AMONG the most common disturbances of sleep are dreams. This subconscious state is typical of the lighter stages of sleep, and in the vast majority of instances occurs just before waking and after sleep is complete or practically so. Because of this, the disturbance occasioned, is not serious and generally plays only a small role in the causation of insomnia.
Though dreams may not disturb sleep mate rially, their effect upon the sleeper, particularly if he retain the memory of them, can have serious consequences. Dreams that shock and which return with persistence into the memory of the patient may give rise to tenacious obsession and so disquiet the mind during the wakeful period as to act as a barrier to sleep. Most dreamers, however, give up the memory of their dream immediately upon waking and go through the everyday routine none the worse for having had them. The relationship between dreams and sound sleep is a very close one. Since time immemorial, dreams have given rise to the exercise of much ingenuity in their interpretation. The significance which Joseph put upon those related to his brethren is an elementary lesson in symbolism compared to the in terpretations put upon them by a modern son of Israel, of Vienna. According to Freud, a dream consists merely of the dreamer’s disturbed waking experiences, whether these be suppressed painful memories of the waking life or whether they be experiences of which;; the individual is not aware because he has not made conscious note of it.
Sleep disturbances have their origin in our waking experiences and although we are not able to trace the origin of a particular dream, it is because we are not able to ferret out the dormant memories of subconscious episodes of long ago. No matter how distorted or fantastic dreams may seem, they are memories of previous experiences. Oftentimes these experiences are the property only of what is known as the subconscious mental life. In sleep the censorship of waking consciousness is removed and then suppressed or disassociated experiences stalk forth and occupy the stage. Freud traces the origin of most of the functional nervous diseases by the pursuit of clues furnished only by dreams.
During the last few years much attention has been paid to dreams, and there are those who contend that the information to be obtained from their study furnishes the key to the door which heretofore has guarded the secrets of the causation and existence of many states of ill-health variously called hysteria, obsession and chronic ill-health.
From the beginning of history dreams have been considered of portentous importance in giving information of future events. The present-day view is that they may be made to yield information concerning past events which the dreamer hides in his conscious state. There are those who maintain that there is no such thing as dreamless sleep. A recent writer on the subject, Sir Arthur Mitchell, while advancing this view, admits that it may be disputed. In the face of much testimony of many persons who maintain that they do not recall ever having dreamed it is hard to establish a proof. But those who maintain that there is no such thing as dreamless sleep hold to their opinion on the basis that those who offer their experiences in opposition to this view actually do dream but do not remember it.
If we are asked to believe that we may dream and not be conscious of it, it becomes very difficult for anyone to state that there is no sleep without dreaming. This is on a par with the Christian Scientists who say “He is not dead” but whose family or friends go ahead and bury him as though he were dead. So far as the individual impersonating the corpse is concerned, it does not really matter.
Dreams and Sleeplessness.The psychological question of whether or not the mind continues to be operative during sleep is what really concerns physicians and scientists. Do dreams disturb sleep? Do they take from its capacity for refreshment? The answer is, that it depends upon both the dreamer and the dream. If the dream picture some horror or distress, either physical or mental, it is obvious that the dreamer will be anything but soothed thereby. If the dreamer be of a nervous temperament, the fictitious tragedy in which he will have played a part in his sleep will leave him’ troubled and unrefreshed. Just as there are dreams that terrify because of their nature and shock because of their immorality, there are others that comfort and restore.
In Locke’s Essay on Human Understanding is found a sentence, ” The dreams of sleeping men are all made up of waking men’s ideas, though for the most part oddly put together.” But considering the fact that morals and ethics are frequently entirely lacking in the dreams of the best and most refined, this can scarcely be accepted at the present day. It would shock us to know of the improper things which the most proper people do and think with unblushing effrontery in dreams. Passions which never for a moment visit our conscious moments, sentiments the very opposite of those belonging to our idiosyncrasies present themselves in sleep and are followed by their appropriate actions just as if we were then not ourselves at all. We commit the most ruthless crimes without compunction or the smallest feeling of sorrow which in our waking hours would cause us unmitigated grief and remorse. Maudsley has said that if we were held responsible for what we do in our dreams there is no man living who would not deserve to be hung.
It has been proven by those who have studied dreams and their incidents that in a few minutes sleep a dream of such intricacy and involving such a variety of incidents has taken place that if it were to be acted out in reality months and years would be necessary.
Those who are distressed by having their sleep visited night after night by fantastic visions and nerve-shattering dream tragedies should bend all their efforts to the converting of their light and shallow slumber into sound . and heavy sleep. The sounder the sleep, the less the opportunity for dreams. By purging our thoughts as much as we can of memories of a violent character, and closing our mind to all constructive or speculative thought we may be able to shut out a nightmare. Let the dreamer take comfort, however, in the thought that even though his dreams persist they occupy but a few minutes of the hours spent in sleep and that his period of unrest is comparatively inconsequential and altogether insufficient to rob the period of rest of its restorative value.