Wednesday, September 6, 2017

on dreams and sleep

The Conversation runs a series for 'Curious Kids'. Today an answer to a question about dreams.

I thought the answer was a bit limited, in focusing on the history of psychological interpretation of dreams. So I ventured into the physiology:

Dennis Argall

logged in via Google
I think it’s important to connect dreaming with the state of our whole body. While we sleep, it is normal for the sugar level in our blood stream to decline. Towards morning this process reaches a point where the body responds by lifting adrenalin llevels. Adrenalin, more scientific name epinephrine, is what gives us a charge to run away from something or chase madly after something when challenged when we are awake. It has broad roles like that in body systems and as we sleep and sugar levels fall adrenalin’s rise wakes us… But along the way it churns up other things, bladder alerts, appetite alerts and brain alerts which can mean dreams of better or worse kind. We may dream at other times, unaware. The dreams remembered are those just before waking.
I think there are a couple of things that flow from this. First is the need to maintain healthy levels of protein, sugar and caffeine (chocolate, tea, coffee, cola) without big spikes. And to treat sleep with respect, allowing it to happen and not getting too caught up in dramatic phone or tablet games in bed.
A recent news story suggested that billions of dollars would be saved in the US if schools began later…in the case of the US meaning not 8am but a bit later, because adolescents need to sleep in a bit and there would be better school results and fewer teenage car accidents if that were respected. Which suggests to me also that adolescent sugar-adrenalin cycles are different. Perhaps most young people sustain blood sugar levels better. Perhaps parents should just envy the capacity to sleep in! But perhaps also adjust bedtimes to get enough sleep altogether. Because…
During the day we yank minerals out of muscle and bone to do all kinds of work, including brain work. When we sleep those resources have to be put back. These processes are called catabolic and anabolic. Modern society with its levels of stress put people into problems because they may not get their resources restored in sleep. Crash. And nightmares.
So my thought is that we need to think very broadly about the importance of sleep, not as a dead zone but critical to life. I had sleep and nightmare problems for decades but eventually did a sleep test and found that my nightmares were not caused primarily by brain ruckus but because my breathing was stopping (sleep apnea) and the adrenalin rush to keep me alive, as we normally have gently in the morning, was violent in the middle of the night. Good habits of sleep when younger may have avoided that nonsense.

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