Electric Dreams

Dreams Are SLEEPING Experiences

Linda Lane Magallón 

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Magallón, Linda Lane (2002 Dec). Dreams Are SLEEPING Experiences. 
Electric Dreams 9

Dreams Are SLEEPING Experiences
© 2002 Linda Lane Magallón

Several decades ago, dream researchers discovered that sleep runs in cycles with an average duration of ninety minutes. The stage of the cycle helps determine the content and form of our dreams. Certain stages support our emotional-feeling side; other phases of the cycle favor our logical-rational side. If we happen to be asleep during the emotional-feeling part of the cycle, we tend to experience the usual, visual dream. The logical-rational side is more likely to produce mental or “thinking” dreams.

During sleep, lab scientists can track automatic movements of the eye. Rapid-eye-movement, or REM, tends to correspond to the production of visual-emotional dreams, whereas non-REM sleep seems to produce more cognitive experiences. But can a non-REM dream be visual and a REM dream be cognitive? Sure, they can.

Rapid movement of the eyes is an activity during sleep only, but the “REM” cycle actually continues throughout the entire day. San Diego psychiatrists Daniel Kripke and David Sonnenschein have shown that while we are awake, our tendency to daydream also peaks about every ninety minutes. When they asked people to report and record daydreams, they discovered that there, too, we swing from emotional to logical and back again. Toward the end of each cycle, daydreams become especially vivid and fanciful. The same is true of nocturnal dreams.

Thus, the bio-chemistry that underlies the REM cycle is continuous around the clock. We can fall asleep any time and have visual or cognitive dreams. The dream movie theater is always open. Interspersed with intermissions, the films keep playing all day, but we only become aware of them when daytime perceptions are muted.

Because of this 24 hour cycle, the content and form of some sleeping dreams are quite similar to some waking imaginal experiences. In fact, they can be so similar, that certain cultures will use the same word to describe both. Even today, the terms “dreaming,” “daydreaming” and “conscious dreaming” are being applied to waking state imagination and visualization. So are all imaginal experiences the same? No, they’re not.

With the advent of technology, we have discovered that sleep involves different brain and body activity than waking. Eye movement, heartbeat and respiration alter. Major muscle movements disappear. Awareness of exterior life dims. More subtle shifts occur in pressure and chemical composition of bodily fluids, including blood flow. Most recently, sleep researchers have come to realize the changing chemistry of our brains. Given these shifts during sleep, it should be no surprise to realize that sleeping dreams include certain experiences that are *not* likely to be found while awake. Even when you are in a waking altered state.

Sleeping dreams are often more surreal than waking imagination; their imagery can morph. They can be more discontinuous and confused than waking imagination. There is a tendency to “begin” in the middle and “end” before completion of the drama. They are usually action sequences instead of stories. There are abrupt scene shifts to another place that is not congruous with even a meandering story line. And, most importantly, there is a break with regular waking experience. In such a state, one may not even realize that there *is* a waking experience. With fewer waking resources, the dream drama may find it hard to solve conflicts and problems dragged in from waking life.

So, while I treasure them in their own right, I don’t call my daydreams, reveries, visualizations, imagination, meditative states, channeling, automatic writing, remote viewing or psychic readings “dreams.” I consider them to be part of “daytime perceptions,” whether they be in an “altered” state or not. Like the lab scientists, I define dreams as experiences occurring during sleep. It’s the beginning and ending of the sleep cycle that is the main determinant for me, not the content or form of the experience. Why? I have 3 main reasons.

First, as a dream researcher, I’d be doing a disservice to the dream community and public at large if I couldn’t distinguish between different states of consciousness. Or if I didn’t screen the case studies I’ve received and reports I solicit before they are analyzed. My findings and conclusions would be skewed if I couldn’t say anything definitive about that particular state called dream. When folks on-line ask me questions about dreams, especially students writing research papers, they expect to receive material about *sleeping* dreams, not just any ‘ole oatmeal mush.

Second, as a member of a dream group, I’m interested in harmonious interactions and clear communications. I especially recall the conflict caused when people came to group with different ideas about what a lucid dream was supposed to be. It was like trying to juggle apples, berries and pears. Yes, they’re all fruit. Yes, as the Jungians say, it’s all part of the imaginal realm. But what confusion and frustration was engendered when people used the same word to mean different things. It required a bit of give-and-take to understand what we each were talking about. We came to consensus about the terms, not about the value of our personal experiences. Afterwards, we could compare them and discover the rich variety of ingredients that we cook up to create the pies cooling on the shelves of our communal dream restuarant.

Third, as a waking ego, I can be extremely self-centered. To treat my dreaming self as another person helps avoid such navel gazing. When I take on the reporter’s role, when I write down a dream as a day in the life of my dreaming self...then compare her life with mine, I discover that we are not the same. She can fly, I can’t. I have a husband and family, she can be single or married or both or neither. We have different attitudes and abilities. We have a different history. We live in different places. We might not even look the same. Or be the same gender. Or share the same choice of baked dessert.

My dreaming self is my Inner Child, my advisor, my hopeless victim, my nonsense generator, my Super Self, my golden opportunity to see things from a different perspective. All that rich variety is lost, that unique person with a special life is lost, when I lump every experience together and call it all Linda’s imaginal realm, like my waking ego is queen of the inner universe. How selfish can I get?

I wish there were different terms to avoid confusion between daytime and nocturnal experience. We can certainly imagine-up some other words for the imaginal waking state. But let’s keep “dreams” for sleep.


• Antrobus, John S. “Dreaming: Cortical Activation and Perceptual
Thresholds,” Cognition and Dream Research (The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Ed. Robert E. Haskell), 7/2&3, 193-212.
• Antrobus, John S. “Dream Theory 1997: Toward a Computational Neurocognitive Model,” Sleep Research Society Bulletin, 3/1, 5-9.
• Brain Facts-A Primer on the Brain and Nervious System. Ed. Joseph Carey. (Washington, D.C.: The Society for Neuroscience, 1993), 22-24.
• Hartmann, Ernest. “On the Nature and Functions of Dreaming,” Sleep Research Society Bulletin, (Los Angeles, CA: The Sleep Research Society, USA, 1997), 3/2, 17-27.
• Klinger, Eric. Daydreaming. (Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1990).
• Moorcroft, William & Jennifer Clothier. “An Overview of the Body and the Brain in Sleep,” Sleep & Dreams. (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1986), 30-61.
• Rechtschaffen, Allan. “Commentary by Allan Rechtschaffen,” WFSRS
Newsletter, (Los Angeles, CA: World Federation of Sleep Research Societies, 1994), 3/1, 16-18.
• Siegel, Ronald K. Fire in the Brain: Clinical Tales of Hallucination. (New York: Penguin Books, 1992).

Dreams Are SLEEPING Experiences
© 2002 Linda Lane Magallón