Wave Sleep (SWS). The primary distinction in the quality of dreams in the various stages of sleep is in the representation of Self. The dreamer can be a simple passive observer, an active participant, as well he/she can have a double role, an altered presence, or he/she can be embodied in other people or objects of the dream. The distinct representations of Self in dreams, with autoscopic hallucination, also reflects a parallel spectrum of sense of Self in other altered states (hypnosis, mystical or shamanic journeys, meditation) as well as pathological altered states (out of body experience, mindbody dissociation, double Self phenomenon). Indeed, graduated levels of ego development are represented in just this same spectrum of progression from subject to object, i.e., from narrow and narcissistic self-interest to expanded recognition of one's commonality with a greater whole.

"Our cerebral consciousness is like an actor who has forgotten that he is playing a role. But when the play comes to an end, he must remember his own subjective reality, for he can no longer live as Julius Caesar or as Othello, but only as himself, from whom he has become estranged by a momentary sleight of consciousness." Jung, 1964, par. 312

"The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego-consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness may extend. ... All consciousness separates; but in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of primordial night. There he is still the whole, and the whole is in him, indistinguishable from nature and bare of all egohood" (Jung, 1964, pp. 144-145).

Humans typically spend about 16 hours of each day awake and 8 hours asleep. Within sleep, they spend about 2 hours in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and 6 hours in non-REM (NREM) sleep. While we dream, the brain cycles through REM and non-REM sleep stages at 90-minute intervals. Most of our conscious experience with dreams reflects our REM dreams, and much less so our NREM dreams. "90-95% of awakenings from REM sleep produce dream reports, whereas only 5-10% of awakenings from NREM produce equivalent reports" (Solms & Tumbull 2002, p. 183).

Research shows oneiric mental production throughout our sleep cycle, not only in REM sleep but also in Sleep Onset, NREM Stage 2, and in Stages 3 and 4, i.e., deep delta Slow Wave Sleep (SWS). The primary distinction in the quality of dreams in the various stages of sleep is in the representation of Self. The dreamer can be a simple passive observer of the oneiric scene, an active participant, as well he/she can have a double role, an altered presence, or he/she can be embodied in other people or object of the dream. The significance of these differences is that the dreamer's sense of Self probably plays an important role in organizing and structuring the dream narrative. The distinct representations of Self in dreams, with autoscopic hallucination, also reflects a parallel spectrum of sense of Self in other altered states (hypnosis, mystical or shamanic journeys, meditation) as well as pathological altered states (out of body experience, mindbody dissociation, double Self phenomenon). Indeed, graduated levels of ego development are represented in just this same spectrum of progression from subject to object, i.e., from narrow and narcissistic self-interest to expanded recognition of one's commonality with a greater whole, across history and culture and species.

The experience of self in rapid eye movement (REM) dream sleep is similar to that in waking consciousness, with the characteristics of a privileged status, a totalizing tendency, and a sense of a unitary, singular identity. The dreamer, like the awake ego state, ascribes to itself a special place in the environment it inhabits, a central role around which other people and events revolve. Indeed, the personal viewpoint is so innate that it is difficult to escape, to experience from an altered or expanded perspective. The experience of self in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) dream sleep lacks the over-identification with such characteristics. The REM dream state is like an actor who has forgotten he is playing a role, a discreet identity; the NREM dream state is more like an actor who remembers, or perhaps even who is no longer playing a role at all, whose sense of self is expanded beyond the personal to incorporate the gestalt of the scene.

Freud compared the properties of daydreams and dreams with those of novels and creative writing (Freud, 1959). "The subject (the ego) is the hero; in popular fiction, as in many melodramatic TV shows, other characters undergo splitting--being sharply divided between those who are good and those who are bad. These and other characteristics suggest primary process thought" (Ewing, 2000, p. 158). This description of dream content, with self as hero and others as good or bad, applies almost universally to REM dreams. NREM dreams depart from this formula, however; in NREM dreams the self is less identified as the "hero", and others are seldom "bad" or threatening.

Laboratory evidence demonstrates that dreaming serves three primary functions: (1) the maintenance of self-cohesiveness, (2) the restoration of a crumbling or fragmenting self, and (3) the development of new psychic structures (Fiss, 1986). We might postulate that the first two of these functions are served by REM dreams, and the third by NREM dreams. In other words, some dreams encourage the ego-self to identify with all aspects of the dream material, to absorb them into the dreamer's self-representation. Other dreams encourage the dreamer to break any identification with them, and to objectify them as other in order to allow dialogue through, for example, active imagination; from identification to relationship, "progression from an unreflected identification with their imagos to a reflected relation to them" (Kugler, 1993). In his doctoral thesis, Jung referred to such a relationship with "an other within" as doubling of consciousness, and saw it as fundamentally "new character formations or attempts of a future personality to break through." The events emerging in his dreams, fantasies, and visionary material then became suggestive of his future personality, of a greater personality (Smith, 1997, p. 84). Philemon, Jung's inner guru,

represented a force which was not myself. ... He said I treated thoughts as if I generated them myself, but in his view thoughts were like animals in the forest, or people in a room, or birds in the air, and added, "If you see people in a room, you would not think that you made those people, or that you were responsible for them." It was he who taught me psychic objectivity, the reality of the psyche. Through him the distinction was clarified between myself and the object of my thought (Jung, 1961, p. 183).

