‘Sleep Research & The Subconscious Mind’


Sleep research is all about coming to terms with the darker side of the mind. The science of sleep helps us delve into the subconscious mind and return with insights into the basic needs of the human brain and body.

“I’m not alseep… but that doesn’t mean I’m awake”


In this section, you can learn about the history and science of sleep, and how breakthrough theories from Sigmund Freud helped us to further our understanding of dreams and the subconscious mind.

Learn about the shocking effects of sleep deprivation – a state which lingers at the edge of consciousness, but for most people never quite takes hold. Later we will look at voluntary and forced sleep deprivation.


A History of Sleep

The science of sleep and dreaming goes back millennia as you will see in the history of sleep. See how the ancient Greeks and Egyptians interpreted dreams and created their own primitive theories of sleep.

Learn about Circadian Rhythms and how it was another two centuries before Sigmund Freud emerged on the scene with his famous book on dream analysis: The Interpretation of Dreams.


Why Do We Sleep?

To learn about modern sleep research, take a look at why do we sleep? This article explains the nature of the NREM and REM sleep cycles, with the brainwave changes that occur in the subconscious mind. It is all about the science of sleep and the human brain.

Discover the role played by neurotransmitters in sleep rhythms and compare human sleep requirements with a host of other animals. This leads to a look at evolution and the four main theories of sleep.


Sleep Deprivation

The most famous sleep research often involves sleep deprivation. When humans go without sleep for more than 24 hours, strange things begin to happen… Their minds and bodies soon deteriorate.

Learn about attempts to break the Guinness World Record for sleep deprivation, including Peter Tripp and Randy Gardner, and the planend stunt by David Blaine.

Discover the mental and physical effects of sleep deprivation, including real life studies of people with Fatal Familial Insomnia, a tragic genetic disease which kills its victims from a complete lack of sleep. Understanding this condition has driven the science of sleep to new realms.


Why Do We Dream?

If the light has been shed on sleep research – then we are still poking around in the dark for a practical theory of why do we dream?

There is plenty of dream research from the last few decades, but still there is no single accepted theory for this hallucinogenic state. Sigmund Freud had many ideas (including the theory of Id, Ego and Super-Ego) but Freud remains controversial to this day.

Some scientists say that dreams are random impulses from the brain stem, while others insist there is logic and meaning to our dreams, arising from the subconscious mind. Find out why some researchers think dreaming may be a coping method to help us deal with potential real life traumas.


Dream Interpretation

What is the meaning of dreams? Dream interpretation is based on the theory that dreams offer hidden messages from the subconscious mind. They may be vital to uncovering lost memories and repressed thoughts – if you really want to dig them up, that is.

Sigmund Freud was the first to put dream interpretation on the map of sleep research. Many people still find his dream analysis useful today. Here you can learn about the language of the subconcious human brain, and how we can relate to it with dream symbols.

This article explains the true meaning behind dreams – with scientific dream interpretation.

Dreams are like letters from the unconscious brain. If only they were written in the same language that we use in waking reality!

Alas, they are disguised through conceptual thinking, which is how the subconscious mind works. But we can decode this information with dream analysis.


How to Begin your Dream Interpretation

To begin your dream analysis, start a dream journal, for three reasons:

1. Improve your Dream Recall – so that in time you can remember up to five dreams every night (one for each REM sleep cycle). A powerful technique for remembering dreams is to set your alarm clock to wake you after each REM cycle has finished: first after 3 hours, then every 90 minutes thereafter. This can be disruptive to your sleep, but it is worth trying one night – you will be bowled over by the number of dreams you can recall!

2. Identify Dream Symbols – a dream journal allows you to track recurring dream symbols and translate the underlying meaning behind dreams. For instance, you may repeatedly dream about falling, but this only becomes clear when you count the number of times it appears in your dream journal. That’s because your subconscious mind is trying to send you a message in conceptual form.

