By Isabella Howe
March 8th, 2021
Sleep is a fascinating phenomenon. According to sleepfoundation.org, as human beings, it is required that the body obtains at least 7-9 hours of sleep if over the age of 18, and 8-11 if one is under the age of 18, with an increase in the amount the younger a person is.
When calculated, the average person spends a total of 26 years sleeping and seven years attempting to fall asleep (dreams.co.uk). Sleep is essential as it permits the body to accomplish a set array of tasks that the organ system would not be able to complete in any other state.
In a state of sleep, the brain interchanges between REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. In most cases, the body begins the process of sleep in a non-REM state. The brain starts to lose its responsiveness to the outside world as bodily processes begin to slow; this is a transition from the stage of sleep known as N1 to the stage of sleep known as N2. The N2 stage is the phase that the brain spends the majority of a night’s sleep in as it lasts about 30-60 minutes which is the longest phase in the cycle. During the N2 phase, the body decreases its overall temperature and begins to form what are known as “sleep spindles” which are “bursts of coherent brain activity” (sciencedirect.com).
The body eventually transitions to the N3 stage, which is a “deep sleep” that only lasts from 20-40 minutes. During this stage of sleep, the brain is characterized by its production of delta wave signals. If one is to be awoken at this stage, it is common to experience a mental fog known as “sleep inertia” (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). During the N3, the body performs the most crucial and essential task of sleep: it enacts a series of tissue, bone, and muscle regrowth as well as immune system strengthening.
Finally, the brain will enter REM sleep characterized by its erratic eye movement as well as fast tempo breathing. Only at this stage does a person experience what most would believe to be the only purpose of sleep, dreaming. The brain achieves this phase about 90 minutes into rest. The first REM period may only last about ten minutes, but during its last periods, it has the potential to last up to a full hour according to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
During the sleep stage REM, in which the body actively dreams, it is possible to experience an occurrence known as “Lucid Dreaming”. Lucid dreaming was recognized and named by a Dutch psychiatrist named Frederik van Eeden in the early 1900s. Eeden is also responsible for recognizing the nine types of dreams that naturally take place (science.howstuffworks.com). Lucid dreaming is a term assigned to a form of sleep in which the dreamer is actively aware they are dreaming, which can then allow such dreamer to enact control over their dream. While lucid dreaming, the sleeper’s consciousness of the fact that they are in a dream does not take away or diminish the vivid experience dreams are characterized by. Some may not be able to control their actions while others may. As stated by webmd.com, lucid dreaming is a rare marvel that only occurs a handful of times in a year by around half the population.
Through a study looking into the science of lucid dreaming, researchers arrived to the conclusion that there is a bias in which people are more likely to observe a lucid dream. It was concluded that those with a more highly developed prefrontal cortex are shown to have a greater chance. The prefrontal cortex is a part of the human brain developed through evolution that allowed prehistoric humans to excel and reach a state of brain development that diverged from any other species (Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari). It is here where the cognitive ability to make decisions and recall memories occurs. Those who spend time contemplating decisions and deep thought evidently have a higher chance of lucid dreaming. It has also been discovered that lucid dreaming can not be distinguished as being either asleep or awake but rather in an in-between state.
Even though lucid dreaming is shown to be a more likely occurrence for those with highly developed prefrontal cortexes, ultimately, there are ways to manipulate and artificially cause the brain to produce a lucid dream. There are a selection of methods to do so. Keeping a journal in which you record any memory of a dream you had has shown to increase the chances of having lucid dreams as it allows the mind to focus on the process of dreaming and fundamentally become more aware of it. Another method is to wake up, after a suggested five hours of sleep, stay awake for a short period of time, attempting to hold on to the drowsiness, and then allow your body to fall back asleep and reenter the REM stage. This creates a passageway into the state of neither sleep nor consciousness where the lucid dreaming is suspended. Another method is to simply repeat to yourself in a series of repetitions that “I am going to lucid dream”. This creates a mentality focused and determined on the concept of lucid dreaming that can then translate into your rest. Lastly, it has been shown that drugs can also induce lucid dreaming yet this is the method least recommended as the repercussions and ramifications are at times drastic (webmd.com).
The complete complexities and abilities of the human body and mind can leave one in awe. The ability to now direct and control one’s dreams is quite a discovery. The number of creative experiences that one might design through the process of rest are endless. Sleep does not have to be looked at as something to dread, as proven through factual evidence, it is possible to be highly productive in a state of physical idleness.