The progression of advanced ego development, or individuation, is to build on a secure base of self-cohesiveness, recognizing seeming fragmenting of oneself as actually the development of new psychic structures, i.e., psychic objectivity. "Dreams do not deceive, they do not lie, they do not distort or disguise, but naively announce what they are and what they mean ... they are invariably seeking to express something that the ego does not know and does not understand" (Jung 1946, para. 189). What the dream is seeking to express is either what I am (unreflected identifications and unclaimed projections) or what I am not (the "other" within).

"If you could get rid of yourself just once, the secret of secrets would open to you." (Rumi-in Frager, 1997, p. 23).

Research into the representation of Self have used the following progression to distinguish dreamer's sense of Self (Occhionero, et al, 2005):

1. No representation. Absence of representation of Self either as physical presence or thinking subjectivity (for example in the typical hypnagogic hallucination). Example: "a kind of white submarine bearing the letters A and C".

2. Awareness of one's own thoughts or presence of Self as pure thinking agent (the Self image is totally absent). Example: "I was thinking of problems about my examination ... I had the image of the open book ... nothing else".

3. Static representation of oneself, total or partial Self body image, more or less associated to proprioceptive, kinestetic, agreeable or painful sensations. This representation is more complete than a simple noncorporealized thinking presence. Example: "I was seeing my body lying on the bed, and I had to fall asleep. ... I saw neither the room nor the bed, only my body".

4. Representation of oneself as a passive observer of the dream events. The dreamer is inside the scene, but totally a passive observer and not taking part in the oneiric scene. Example: "I was at a gasoline station and I was observing this scene: a child was mounting an inflatable horse which had a motor inside. When the signal rang the horse bumped against a pole. The child was my nephew".

5. Precise awareness of oneself, both mental and physical, analogous to wakefulness. The dreamer actively participates in the event with a plurisensorial hallucination of Self, like the Self-awareness one experiences upon waking. Example: "I was in the country and I was talking with a friend; my girlfriend was there and we were talking about a building. ... I was feeling as if I were in real life".

6. Awareness of oneself through identification with other characters in the dream. The dreamlike experience of Self is expressed either by way of embodiment in or identification with other characters or even with objects. Example: "A lot of beautiful actresses. ... I'm transformed and become a famous actor".

7. Double representation of Self, in the sense of two distinct and relatively active roles: e.g. when the dreamer plays both the role of the chief character and that of observer or else plays roles of different protagonists. Example: "I was in a South American country, I was riding a horse, other people were with me ... we were pursuing a man, who was also myself, because he (I) had some money".

8. This category includes the lucid dream in which the dreamer is aware of the dreamlike quality of his/her experience. Example: "I remember a soccer match in which I was playing. I was in my bed and I was able to see myself playing soccer. I was aware it was my imagination".

Research documents that the representation of Self in REM dreams is frequently similar to the perception of Self in wakefulness (point 5 in the scale), with almost all representations falling in the range of points 4 and 5. On the contrary, in NREM dreams, including SWS, the dreamer tends to have a polymorphous representation of Self and his/her own body, ranging from 1 to 8 (Occhionero & Cicogna, 2011). Because the cortex is less active and thresholds are lower during NREM-Stage 2 than REM, mental activity performed during this time may be more thoughtlike and less emotional (Occhionero, 2004).

Some of that mental activity is devoted to what we call consciousness. Primary consciousness is the simple subjective experience of sensory perception and emotions, which could be applied to most animals. When we are "aware of being aware", it allows us to reflect upon ourselves and our feelings and make insightful decisions and judgments. This state, dubbed secondary consciousness, is thought to be unique to humans. When we're awake, we have both primary and secondary consciousness. When we're in non-dreaming sleep we have neither state of consciousness; when we are asleep and dreaming we have primary but not secondary consciousness; when we are asleep and dreaming a lucid dream we have both primary and secondary consciousness. There is growing evidence that when we dream in a NREM or SWS sleep state, we also have a form of both, and that the "awareness of being aware" is akin to that when an individual is engrossed in a waking state of default mode activation. The activity of the brain that remains active during deep delta sleep is located in the dorsal attention system; the executive control system and the default mode system (Laufs, et al, 2006). We will return to this discussion later in the article.

"The secret of dreams is that subject and object are the same" (Campbell, 1991, p. 123).

"The human dilemma is that which arises out of a man's capacity to experience himself as both subject and object at the same time. The important point is a process of oscillation between the two." (May, 1967, pp. 8-9).