3. Increase Dream Meaning – writing and talking about your dreams places greater importance on them in your subconscious mind. The power of the subconscious is truly amazing, and if you give it a task (to remember more dreams) it will comply. Suddenly you will be able to boost your dream recall and have greater opportunities to translate the meaning behind dreams. You may also realize that your dreams become more meaningful for as you open up a new communication channel with the subconscious mind.


How to Translate Srubconscious Dreams

The essence of dream interpretation is not to take things literally. Dreaming about death does not mean you are going to die. Instead it may represent the end of an era or part of your life.

Dream analysis is symbolic – because that’s how the subconscious mind works.

The human brain thinks and learns in neural patterns. If you fall off your bike and cut your knee, you will associate your bike with pain. Your subconscious then creates a “rule” to avoid falling off a bike in future. This is a neural pathway; a link between neurons in your brain. It is learned through experience.

Neural pathways become more complex over the years. They apply to every kind of experience in life. Your subconscious mind uses these associations in dreams.


How to Interpret Dream Symbols

You have a unique understanding of the world around you. As you grew up, your subconscious learned about friendship, love, loneliness and betrayal. It made up rules about every human emotion and how you should feel about life. These “rules” are reflected in your dreams each night.

But equally, we have all grown up in the same culture, the same era, and we are all human. So it’s no coincidence that we all make the same conclusions about life, subconsciously. That’s where a dream dictionary comes in extremely useful.

Cloud Nine: A Dreamer’s Dictionary is the most complete and comprehensive dream dictionary for beginners. It provides thousands of dream symbols and definitions to translate your subconscious dream interpretation.

For anyone looking to find the meaning behind dreams, this dream dictionary is an excellent start. It also teaches you how to:

  • keep a dream journal
  • identify dream symbols
  • encourage peaceful sleep
  • remember more dreams
  • gain insights from nightmares
  • invoke healing dreams

Cloud Nine is written by a practicing psychologist in California and has received some rave reviews on Amazon. Highly recommended for understanding the true meaning behind dreams.

What is The Unconscious Mind?
The Search for The Inner Self


What is the unconscious mind? How does it think? And what is the connection with the inner self? This article takes a look at the nature of the subconscious mind and how to communicate to your true inner self with Greene’s Release.


A Brief History

The subconscious mind is a concept created more than 200 years ago, by a man named Carl Gustav Carus. He theorized that beyond our conscious existence, humans also have a latent unconscious mind.

Later, Sigmund Freud said that this subconscious mind is a fairly dark place, that stores traumatic and repressed memories. While we may be unaware of them, these experiences can strongly influence our daily lives. The only time they are freely expressed are during psychotic episodes – and dreams.

But Freud’s protege, Carl Jung, took this theory even further, blurring the rules that Sigmund Freud had set for the unconscious mind and forming a whole new structure of the human mind. Jung said that the unconscious mind is full of transcendent truths – and that we can grow by bringing these truths into conscious awareness. He said the best way to achieve this is through dream interpretation.


Modern Theories of The Subconscious Mind

There are a whole range of interesting theories on this. The idea I like most is described by Janet Greene of Greene’s Release in The Five Stages of Life. It explains how the subconscious mind builds up inaccurate perceptions of the world through early experiential learning. Here it is, in a very small nutshell:


Stage 1 – We enter life with complete freedom to be ourselves. Our inner self (or spiritual essence) shines through to the physical world. We eat when we feel hungry. We sleep when we feel tired. We laugh when we feel happy. The only thing influencing our behavior is gut feeling. We live in the now.


Stage 2 – As children, we learn the rules of life from direct experience. There are good and bad experiences, but even the bad ones – traumatic events, abuse, poor self esteem – are stored as “life rules” in the unconscious mind. It is like a layer of a child’s perspective, and becomes the guiding rules for life. These rules are all stored in the subconscious mind.


Stage 3 – As we grow, we apply these life rules to our entire waking experience. If our childhood taught us to have low expectations, they we go on to enter low paid jobs and disappointing relationships. If we never learned to love ourselves, we may self sabotage and never learn to love another. The inaccurate life rules of the unconscious mind filter negativity into our whole lives. Some people get stuck in this stage of life forever, trapped in their own personal nightmare.


