What Dreams Are Made of...

What Dreams Are Made of...

The study of dreams is not new. Throughout human history, people have been trying to understand what happens when we close our eyes to sleep. Ancient Egyptians spoke of dreams. So did the Greeks and Romans. And throughout lime. Religions of the world have had their hand in the interpretation of dreams.

Medicine entered the scene around 1900, when Sigmund Freud invented psychotherapy. Physical medicine has been applied to dreams only in the last forty years or so. With advances in measuring the activity and structure of the brain, new theories about the dream event have entered the marketplace of ideas.


This is the brain chemical that is central to dream creation. Enhancing its presence increases dream activity significantly. What is unknown is whether this chemical is a "solvent" to clean the brain or a "stimulant" to enhance the overall function of the electrical environment. It has been synthetically produced at the Harvard School of Medicine and administered in sleep study experiments.

Alpha waves

A particular state of operation of the brain that could be described as "focused relaxation." Alpha brain activity can be learned through meditation and occurs naturally during the transition from waking to sleeping. As a learned skill, alpha meditation allows the body to enter a twilight state between waking and sleeping while the mind continues a fairly disciplined, but relaxed, presence. During the transition from beta to alpha brain activity, people often have a falling sensation.

The alpha wave is second in electrical intensity, falling below beta but higher than the other sleep pattern waves. The peak and valley amplitude is similar to that of beta, but the frequency is elongated as the subject ceases to respond to all outside stimuli and becomes more aware of internal stimuli through the induced sleep state.


Although there is no proven correlation between the anxiety of a high-stress lifestyle and sleep disruption through stressful dreams, there is no doubt that the anxiety people face in their waking lives finds its way into their dreams. Indeed much of your dream content includes images and emotions that, when studied and interpreted by you. will point to possible solutions for the anxieties you face in your waking life.

However, it is difficult to predict the kind of person that may have excessive dream anxiety. While you would probably expect an obviously anxious person to have more nightmares, this has not been proven and is likely not the case. In fact, those more likely to experience stressful dreams are the ones who hide their inward anxieties in waking life—they often have personalities that are susceptible to feelings of violation or threat. They are considered to have relatively weak personality boundaries. Often these are the most outwardly placid people you will meet, but the most fretful dreamers.

Personality boundaries arc popularly discussed nowadays with little understanding of what really forms them. (Is it nature or nurture?) However, people who have weak boundaries do seem to experience more frequent occurrences of nightmares.


This is a physical condition during sleep in which the tongue falls back into the throat and blocks the airway. At times, sleepers may go through extended periods (2-3 minutes) of not breathing due to the apnea condition. Some scientists have theorized that this causes the sensation of a near-death experience. However, there is no proven relationship between apnea and having bad dreams.

Beta waves

This is the typical brain pattern of a waking person. Not surprisingly, it represents a high level of electrical energy activity and response. On a graph, the image is one of compact peaks and valleys with relatively large changes in amplitude from peak to valley (low amplitude). Most of the environmental stimuli around you are being recorded in the brain at some level, cither aware or sub-aware.