The perspective of being subject of an experience, i.e., the one who is having the experience, is related to the concept of "ego-closeness" and "ego-distance" (Schilder, 1965; Voth & Mayman, 1963). "Things or other persons can be relatively close to the inner core of the self's experience, or they can be quite removed. In this way, an object can be 'ego-close' or 'ego-distant' " (Feinberg, 2001, p. 30). For most of us, in consentual reality, it is easy to know that my arm or my beliefs are "egoclose," i.e., I am connected to them, they are intimately relevant to me, and they are a part of me. Your arm and your beliefs are not a part of me; they are "ego-distant" from me. I am attached to certain objects as well: my clothes, my car, my home, my books, and many other objects that have great personal relevance to me, I experience as "ego-close."

In the main, people who tend to be ego-close are more suggestible, more responsive to external stimuli, distractible, open, exhibitionistic, active socially, emotionally labile and impulsive, while people who tend to be ego-distant are more reflective, enjoy solitude, tend to be daydreamers, show initiative, are less open in their emotional responses, and may be withdrawn and shy (Voth & Mayman, 1963).

The traits associated with the ego-distant perspective can reflect a dissociative tendency. With pathology, one begins to become ego-distant from elements closer and closer to one's essence, to experience alienation, depersonalization. It is one thing to lose connection or attachment to one's car, or clothes; it is more serious to lose a sense of one's body or beliefs being a part of oneself; at the extreme, one loses that connection with one's very essence--soul loss.

For most people in most situations, immediate experience localizes the self within the limits of the physical body, but rarely one can experience a second own body in extrapersonal space. This is a phenomenon described in the literature of ecstatic Kabbalah from the thirteenth century (Arzy, 2005); in accounts of patients with frontal lobe epilepsy (Lopez, et al, 2010); in various out-of-body experiences such as astral projection (Blanke & Arzy, 2005); in certain drug-induced intoxication states, especially the drug ketamine (Wilkins, et al, 2011); in delusional patients with dementia (Nagy, et al, 2009); and, of course, in dreams (Brugger, 2002).

Autoscopic hallucinations are the experience of "seeing oneself" (thus indicating the existence of two selves) as if looking in a mirror. It is usually one's face and perhaps upper parts of the body, and usually lasts for only seconds up to a few minutes. In an autoscopic hallucination the observer's perspective is clearly body-centered, the self and body continue to be experienced as united, and the visual image of one's own body appears as a mirror reversal, that is one is looking at an image of one's own body as if in a mirror. Heautoscopy (i.e., the encounter with one's own double, an alter ego, or doppelganger), is defined as a reduplication not only of bodily appearance, but also of aspects of one's psychological self. The observer's perspective may alternate between egocentric and "alter-ego-centered". In out-of-body experiences (OBEs), one's self is not reduplicated but appears to be completely dissociated from the body and observing it from a location in extracorporeal space. The doppelganger may serve as a "third party" onto whom one can transfer one's own intolerable suffering or one's unacceptable aggression. The mirror in an OBE is always reflective: It allows the self to view both space and one's psychological state from a detached but stable perspective. (Brugger, 2002) With increasing bodily depersonalisation, there is an increase in the doppelganger's "personalisation", that is, the subject may wonder whether it is the body or rather the doppelganger which contains the real self (Brugger, et al, 1994).

In one series of studies, (Nigro & Neisser, 1983) healthy subjects were required to vividly imagine a variety of events from autobiographic memory. Each event was then rated according to the degree of emotionality and self-awareness it aroused. Although emotionally neutral events (e.g., running for exercise) tended to be imagined from a body-centered perspective, emotionally arousing events (e.g., running away from a threatening situation) were re-experienced from an out-of-body-like, third-person perspective. Further, subjects who have had OBEs (compared to those who never had) more frequently assume a nonbody-centered, third-person perspective when re-visualizing their own dreams (Blackmore, 1987, exp. 3).

The construction of representation of Self comes about through the elaboration of experiences accumulated over one's life, integrated through perceptive representation of Self, episodic Self, and semantic Self-knowledge (Klein, et al, 1996; Tulving, 1985; Wheeler, et al, 1997).

Here we enter an area of knowledge in which neuroscience and spirituality intersect. Waking, sleeping, and dreaming "emerge out of a pure consciousness, a silent void. Where each state meets the next there's a little gap, in which Travis postulates that everybody very briefly experiences transcendental consciousness. When we go from sleeping to dreaming, or from dreaming to waking, these little gaps or junction points occur" (Gackenbach, 1997, p. 109).

"This is quite similar to a Buddhist explanation of these little interludes of the clear light of sleep," (Dalai Lama, 1997, p. 109). "This is precisely the continuity of the very subtle mind."


"To concern ourselves with dreams is a way of reflecting on ourselves, a way of self-reflection. It is not our ego-consciousness reflecting on itself: rather, it turns its attention to the objective actuality of the dream. ... It reflects not on the ego but on the Self; it recollects the strange self, alien to the ego, which was ours from the beginning, the trunk from which the ego grew." (Jung, 1964, par. 318)

The lucid dream state is one in which the dreamer is aware that he/she is dreaming, is likely to act deliberately (LaBerge & Gackenbach, 2000), and to feel that what is happening is as real as waking experience (LaBerge & Rheingold, 1990). The connection between lucid dream state and the transitional portal to spiritual transcendence is the intention of the lucid dreamer to maintain an unbroken continuity of consciousness throughout the waking state and the dream state. That is true in the western dream research labs at UCLA (LaBerge, 1985), in Yaqui shamanism (Castaneda, 1972), or in Tibetan dream yoga (Evans-Wentz, 1974).