Stage 4 – Others will feel there is more to life and seek the truth. That’s when we realize that many of our life rules set as children are completely out of whack – and we need to reset them. The only way to do this is by emptying the emotional storage bin and consciously setting new life rules. That’s what the Greene’s Release technique does, and its unlike any other I’ve heard of. (You’ll know of Hypnotic Regression, NLP, and The Sedona Method… they have nothing on this!)


Stage 5 – The final stage of life begins when you have released all the unconscious emotional blocks that were holding you back from living a truly happy life. You are able to instinctively feel once again, and wake up smiling from the inside out. You will always act in your best interests and seek fulfilling relationships. You will not experience anxiety or anger or guilt about anything. Best of all, your experience is not filtered by a negative unconscious mind; instead you communicate directly with your wise and intuitive inner self.


A New Perception

So while Carl Gustav Carus and Sigmund Freud laid the basic principles of the unconscious mind, they cast a very dark shadow over the inner self. I don’t believe that deep down we’re all riddled with repressed urges as Freud said. Instead, it’s the pure, vibrant inner self that is bursting to get out – but we’ve caged it up as a result of carrying our childhood perceptions through to adulthood. In fact, many modern thinkers believe Carl Jung had it right with his theory of transcendent truths – wisdom emanating, unfiltered, from the inner self. That is the ultimate goal of living according to Greene’s Release, too.

That is how we can access the inner self, by breaking down the misconceptions in the subconscious mind. This is something you can do, consciously, over time – I recommend the Greene’s Release Heal Your Self workbook if you are interested. Its also something to explore in your lucid dreams, as the oneironaut Robert Waggoner explains in this article, 10 Things to Ask Your Lucid Dream Self.


The Hypnagogic State:
Hypnagogia and Lucid Dreams


The hypnagogic state is a strange phenomena that occurs at the onset of sleep. Also known as hypnagogia, it induces visions, voices, insights and peculiar sensations as you sail through the borderland state.

You are probably used to seeing hypnagogic imagery as you fall asleep. You may see familiar faces, landscapes and geometric shapes take form.

Complex patterns flow across your field of vision, becoming almost hypnotic in nature, and with focus these can be manipulated at will. What many people don’t realize is this imagery can be used to induce lucid dreams.



What is The Hypnagogic State?

“Only when I am on the brink of sleep,
with the consciousness that I am so…”

Edgar Allan Poe

The term hypnagogic was created in the 19th century by a French psychologist. He derived it from two Greek words: hypnos (meaning sleep) and agogeus (meaning guide). Later, the term hypnopompic came to being, to describe the same phenomena which occurs between sleep and waking. Essentially these are the same hallucinatory states.

Scientists have linked the hypnagogic state with NREM sleep, pre-sleep alpha waves, REM sleep and relaxed wakefulness. There is also a theory that regular meditation can enable you to develop a skill to “freeze the hypnagogic process at later and later stages”.

Some consider hypnagogia to be meaningless activity of the brain – a way of decluttering and clearing out unwanted junk. Others believe it has more value; just like lucid dreams, hypnagogic imagery can be consciously guided and interpreted as it happens, forging a gateway to the unconscious mind.


Hypnagogia and Lucid Dreams

Observing your own hypnagogic imagery as you drift to sleep is one way of entering lucid dreams on demand. The most popular technique is known as Wake Induced Lucid Dreams, also called the Hypnagogic Induction Technique.

I strongly recommend attempting the WILD / HIT method as it is an excellent way to explore the realm between consciousness and sleep. There you will find deep relaxation, sudden insights and a connection with the subconscious mind.

Some people may find it difficult to master at first. Usually the hardest part is making the transition from simply observing the complex hypnagogia to interacting with the dream. However, it is worth practicing because this also serves as a powerful form of meditation.


