DREAM – Physiology
DREAM – Physiology

DREAM – Physiology

At first glance dreams might be just fictional scenarios our minds make up when we’re sleeping. But what if there’s more to them then just stories, we tell others or write about it later. According to Suzanne Bergman, a social worker and a dream specialist said “dreams are a universal language, creating often elaborate images out of emotional concepts.” 

People dream about six years during their lives on average. Imagine! six years spent absorbed in wondrous frightening, thrilling and sometimes completely incomprehensible sensations. Your dreams if you could record them all, would certainly prove just what a creative being you really are. Why we dream about what we do might appear to be totally mystifying, but in fact the discipline of dream and sleep science have actually discovered quite a lot about dreams. 

Given that we spend around six years of our lives in a dream state, it’s no wonder people want to understand why we do it. In this article we will understand how brain actually works when we are dreaming.


One night in early 1950s Chicago, eight-year-old Armond was tucked into his bed by his father. But this night, instead of getting a kiss on the forehead, little Armond got some electrodes taped to his face. Armond’s dad was Eugene Sarinsky, a graduate student looking to test out a new Electroencephalograph, or EEG machine, that measures the brain’s electrical activity. That night, as his son slept peacefully, he watched the machine go bonkers with brain wave patterns, and after making sure that his machine wasn’t somehow broken discovered that the brain doesn’t just “power down” during sleep, as most scientists thought. Instead, he had discovered the sleep stage we now call REM or rapid eye movement, a perplexing period when the sleeping brain is buzzing with activity, even though the body is in a deep slumber. Sarinsky and his colleague Nathaniel Kleiman went on to become pioneers of sleep research. 

Dream physiology


As you sleep your brain goes through five stages of sleep throughout a typical night. These are divided into REM sleep and non-REM sleep. The first four stages are Non-REM sleep. These are restorative in, for the most part is dreamless, as we move through these initial stages our brain activity slows.

But about 90 minutes after we finally fall asleep, we hit stage five which is REM sleep. This is when the Dreaming really begins. During REM stage people’s eyeballs goes crazy, rapidly darting around all over the place underneath their eyelids, their breathing rate and heart rate increases. You can actually see this happening if you watch people sleep. Hence REM stands for rapid eye movement. During this stage your body is powered down but your brain is as active as when you are awake.  

If you look at the electrical activity of a brain that is in REM sleep, it almost exactly mimics the way the brain acts when it’s awake. When we’re in this stage, the body is for all intents and purposes paralyzed. The production of chemicals like histamine, norepinephrine, serotonin is almost completely blocked. The paralysis in REM sleep is caused by the release of the glycine and inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. These are the two amino acids released from brain stem onto your brain’s motor neurons. This causes the muscles to stop moving which is why you can dream about flying or running around or fighting ninjas but your body doesn’t move. It’s suggested that this paralysis is Nature’s Way of preventing us from acting on our dreams and that’s probably for the best. 

Your conscious mind relaxes when you are asleep but your subconscious mind never really sleeps. While dreaming some parts of your brain are shut off which are prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that deals with logic and self-control and your orbital frontal cortex. These parts of your brain are your fact checker. They are the one which says “hmm… that’s not right, something is wrong.” 

So, the part of your brain which is actually active throughout dreaming is the limbic system. Limbic system contains amygdala which deals with fear and emotions. Hence now you know why everything makes sense while you are in a dream because when you are in a dream the active part of your brain is not the fact checker, not the rational brain but it’s actually the emotional brain, the fearful brain which is active. 


When you go to sleep each night, your body and mind is at rest. After all, the primary reason why we sleep, is to recover from the day’s stress, repair damage and to freshen up for the next day’s demands. Yet as paradoxical it may seem; your mind is a buzz of activity while you are asleep. Even more than when you are awake. 

Well, you experience a lot during a typical day. When you are awake, your brain is so busy taking in everything you see, feel and hear that it has hardly any time to actually process, categorize and store all this information. So, when you are asleep the unconscious part of your brain is busy organizing memories and strengthening connections. Hence your brain is quite active when you are asleep.

Dream physiology

Dreams speak the language of the subconscious mind and this language is composed of images, metaphors and other symbols, that your conscious mind usually has a hard time grasping. That is why, most people have trouble making sense of their dreams. This would explain why dreams are often so fantastic and seemingly random because that’s not supposed to make sense. They’re not an actual message from your brain. Dreams do have a pattern which could help us in understanding something. If you wanna know then do read this DREAM INTERPRETATION


Dreams are an epiphenomenon, they’re not a primary process that has a purpose. Instead they are the accidental result of a more important process which is going on behind the conscious brain but some researchers don’t believe that. They believe that dreams serve a primary purpose. But you can be sure that your dreams don’t just come out of nowhere. They come right from your own personal experiences. Ever wondered that do animals dream too just like us, if you wanna know then do check out. Dreams – Commonly asked questions

I hope this article helped. For more such article do check out the website medicoved.com

Author : Dr. Easminara Shaikh


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