In the Yaqui tradition, the object is to recognize waking and dreaming as the same, and that therefore both states offer equal opportunities to develop one's shamanic powers. The lucid dreamtime experience frees the personal power and creativity to pursue shamanic development.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the object of lucid dreaming is to come to recognize waking and dreaming as the same, that both are illusion, and that conscious dreamwork can lead one to the realization of wholeness, perfect balance, and unity. There are three types of dreams, according to Tibetan tradition. The first is ordinary dreams that everyone is familiar with (called "karmic dreams"), which arise from the day's activities, from the subconscious, as well as from archetypal elements and previous life experiences. The second is "clear light dreams," which bring energy openings, prognosticatory dreams and omens, and spiritual visions and blessings. These dreams hint of other worlds, other lives, and offer a glimpse of the afterlife. The third type is lucid dreams, in which one is aware of dreaming. With practice, one develops the capacity to become lucid during clear light dreams, making them radiant, luminous, spiritual dreamtime experiences. This frees the mind, through realization of the transparent, dream-like quality of all experience, both waking and sleeping.

Yoga divides the functioning of the mind into four components: manas (the lower or sensory mind), buddhi (the inner witness), chitta (the bed of memory), and ahamkara (self-identity) (Archarya, n.d.). During meditation or sleep, the conscious mind, manas, is quieted and focused. The senses (the gateways between manas and the outer world) relinquish their contact with sense objects. Imagination is relaxed. Chitta is the mind's capacity to retain experience in memory. It is a vast reservoir of stored impressions, habit patterns, and desires. In this unconscious repository, seeds of the future are planted by our experience in the present.

These transformations in manas are complemented by changes in buddhi. Buddhi is the aspect of mind identified with our moral sense and our capacity to acquire self-awareness. As manas is calmed, buddhi awakens. This is experienced as a silent blossoming of awareness. As buddhi awakens, consciousness shines more clearly. A subtle distance is created between awareness and the contents of the mind. Thus a meditator becomes the quiet witness of his or her inner experience. The Sanskrit word ahamkara denotes a state of subjective illusion, the identification or attachment of one's ego with only a small part of the human Being (the Self), rejecting everything else as "not me". We identify as the player of roles and the owner of qualities. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna that ahamkara must be subordinated to the lord, because the Self cannot be present when one is in a state of ahamkara. Normal everyday consciousness for most people is to be immersed in ahamkara. It is less so in our dream state, and even less so in our deep sleep state. Within each of us lies a pure inner witness--the knower, or non-ego consciousness. It is this aspect of our self-awareness that comes more to the fore as we descend deeper into sleep.

Levels of self-awareness in the dream

We all experience ourselves as both a subject and as an object, as an 'I' and a 'me', the storyteller and the one living the story. This is true in our dreams as well as in our waking experience. However, in our dreams there is a difference in the I and the Me vantage point, depending on whether the dream is in REM sleep or in NREM sleep. First, McAdams (1998) explains the distinction well:
   The ego, or I, is the process of "selfing," of apprehending
   subjective experience and making something out of it. The most
   cherished thing selfing makes is the Me, the self-as-object, the
   concept of the self that is recognized and reflected upon by the 1.
   Thus, as [William] James suggested, the duplex self is both I
   (process) and Me (product). The ego is the l part. The ego reflects
   upon the Me. The ego knows the Me. The ego synthesizes the Me out
   of experience. The ego makes the Me. ... Furthermore, positioning
   the ego in this way sheds considerable light on both the structure
   of personality and its development over time. (pp. 29-30)

It is extremely useful to acknowledge that the ego actually makes many Me's (Damon & Hart, 1988; Harter, 1998), contained within what we are calling the "ego realm" or what Jung called the "ego complex." Each Me may fall within the general category of the ego's personas and shadows. James Hillman (2000) describes the process as building the me's out of accumulated spare parts from here and there, with the 'I' determining whether to reject a given constructed me or not just as the body's immune system decides whether to reject an organ transplant or a skin graft.

I may not know who I am (i.e., the many faces of me), but I always know that I am (i.e., the I, the self-as-subject). The 'me' is built out of parts from here and there; e.g., introjects from parents or early authorities, social and cultural norms. The 'I' is an enduring presence with "subject permanence" (Alexander, et al, 1990, p. 314) that ultimately accepts or rejects the imported parts. The 'I' is equivalent to the body's immune system when presented with an organ transplant or a skin graft, it has the capacity to discern what is native essence and what is foreign, to claim the former and to reject the latter. As ego development progresses, defining the object me becomes less important and transcending the object me (immersion in the subject I) becomes the focus. Recall Maslow's (1971) reference to what he called self-forgetfulness in moments of peak experience, i.e., becoming less dissociated than usual into a self-observing ego and an experiencing ego.