Hypnagogia and Sleep Paralysis

The hypnagogic state can also play a rather distressing role in sleep paralysis. While many WILD lucid dreams involve passing through sleep paralysis briefly and uneventfully, some people suffer from prolonged sleep paralysis against their will. In some cases, the fear of being unable to move, paired with complex hypnagogia (or hypnopompia), results in terrifying hallucinations.

The most common experience involves a foreign entity – a stranger, intruder, or even aliens – entering the room and putting pressure on the chest. All this happens while the sufferer is completely paralyzed (with the exception of the eyes, mouth and maybe fingertips). Frequent episodes are rare, but do happen, and are mostly associated with sufferers of narcolepsy or other sleep disorders, such as sleep terrors or even sleep apnea.


Interacting with The Hypnagogic State

The purpose of hypnagogic imagery is to relax your mind and send you to sleep. So to take advantage of it for lucid dreaming, you need to maintain a certain level of conscious awareness while your body falls asleep.

One way to do this is practice meditation. Another is to relax while listening to binaural beats – used in products like the Lucid Dreaming MP3. This guides your brain to the right frequencies to experience conscious dreams through hypnagogia.


Why Do We Dream?
Modern Theories of Dreaming


Why do we dream? Ancient civilizations saw dreams as portals for receiving wisdom from the gods. In modern psychology, Sigmund Freud famously theorized that dreams were the “royal road to the unconscious”. Are we getting closer to understanding dreams?

Sigmund Freud gave psychoanalysis as one explanation for why we dream. But Freud had little understanding of the REM and NREM sleep cycles – and modern day dream research has pointed us to a number of other theories of dreaming. But first, let’s start with the father of dream research…


Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is best known for his theories of the unconscious mind. The controversial psychoanalyst said that our brain protects us from disturbing thoughts and memories by repressing them. Freud also believed that we are almost entirely driven by unconscious sexual desire.

If you asked Sigmund Freud “why do we dream?” he would say our dreams are a secret outlet for these repressed desires. Freud used dream analysis to interpret the underlying language of dreams – which is very different from normal conscious thinking. I discuss this idea more in dream interpretation.

To support his dream research, Sigmund Freud split the human psyche into three parts: the Id, Ego and Super-Ego.

  • ID – Newborn babies are born with only an Id. The Id is a sense of mind that causes us to act on impulse: to follow our primary instincts and ignore the consequences. The Id runs on the “pleasure principle” – it doesn’t care about anything but its own satisfaction.
  • EGO – As they grow up, toddlers develop an Ego. This is the part of the psyche that allows us to understand that other people have needs, and that impulsiveness can hurt us in the long run. This “reality principle” makes sure we meet the needs of the Id, without conflicting with the laws of the Ego.
  • SUPER-EGO – By the age of five, we develop the Super-ego. This is our moral brain, that tells us the difference between right and wrong. However it doesn’t make special allowances – it is up to the Ego to decide.
This concept can be demonstrated with The Iceberg Metaphor…

Just like an iceberg, the conscious mind is only the tip. It is a small part of who we are. There is much more under the surface.

Way down below, we have little or no conscious awareness of the Id, which influences all our decisions.

The Ego is free floating in all three levels – both conscious and unconscious – monitoring our behaviors by day.



Every night when we sleep, we disconnect from our conscious tip of the iceberg. The lights go off and we are protected from external stimuli (like noise, temperature and pain) as well as internal stimuli (like emotions and fears). We do this by creating our own internal worlds – our dreams.

Freud said dreams are a way to express the unconscious emotions arising from the Id – otherwise we would be constantly disturbed by them in our sleep and soon wake up. So why do we dream? To protect our sleep.


Carl Jung

Carl Jung (1875-1961) thought he could answer the riddle: why do we dream? Jung was a great follower of Freud and his dream analysis, but he eventually broke away to form very different theories.

“I want to keep my dreams, even bad ones,
because without them, I might have nothing all night long”

Joseph Heller

Jung claimed that the function of dreams is to compensate for parts of the personality that aren’t properly developed in real life. However, this conflicts with the fact that our waking life and our dreams show consistent thoughts and behaviors. For instance, if we are aggressive in real life, we will have violent dreams.


