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During a typical lifetime a human spends a total of about six years dreaming. REM sleep studies have indicated that the first dream of the night is expected to deal with material from the preceeding 24 hour period, while the next dream of the night would deal with events in the preceeding month.  The third REM period would involve childhood scenes or the dreamer being much younger in age.

The left hemisphere of the brain is associated with logical, rational, linear thinking  while the right is associated with global perception of auditory and visual imagery.  The right hemisphere, then would be expected to be more active during dreaming activity and the left would dominate inter-REM thinking periods (studies have shown that between REM periods people think the same kind of thoughts they think all day: whats for dinner? do I have any clean clothes left? I think my butt  looks fat.).  Most of us probably assume that the sleeping mind is not functionally different from the waking mind.  And that’s true; dreaming does not depend on mental processes that are unique to sleep.

Women dream of animals more often then men, and the animals that appear are more likely to be mammals.  Children are three times as likely to dream of animals than adults. The seven most common animals in adult dreams are: dogs, horses, cats, birds, snakes, fish and insects. The most common animals children dream of are: dogs, horses, cats, snakes, bears, lions and monsters (I often dream of animals that are hybrids: half horse, half chicken, or part camel and part lion. What do you think says about me? I probably don’t want to know.).  The percentage of aggressive dreams increases for both sexes as the presence of animal figures increases (I rarely have aggressive dreams, but I dream of animals a lot.).  Quantitative analyses of dream content indicate that animal figures in dreams represent unacceptable or frightening impulses. The percentage of animal figures decreases as the dreamer’s age increases. Animal images may represent a less-developed, less differentiated form of cognitive structure. More animals are present in the second and third REM periods, the time of night when dream imagery tends to involve childhood issues.

The proportion of hostile to friendly interactions is greater in the dreams of working class adolescent boys than middle class boys. Just thought you should know.

Two types of dreams are commonly called nightmares: REM anxiety dreams and night terrors.  An REM anxiety dream is one with anxiety producing content during REM sleep.  The dream is more likely to occur during the latter part of the sleep cycle, and the dreamer has good recall of the content.  The night terror occurs during the first two hours of sleep, is associated with stage four sleep, and is difficult to recall.  A scream typically precedes awakening, and the subject may be disoriented for the next 10-20 minutes.

Night terrors are less dreams and more a cognitive effort to describe a sudden shift in physiological status rather than an attempt to process psychological conflicts.  Night terrors involve huge changes in the autonomic nervous system – breathing, pulse and adrenaline – and because the awakening is so abrupt, they are sometimes classified as disorders of arousal.  Night terrors are most common in children and a study showed that after their adenoids were removed, twenty two of twenty-three children stopped having night terrors.

Nightmare sufferers share personality characteristics with each other that they don’t with people who experience vivid dreams of non-vivid ones.  The most common nightmare theme is being chased.  Nightmare sufferers, when not experiencing nightmares, report having vivd dreams, with bright colors, distinctive sounds and tactile sensations that are usually absent in other peoples’ dreams such as pain, taste and smell. Nightmare sufferers tend not to hold blue or white collar jobs; instead they tend to be musicians, artists or teachers.  They tend to abjure stereotypical sex-roles, and tend to have stormy relationships in which they get over-involved quickly.


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