Electric Dreams

Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams 

Part I

Charles McPhee, Ph.D 

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McPhee, Charles (1996 November). Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams, Part I. Electric Dreams 3(10). Retrieved July 26, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams 

In his enlightening, entertaining book, Charles McPhee assists anyone interested in finding out how to become a conscious participant in our dreams by offering a step-by-step guide to mastering the techniques of lucid dreaming. Charles has also offered us a Web site through which we can discuss the issues of consciousness and dreams with him directly. He will be visiting with us here for the next few months at Electric Dreams, answering questions and giving us peeks into his work, Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams. - Richard


From Chapter 1 - Human Sleep

The great mystery of sleep in human experience is that we can know so little about an activity so intimate to us all. To put our familiarity with sleep into perspective, consider that we spend roughly a third of our lives sleeping - about eight hours' sleep in every twenty-four-hour period.

Sleep's familiarity, however, paradoxically seems to blind us to its comprehensiveness. Many of us will be surprised, for example, to reflect that we spend as much time asleep each week as we do at our jobs. Similarly, when we view sleep in cumulative perspective, the lengths of time we log unconscious rapidly grow striking. Adult humans sleep between three and four months a year, while children and adolescents devote close to half of their young years to sleep. Over the course of a lifetime, by the time we have reached seventy years of age, each of us will have spent well over twenty years asleep. And curiously, five of those years will be spent dreaming.

Because dream sleep is the most unstable stage of sleep, due to all of the hallucinated activity that attends it, it is the time when we are most likely to spontaneously, or naturally, awaken. In fact, every morning, prior to our real or final awakening, we all awaken momentarily several times. Typically in a morning dream sleep period there are five or six of these tendencies toward waking. The dreamer may not even open his or her eyes, but on an EEG these "micro awakenings" are readily apparent. This is why when we awaken in the morning, we frequently are able to recall having just been dreaming. Our dreaming literally wakes us up. Because of this propensity to awaken from dream sleep, and because dream sleep always comes at the end of a ninety minute cycle, we tend to sleep in periods that are rough multiples of ninety minutes - most commonly four cycles, or 360 minutes (six hours), or five cycles, which is 450 minutes, or seven and a half hours. If you should awaken during the night and look at your clock, you will see that these ninety-minute cycles do indeed define our sleep periods; our awakenings from sleep are almost always in multiples of ninety minutes.

While there is a propensity for us to sleep in ninety-minute cycles, that is, to awaken at their completion and thus from dream sleep, there are many variables - alarm clocks, children, roommates, dogs, cats, street noises, needing to go to the bathroom - that cause us to awaken from all of the various stages of sleep. What has been demonstrated is that if we awaken from dream sleep, we most likely will recall having been dreaming, whereas if we awaken from any stage other than dream sleep, we most likely will not recall having been dreaming or, for that matter, having had any dreams during the night. Even when we do awaken directly from a dream, it can still be difficult to recall the dream in detail. Most dreams are lost by the time we get to the shower.

From CHAPTER 2: " Dream Sleep"

As mentioned earlier, it is conceivable that desynchronized neural activity in the brain is necessary to support an awake consciousness. This observation, coupled with the observation that desynchronized activity also characterizes neurons during dream sleep, raises an interesting question. From a subjective point of view, aren't we conscious in our dreams? Aren't we "awake" in them? If we reflect upon our own dream experiences, we find that while dreaming, we always *believe* we are awake. We describe our dreams as, "*I* was walking down this long and winding road, then *I* came to a bridge, which stretched out over an ocean, and then *I* saw a rainbow," or something like that. The point is that we almost always recount our dream experiences in the first person, and we also feel awake during our dreams. Accordingly, it seems possible that this "awakeness" during our dreams, though we are not fully awake, as we are when we are *really* awake, is responsible for the desynchronized waveform that appears on the graph..... Here the paradox of dream sleep rears its head once again. We do exist in our dreams. Our "presence" in dreams is responsible for their being any retrospective experience of dreaming at all. But we have already observed that one of the defining features of sleep is the absence of consciousness. So which is it? Are we conscious during our dreams, or not? And if we are conscious in our dreams, then how is this consciousness different from an awake consciousness?

CHAPTER 3: "Consciousness During Dream Sleep"

Recall your own experience with dreams. Generally you are involved in whatever is occurring in your dreams, and all the while you believe you are awake. You navigate the dreamscape with a familiar sense of self; you react and respond to situations much as you do in daily life. All of your familiar sensory abilities are intact. You are present in your dreams; you see in them, you feel in them, you perceive in them. You experience emotions, have thoughts, and make decisions. You see, hear, feel, smell, touch, and taste. You are inquisitive. You evaluate, analyze, and investigate. You feel the earth beneath your feet, you scan the horizon with your eyes, and you feel the wind blowing against your cheek. Things happen to you in your dreams.

But before we proceed too far along in examining the similarities between our dreams and our waking experience, it would be prudent to remember that for all of the familiar aspects of our self that we carry into the dreamscape, some aspect of our self is glaringly absent. The key evidence in support of this statement is that while we are dreaming, we almost never notice that we are dreaming. And, stated plainly, we *should* notice when we are dreaming.

During dreams, and in any dream sequence, there are literally hundreds of clues that would tip off an awakened consciousness that one* had* to be dreaming. Violations of physical laws - abrupt, impossible scene shifts and connections of events - are not the exception in dream experience; rather, they characterize dream experience. People and objects metamorphose as we watch, and incongruities and absurdities are everywhere. Most dream scenarios do not correspond at all with our everyday waking lives. Suddenly we are back at school, a mixture of high school and college, and we are writing a paper, making ink marks with our fingertips as we pull our hands down the page. In dreams, clues abound, but for some reason, we consistently fail to recognize the dreamscape. What has happened to our minds? What should be an immediate and facile reality discrimination task is suddenly next to impossible. Something, something very comprehensive, is missing.

Next month I talk more about whether or not we actually possess consciousness in dream and what this can mean to our lives. If you can't wait, you can stop by my Web site for a full chapter summary of Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams. If you would like more on this, my book is published by Henry Holt and Company, Inc. Publication Date: December 27th, 1995. 0-8050-2500-6 $22.50, cloth. Contact: Robin Jones, (212) 886-9270


-Charles Mcphee