The highly developed ego, through its transparency to itself, is able to achieve a "therapeutic split" (Engler, 1983, p. 48), becoming both subject and object, observer and observed, a witness to the dynamic flow of psychic events. This "witness consciousness" and the self-transcendence upon which it is based are also foundational ingredients of higher stages of human development. This corresponds to points 7 and 8 on the dreamer representation of Self scale (Occhionero, et al, 2005).

Cognitive neuroscientific studies of the Self indicate that virtually every higher cognitive function is influenced by the Self: memories are encoded more efficiently when referred to the Self, feelings and affective responses always include the Self, fundamental attributions of intentionality, agency, and mind all concern Selves in interaction with other Selves, and so on.

The concept of Self suggests autobiographical memory, awareness of emotional and evaluative systems, agency, or the sense of being the cause of some action, self-monitoring, bodily awareness, mind-reading or covert mimicking of other's mental states, subjectivity in perception, and finally, the sense of unity conferred on consciousness when it is invested with the subjective perspective (Churchland, 2002; LeDoux, 2002; Metzinger, 2003).

These describe mental functions that largely develop after age eight. Active self representation is largely lacking in children's dreams before age 8; passive observer status apparently is the typical role for children before age 8. In one study (Foulkes, et al, 1990) 5-8 year olds were awakened from REM sleep for dream reports in a sleep laboratory, and reported on their dreaming as (1) self-as-object ("me") knowledge, or (2) self-as-subject ("I") experience. The 5-7 year olds seldom report any self activity in their accounts of REM dreams, even though at the same age children are reporting activities as the most salient aspect of their waking self concept (Keller, et al, 1978).

Interestingly, all of the above properties of the Self are notably altered in the dreaming Self--the "I" that dreams (McNamara, et al, 2007). Although we experience ourselves as a "Self" when we dream, the Self in many dreams cannot be said to exhibit normal access to autobiographical memory, normal emotional reactions, or any of the other standard phenomenologic properties of the waking Self mentioned above. For example, we may see a relative in a dream who died years ago but interact with him/her as if the death never occurred, thereby indicating that autobiographical memory and emotional reactions are not operating normally. The sense of agency is altered as well. Many people report a sense of helplessness when being chased in dreams, for example. On the other hand, the dream Self typically has some thing or object toward which he or she is striving, thus indicating some sense of agency or purpose. Bodily awareness appears to be globally impaired. Pain, in particular, occurs only rarely in dream reports. Self-monitoring, too, is impaired as we uncritically accept very incongruous and improbable happenings as perfectly normal events (e.g., again--the long dead relative who is accepted as alive and well, etc.). While attributions of mental states (indicating a theory of mind capacity) to other dream characters apparently occur (Kahn & Hobson, 2005), dreams exhibit an extreme ego-centered perspective. Everything in the dream is experienced from the perspective of the dream Self.

Self-awareness in dreaming refers to a concept based on intrapsychic recognition; specifically, Cicogna and Bosinelli (2001) refer to self-awareness in dreaming as "the awareness of being oneself" during the dream (p. 26). In the vast majority of remembered dreams (which tend to be REM dreams) the dreamers report self-experiencing (self-awareness): 95.6% in Kozmova's study (2006, p. 210) and 95% in Snyder's (1970, p. 134). Remembered dreams tend to be REM dreams for at least two reasons: REM dreams predominate later in the night; NREM stage 3 sleep predominates during the early part of the night, and NREM stage 2 occurs across the night. Toward the end of a night's sleep, after 8 hours since sleep onset, there are far more REM than N2 dreams, with a ratio of 11 to 1 (Blagrove, et al, 2011). Also, REM sleep is predominantly theta wave activity in the brain, and NREM sleep is predominantly delta wave activity, a much slower level, more removed from the conscious mind's dominant beta and alpha frequency wave patterns.

While the dream self appears to be impoverished in its access to systems like autobiographical memories, bodily awareness, self-monitoring and that form of consciousness that yields a unity of experience that the Self "owns," the dream Self appears to surpass the waking Self with respect to the experience of emotions and big-picture perspective.

NREM is composed of four progressively deeper substages. While positron emission tomographic (PET) studies of NREM sleep states generally show a global decrease in cerebral energy metabolism relative to REM, this metabolic decline is not as marked in Stage 2 NREM as in deeper NREM Stages (3 and 4 slow-wave sleep), and thus Stage 2 NREM sustains relatively higher levels of brain activation compared to stages 3 and 4 (Maquet, 1995, 2000). Indeed, a recent functional MRI (fMRI) study found that the frontal cortices were more activated in Stage 2 NREM than in REM sleep (Loevblad, et al, 1999)

A frequent observation by many researchers is that the REM associated Self is very frequently an aggressor while the NREM associated Self never engages in aggression. Conversely, the NREM associated Self frequently initiates friendly interactions while the REM associated Self only rarely does so. The dream data suggest at least two Selves: an aggressive Self and a friendly Self. Like his REM counterpart, the NREM Self interacts with both familiar and unfamiliar characters in social encounters that apparently are experienced as largely negative--yet his responses are much more likely to involve befriending these characters than is the REM Self. The befriender percent reaches 90% in NREM as opposed to only 54% for REM dreams. In short, the dreaming mind creates two dramatically different Selves who appear in different stages of the sleep cycle, and engage in differing behavioral strategies in response to unpleasant social encounters.

