Dreams and Nightmares: Big Parts of Our Lives?

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Everyone sleeps. Humans, dogs, primates, rats, and the rest of earth’s inhabitants all experience the relaxing and necessary state of sleep. It appears to just be an unconscious state essential for survival; however, much more is going on than meets the eye. Sleep is accompanied by dreams, a term associated with adventures, experiences, and conflicts, which occur in one’s mind during those hours while one is fast asleep in bed. All people dream from the moment they enter this world to the day they leave, but whether or not they remember what they experienced the previous night varies. I, of course, am no exception and have dreams dating years back to my younger days that have remained in my memory. Upon waking, I recall having a confused, entertained or disturbed reaction to these dreams and even remember some of them affecting the rest of my day or just my life in general. The recent premiere of the movie Inception, a movie revolving around the dream world, has helped spark my interest into the dreams and their true purpose. I have been pondering if they have a bigger role in our lives rather than just a source of entertainment while we sleep. Prior to beginning research, my factual knowledge of dreams was quite limited to my personal experiences, as I have had my fair share of dreams as well as nightmares. I knew that dreams were usually perceived as happy and nightmares were almost always frightening experiences. Some dreams could also be interpreted for deeper meanings. Lastly, prior to researching, I knew dreams only lasted a portion of the time, and one usually had a difficult time remembering the content of the dream upon awakening. Through my research I wished to discover how people are affected by their dreams and nightmares in their behavior, mood, and their overall physical health. I also wished to know if there were any past evidences of events which happened in direct correlation to dreams. I was hopeful in finding the true meaning of dreams and how big of a role they actually have in our lives.

Dreams do not come and go as they please; the period when people experience dreams is when they are peacefully sleeping. When one finally falls into a slumber, the body and mind follow a cycle through five sleep phases (Obringer). In the first phase, one is in a very light sleep where it is easy to be wakened, and as the cycle continues one falls into a deeper and deeper sleep. Up to the fourth phase, muscle activity greatly declines, breathing and heart rate slow down, and the brain sends out the slowest of the brain waves, Delta Waves. Up to this point, known as Non REM sleep, the body and mind are at basically full relaxation without experiencing rapid eye movement. The fifth phase, however, is when things seem to reverse. As the body enters the fifth stage, known as Rapid-Eye Movement, or R.E.M, the heart and breathing rate accelerate, blood pressure rises, and brain activity increases to the same level as when one is awake (Obringer). This is the period when most dreaming takes place. The body also appears to get paralyzed by an amino acid during this stage and it is suggested that “this paralysis could be nature's way of making sure we don't act out our dreams” (Obringer). REM was named after the movement of the eyes during this period, where the brain tells the eyes to move and scan a scene that only exists in the mind (Dement 299). One goes through this entire five-phase cycle about four or five times a night, with each dream only lasting about five to twenty minutes (Diagram Group 24). How could an event with such a short duration possibly have a big impact on our lives?

Dreams have been deemed important and meaningful in our lives for thousands of years. From the Babylonians and Egyptians to the Greeks and the Romans, dreams have been believed to be of great importance. In ancient times, people believed most of the dreams to be sent from the gods and nightmares to be sent...
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