Dream Research

There are many theories of dreaming – some overlap with others and some are just plain bizarre. Dream research has given us these core theories:

Why Do We Dream?
…Because of Random Impulses

In 1977, two doctors put forward some dream research that would seriously challenge Freud’s dream understanding. Hobson & McCarley said that dreaming is the result of random impulses coming from the brain stem.

Using an EEG machine, Hobson & McCarley were able to track the regular REM states of people during sleep. They used this data to form a predictable mathematical model and conclude that dreaming is a freak physiological (bodily) occurrence – rather than a psychological function.

According to them, the fact that we see images and hear sounds in our dreams is simply the brain’s way of understanding noisy electrical signals. They said that dreams are random and meaningless.

However, many scientists point out that dreams often make sense. In fact, they can follow very intricate plots. This suggests that our higher brain is playing a role. What’s more, if dreaming was just the brain’s attempt to make sense of nonsense signals, lucid dreams would be impossible!


Why Do We Dream?
…To Organize The Brain

We may dream to de-clutter our brains. Every day we are bombarded with new information, both consciously (eg learning) and unconsciously (eg advertising).

This modern dream theory suggests dreaming is a way to file away key information and discard meaningless data. It helps keep our brains organized and optimizes our learning. This theory hasn’t been proven by dream research. If it were 100% correct, our entire day would be replayed to us during our REM sleep!

Critics of this theory also point out that our brains are not the same as computers, and to draw a comparison to filing, processing and storage space is likely to be inaccurate. They also point out that although some of our dreams relate back to the waking day (Freud called this day residue), the majority of our dreams are not about real events.


Why Do We Dream?
…To Help Solve Problems

A number of researchers think that dreams are for problem solving.

One scientist in particular, named Fiss, claimed that our dreams help us to register very subtle hints that go unnoticed during the day. This explains why “sleeping on it” can provide a solution to a problem.



Unfortunately, there are also arguments against this theory of dreaming. For a start, most people only remember a very small number of their dreams. So if our dreams contain important answers – why don’t we remember them better?


Why Do We Dream?
…To Cope With Trauma

Dreams may be a way of coping with trauma. Based on the intensity of our emotions, we will generate dreams to cope with certain situations.

For instance, if you escape from a house fire and the experience shakes you up, chances are you will dream about it that night. The more traumatic the event, the more emotions are felt, and the more important it is to get over it. Dreaming about the fire will help you come to terms with what happened and prepare you for it ever happening again.

Of course, this doesn’t explain why we dream of fantastic or mundane things – only that nightmares can be a kind of rehearsal for trauma.


Dream Analysis

Here are some more examples of how humans interpret dreams in different cultures around the world:

  • Shamans use dreams to diagnose illness. It is thought that the subconscious brain has an awareness of malfunctions in the body long before the conscious brain. In this sense, shamans are psychoanalysts, much like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.
  • The ancient Egyptians used dreams to make predictions about the future. They thought dreams were messages from the gods, which contained vital wisdom and prophecies.
  • Similarly, people in the Western world in the 1900s used dreams to find game, predict the weather, and tell the future.


So Why Do We Dream?

Dream research offers many theories – but still no definitive answer to the question: why do we dream? Scientists generally seem to agree that dreaming is a form of thinking during sleep. Dreams contain at least some psychological meaning, but this doesn’t necessarily prove a purpose, such as problem solving. Overall, our understanding of dreams is still quite vague.

In a way, Freud gave dreams an unfortunate legacy. He taught us to associate them with psychological problems and anxieties. But in reality, most of our dreams are healthy and engaging – aren’t they?

Dreams are a mixed bag. The truth is, science still doesn’t have a definitive answer to the question: why do we dream? Most dream research shows that it is worthwhile to remember your dreams – at least, until we figure out what they are for! And if you plan to have lucid dreams, your dream recall is vital…

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 30th, 2010 at 6:06 pm and is filed under Psychology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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