The documentation of high dreamer-initiated friendliness and low aggression in NREM sleep along with the opposite profile in REM sleep suggests, in neuropsychological terms, a kind of double dissociation in site and function. This dissociation in functional states suggests that the dreaming mind-brain is composed of at least two fundamental component processes (REM and NREM) that give rise to distinct computational processes and psychological states (aggression vs. friendliness).

Although positron emission tomographic (PET) studies of NREM sleep states generally show a global decrease in cerebral energy metabolism relative to REM sleep states, a recent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study found that the frontal cortices were more activated in NREM than in REM sleep. Because the forebrain plays such an important role in impulse control and cognitive functions, that should result in the inhibition of aggressive impulses or even promote emergence of nonaggressive, cooperative social impulses in NREM dreams (McNamara, et al, 2005).

Further, one of the clearest findings of brain imaging studies of sleep is that the amygdala is highly activated (bilaterally) during REM sleep compared to NREM sleep and waking (Braun, et al, 1997; Maquet, et al, 1996; Maquet, et al, 2004; Sutton, et al, 1996). A great deal of evidence indicates that the amygdala is involved in processing of emotions such as fear and aggression --especially in attaching emotional significance to material that is to be stored in memory and using emotional significance to decide what experience is to be stored (Hartmann, 2000). This is highly consistent with the dominance of intense emotion in REM dreams.

... what we call a self has a structure dependent on levels of awareness and that in dreams we have the opportunity to study this structure in a manner similar to how a physicist looks at atomic structure in a study of matter. The dream is the experimental landscape of the movement of the mind just as 'out there' wake reality is the experimental landscape of the movement of the body. ...

Thus just as one's physical growth from infancy is matched by a growth in one's self-awareness, a similar sequence of mental growth, self-structuring, and greater self-awareness may be occurring while we are sleeping. The dream becomes an opportunity for the evolution of consciousness. As such, the dream is nature's experimental honing of the edge of consciousness, allowing it to come to grips with reality in its fullest expression through the development of the self-concept (Wolf, 1994, p. 319).

A Self-Reflectedness Scale has been developed to measure self-awareness present in dreams (Moffitt, et al, 1988) and has been incorporated by Gackenbach (1991) in her review of research on lucid dreaming. Fred Alan Wolfe (1994) has suggested a correlation between the levels of the Scale and the stages of personality development of an awake individual.

At the ground level the dreamer is not aware of being present in the dream, similar to the waking awareness of an infant or perhaps even fetal awareness. At this level we have pure awareness with little sense of identification of self and other.

At a second level the dreamer becomes involved in the dream. This may be akin to early waking childhood experiences when the child begins to differentiate herself or himself from the rest of the world, experienced as playful and innocent.

At a third level the dreamer is able to think about an idea, and thus we have the beginnings of self-awareness. Perhaps this would equate to preteen or prepubescent years.

At a fourth level the dreamer is aware of the previous levels of participation and is able to observe the dream, able to reflect on himself and his effect on others. Thus a sense of self more fully emerges. This period would equate with puberty and growth to adulthood.

At the fifth and highest level the dreamer consciously reflects on the fact that she/he is dreaming. This would be the lucid state and, in comparison to personality growth, would correspond to spiritual or mystical awakening. The ability to wake up in a dream is remarkably similar to the development of self-awareness in meditative traditions. During meditation and lucid dreaming a detached but receptive awareness develops usually accompanied by a sense of great well-being, positive outlook, and joy.

For Gackenbach (1991) lucidity is not the final point in the evolution of awareness. It is the starting point for an even higher level called "witnessing," in which one passes through five additional stages. During lucid dreams one is aware that one is dreaming, and one is still very much contained within a dream boundary of skin and body. "There is a dream ego, as it were" (Wolf, 1994, p. 321).

During witnessing, a new state of self-awareness is present. The dreamer becomes aware of greater detachment from the drama of the lucid dream. Emotional content withers; one is separate from the dream, and does not really care what happens in the dream content. Choice remains, however, to enter into the dreaming persona, i.e., the dream ego, or to step back and simply witness. A further state exists which Gackenbach (1997) calls Witnessing Deep Sleep, described as "dreamless sleep, very likely a non-REM condition, in which you experience a quiet, peaceful inner state of awareness or wakefulness--a feeling of infinite expansion and bliss, and nothing else" (p. 107).

