Night Cycles: The Rollercoaster of Dreaming
by Jeremy Donovan

The factual data in the following post is taken from the book Our Dreaming Mind by Robert Van De Castle.

There is something about the pattern of our sleep cycle which is intriguing.

I keep contemplating a graph of the different sleep stages. I'm convinced it simply must be telling an important tale. It is like a little rollercoaster we ride in our minds every night. What follows is a simplified description of the ride.

There is being awake (A).
There is the state of rapid eye movement (REM) or (R).
There are four stages of sleep: 1,2,3,4.
Stage 1 is the shallowest level of sleep.
Stage 4 is the deepest level of sleep.

Although the REM state is the state most closely resembling the waking state, when you first go to sleep you usually bypass the REM state, travel through an initial phase of alpha waves, then move from Stage 1 sleep right down through 2 and 3, to Stage 4. After 45 minutes or so of Stage 4, you move back up through stage 3, 2, and 1, to arrive at the first REM period of the night, but the first REM is very short --- only about 10 minutes.

Then you descend again through Stage 1, spend a bit more time in Stage 2, then descend through 3, and to 4 again, but you only stay in 4 briefly this time (some do not go all the way back to 4), before you rise up through 3, spend a bit more time again in 2, then up through 1 to the second REM state, which lasts longer this time.

The next time you go down the hill, you will stop in Stage 2 or maybe just touch on 3, spending your time doing a loop into lots of 2 and back to 1, then arriving at a still longer REM period.

The mind makes 4 or 5 of these "loops" every night. The final REM period of the night may be from 25 to 70 minutes (there is considerable individual difference in max). If this works out via e-mail, the following is a simplified graphical depiction of an average night (read it from left to right):

A                                          A
          R         RR     RRR         RRRR
 1        1 1       1  1   1   1   1   1
  2      2   222 222    222     222 222 
   3    3      3 3       3
    4444        4

So there's a progression from lots of deep sleep, to a little, to none, and an accompanying increase from less REM stage to lots of it.

There is no significant difference between the sexes. There are very significant differences between age groups. Young children spend much more time in REM.

Percentagewise, of total sleep time, the normal adult spends:

22%     REM
7%       stage 1
50%     stage 2
7%       stage 3
14%     stage 4

So every night we do these "off-line processing" loops. The first order of business takes our brains way on down into those deep smooth delta waves. Then when we've had enough of that, our brains seem to need quite a bit of that bread-and-butter Stage 2 (mostly waves in the alpha range, yet with 15-20% still in delta, accompanied by EEG spikes called K-complexes). Stage 1 and Stage 3 are almost like "transition" stages. REM is very similar to waking except that it also includes a periodic "sawtooth" pattern of waves and activates different areas of the brain. REM is where the most frequent and the most vivid dreaming occurs.

It is very tempting to conclude that REM (and its associated vivid dreaming) is sort of like a pre-waking reality --- perhaps kind of a dress-rehearsal for waking, taking place in the mind without the constraints of actual reality.

There was research done at the University of Chicago in 1965 which might support this idea. They found that "the first dream of the night would be expected to deal with material from the preceding twenty-four hour period, while the next REM report would deal with events from the preceding month. The third REM report would deal with events from several years ago and the fourth REM period would involve childhood scenes or the dreamer being much younger in age."

Replica Watches  Replica Watches

It would be hard for most people to fully verify this, for as a rule people do not recall dreams from each period of dreaming in the night, unless awakened and questioned. However, sometimes ... I do. The author of this book comments further on his own experience with this sort of pattern, and I find that his observations to some extent agree with my own:

"It appears as if our dreaming mind identifies some current problem or conflict related to the previous day, then attempts systematically to trace the earlier developmental events associated with that issue. A conflict involving authority figures, for example, might be represented in the first dream by an argument with the boss at work, in a succeeding dream by a misunderstanding with a high school teacher, and in a later dream by the dreamer as a younger child being scolded by his or her father. Dreams then progress toward more contemporary times in the last REM period before awakening, as if the dreamer were preparing to exit from the dreaming state to confront the present realities outside the bedroom."

My comment would be that sometimes there are patterns of this nature in dreaming. I was hoping he would quote other studies which explore this idea further and duplicate the results, but he has yet to mention any. This approach is quite intriguing to me, because it goes along with the intuitive idea that one of the main purposes of sleep and dreaming is simply gradual preparation, both physical and psychological, for the next period of waking.

(If anyone knows of other research along these lines, I'd be very interested.)

Taken in this context, aware dreaming might simply be to opportunistically utilize the proximity of REM to waking in order to gain awareness and consciously commandeer the state, taking the brain out of "autopilot," and beginning to direct or play with the virtual realities as desired. Right off, I'd say this could easily have either positive or negative effects on a person, depending upon what they do with it.

Castaneda's claim is that aware dreaming states can be developed into something equivalent to reality, and can be taken for real. Of course, that is a very exciting conclusion if true, and yet it is a very dangerous conclusion if false, or if somehow "half-true." I do not think enough attention is being given to the possibility, supported by most of the evidence of which I am aware, that it is indeed false, or at best half-true, as presented by Castaneda. There is also, of course, the possibility that it is usually false, and yet ... under certain special conditions true. I'd merely like to emphasize yet again, that even if this IS the case, there is no reason to simply believe everything Castaneda said about such special conditions or special states. Indeed, there is good reason to suspect him of lying about it, as he lied about so many things.

Unfortunately, it is going to be very difficult to arrive at the truth, for it is obvious that in an aware dreaming condition, our minds are to a large extent capable of creating what they want to experience (at least, I have observed that mine is...). In my opinion, this leaves us in the position of needing to carefully validate the possibility that such states can truly be "real" in some way before making aware dreaming the major goal of our lives.

If these states can under some circumstances be real, then it is worth exploring the possibility that someone somewhere may be good enough at utilizing such states to validate the reality. We should concentrate on finding such a person, while at the same time we should NOT assume that it can be done. If, on the other hand, it is not possible to validate the reality of aware dreaming states, it may be much more constructive to approach the entire subject as a "subconscious" or "preconscious" form of "virtual reality," and thus at the same time we should be exploring other possibilities for developing those states, utilizing dream research such as that which I have described in this post. We could perhaps also be exploring possibilities such as that people in those "preconscious" states are more sensitive to things like "telepathy." There are lots of possibilities, of course.

Bottom line: we should NOT, under any circumstances, proceed as if Carlos Castaneda has said the last word on dreaming. Indeed, we should be carefully questioning whether or not he has said much of anything true about it.

In any case, I suspect that the "rollercoaster" should be giving us ideas and clues...