The Dalai Lama (1997) suggests that the Witnessing Deep Sleep state is the same as what is called in Tibetan Dream Yoga the clear light of sleep, and that it is a facsimile of the clear light of death. This clear light is the very subtle mind which alone remains continuous through all transitions, such as dying, the bardo, and conception. "These are junctures, if you like. The subtlest clear light manifests at the time of death, which is one of these junctures. These three occasions of death, bardo, and conception are analogous to the states of falling asleep, the dream state, and then waking" (pp. 109-110).

Research by Alexander and colleagues (1991) has verified that witnessing can occur not only in lucid dreams but also during deep sleep or in any other state of consciousness, and is therefore legitimately considered a fourth state of consciousness with sleep, dreaming, and awake. In Buddhist psychology it is called foundation consciousness, the subjective awareness of the clear light (Dalai Lama, 1997).

Wolf further postulates a correlation between the levels of self-awareness and a hierarchy of self-reflective images, increasingly expansive based on integration of self-image derived from self-inquiry and self-reference. At the ground level, images are non-self-reflective, diffuse. At the next level images are derived from defined, bounded, emotional personal memories. Next, these memory-images are integrated into thought forms, generalized social conventions. At the fourth level, these thought forms are integrated into archetypes, expanded beyond the personal to collective memory-images.

And at the final level, the archetypal images are integrated into divine, mystical or cosmic images. Wolf summarizes that "the tendency would be to descend levels more readily than to ascend them. Descent results in less self-awareness and therefore more automatic, mechanical behavior. Ascent results in greater choices, becoming aware of existence in other 'worlds,' and more complex imagery with a higher number of paradoxical features simultaneously knowable" (1994, p. 336).

These levels of self-awareness and self-reflective images in dreams appear to parallel the levels of ego development outlined by Cook-Greuter (1990, 2000). I have found to date no research to verify that higher levels of ego development correlate with higher self-awareness or self-reflective images in dreams. Cook-Greuter does assert that Autonomous persons use dreams, fantasy, and imagination much more freely than persons at earlier stages of ego development. If the same correlation is maintained at higher levels as well, dream content and dream self-awareness (lucidity and/or witnessing) could be expected to increase, too.

In fact, Abraham Maslow noticed that there is a relationship between a person's needs level on his Hierarchy of Needs (Physiological, Safety and Security, Love and Belongingness, Self Esteem, Growth Needs, Self-Actualization) and the kinds of dreams he had. "Unconscious needs commonly express themselves in dreams ..." (1970, p. 141), and thus a person's current experienced position on the hierarchy could conceivably be assessed from his/her dreams.

Dreaming and the default network

Some regions of the brain are active during both REM dreaming and during daytime mind-wandering, and they may also be active at times during NREM sleep. A neural substrate for dreaming may be based in a subsystem of the waking default network, which is active when the mind is wandering, daydreaming, or simulating past or future events (Buckner, et al, 2008; Schacter, et al, 2008; Szpunar, 2010). It is also active at sleep onset (Horovitz, et al, 2009; Kaufmann, et al, 2006; Larson-Prior, et al, 2009; Laufs, et al, 2007) partially active during REM (Pace-Schott, 2010), and still active during Stage 2 of NREM before Stages 3 and 4 occur (Domhoff, 2011). Mental activity during daytime default network activation can include "mind-wandering", in which the individual is not controlling his thoughts, but is aware of his surroundings, and his mentation is nonhallucinatory; the experience is a psychological state that emerges when the brain is "otherwise unoccupied." Another example of default mode network activation is "lost in thought", in which the person may or may not be controlling his thoughts, but he is not aware of his surroundings, and his mentation is nonhallucinatory (Foulkes & Fleisher, 1975). For a more thorough discussion of the default mode network, refer to "Bringing Unconscious Choices to Awareness: 'Default Mode', Body Rhythms, and Hypnosis" (Hartman & Zimberoff, 2011).

Domhoff (2011) summarizes current research into the development of dream capability in children. To begin with, children between 3 and 5 report dreams from only 27% of REM awakenings, and for the most part the content of these dreams is static, bland, and underdeveloped. Dream reports collected from children in the sleep laboratory become more "dreamlike" in the 5-to-7 year-olds in terms of characters, themes, and the ability to introduce action and their own selves into the process, but it was not until the children were 11 to 13 that their dreams began to resemble those of adults in frequency, length, emotions, and overall structure, or to show any relationship to personality. The same general age groupings seem to apply to a child's capacity to enter into a hypnotic trance state.

The default network consists of at least two distinct subsystems. The two subsystems are connected by two "hubs". The first subsystem, which is called the "dorsal medial prefrontal cortex system," includes the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, the temperoparietal junction, the lateral temporal cortex, and the temporal pole of the temporal lobe. This subsystem is activated by instructions to think about the person's present situation or present mental state (present self). A second subsystem, called the medial temporal lobe system, includes the ventral medial prefrontal cortex, posterior inferior parietal lobule, retrosplenial cortex, parahippocampal cortex, and hippocampal formation, and is called into action by thinking about personal situations and decisions in the future (future self) (Andrews-Hanna, et al, 2010).

Dreaming represents a slightly different subsystem than either of these two, one that can function without the need for environmental monitoring or for episodic memories, and that can access the perspective of both the present self and the future self.

In fact, there may well be separate subsystems for REM and NREM dream states, accessing varying degrees of objectivity from an ego-oriented self, present or future. The default network(s) and dreams share a particular kind of thinking that involves imaginatively placing oneself in a hypothetical scenario and exploring possible outcomes, usually called simulation (Schacter, et al, 2008). This capacity for imaginatively constructing hypothetical events is also a well-researched aspect of hypnosis.

Dreaming and hypnosis

Stross and Shevrin (1962, 1968, 1969) concluded that thought organization during hypnosis shares some common elements with thought organization during dreaming: hypnosis leads to heightened access to subliminal stimuli and subliminally presented images are also found in dreams (Bob, 2004).

We know that corticolimbic circuits make sorting decisions on a pattern-matching basis, enabling learning by cumulative experience. The brain regions responsible for this activity have been shown to be highly activated in REM sleep (Braun, 1999), and by inference in hypnotic trance states. One of the hallmarks of cognitive processing under hypnotic trance is the access to seeing behavior patterns that are not easily visible by the everyday mind. For this reason, age regression is valuable to allow an individual to recognize a pattern of behavior in his life that stretches from childhood through until today.

Hypnotic dreaming is one technique for working with dream material in hypnotherapy, involving having a client re-dream a nighttime dream while in a hypnotic state. The client then describes the dream to the therapist, followed by a return to the hypnotic state with the encouragement to explore further some aspect of the dream (Sacerdote, 1967). The heart of Sacerdote's hypnotic dream work is that neither client nor therapist needs to consciously interpret the dream material, but rather associations arise spontaneously (Linden, et al, 2006).

Clinical significance of dreams

Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized by disturbed, hyperaroused REM-sleep (Ribeiro, 2004, p. 4). Trauma has been shown to result in impaired development of the corpus callosum (Teicher, 2000) and of the hippocampus. "Dream work over time may actually help to reverse such effects, encouraging inter and intra hemispheric connectivity" (Wilkinson, 2006, p. 53), due to the bottom-up nature of dreaming mentation and the reliance on symbol and metaphor. Metaphor lights up multiple centers in the brain, enabling increased connectivity (Levin, 1997, and Modell, 1997, cited in Pally, 2000). Also, dreaming consciousness contrasts with waking consciousness in that the brain is activated in a 'bottom-up' manner rather than the 'top-down' mode of waking thought. In dreaming, ascending activity begins in the brain stem, progresses through the limbic system to the medial frontal cortex (that deals with arousal and attention). The executive portions of the frontal cortex (i.e., the dorsolateral cortex and the orbito pre-frontal cortex) are deactivated (Hobson & Pace-Schott, 1999). Incidentally, these are similar patterns of brain activation as found in hypnosis.

Low voltage--high frequency EEG brain waves, characteristic of the REM dream state and of the hypnotic trance state, originate in the brain stem and move upward via neural pathways through the limbic system (amygdala and hippocampus) to the neocortex (executive functioning) (Henry & Stephens, 1977, p. 111). This bottom-up processing tracks the triune brain system proposed by MacLean: an old reptilian brain dominated by basic instinct, hierarchical dominance, and ritualized behaviors; a more recent paleomammalian brain (limbic) focused on attachment needs and forming social units based on affection, interdependence, and collaboration; and a distinctly human neocortex brain capable of self-awareness, future orientation, and altruistic emotions.

Kuiken and associates (2006) describe three types of impactful dreams, distinguishable not by any single characteristic (e.g., fear) but rather by coherent profiles of attributes involving feelings and emotions, motives and goals, sensory phenomena, movement characteristics, and dream endings. One type, nightmares (anxiety dreams), involve features such as intense fear, harm avoidance, vivid olfactory and auditory phenomena, and physical metamorphoses. A second type, existential dreams, involve features such as intense sadness, separation and loss, the emergence of strong and clear bodily feelings, and spontaneous feeling change. A third type, transcendent dreams (archetypal dreams), involve features such as feelings of awe, magical accomplishment, extraordinary sources of light, and shifts in visual-spatial orientation. Nightmares, existential dreams, and transcendent dreams all include visual discontinuities (i.e., explicit "looking," visual anomalies, and sudden shifts in location); all three types involve relatively intense affect, especially during dream endings; and the imagery of all three types seems "real" to their dreamers even after awakening.

Despite such evidence of their shared intensity, anecdotal comments indicated that these dreams had very different effects on waking thoughts and feelings. Dreamers suggested that (1) nightmares were followed by lingering environmental vigilance (e.g., apprehension about invisible dangers); (2) existential dreams were followed by reflection on feelings that the dreamer was previously reluctant to acknowledge (e.g., distress related to loss); and (3) transcendent dreams were followed by consideration of previously ignored spiritual possibilities (e.g., attunement to preternatural phenomena). These dreams' apparently contrasting functions motivated more careful examination of their effects on waking thoughts and feelings.


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