There has always been within man a certain fascination about sleep and dreams. Even in the earliest known literature we find writers posing questions and suggesting answers, but not until 1953 did man really begin to discover a few simple basic facts about sleep and the world of dreams. In this study we shall try to present some of the results of modern scientific research, to see how these illuminate the Biblical revelations, few as they may be.
“Golden Slumbers, kiss your eyes,
Smi1es awake you when you rise;
Sleep pretty darling, do not cry!
And I will sing you lullaby.”
So says the old English folk song. And when Thomas Dekker (1575 – 1641) wrote these words it was generally believed that the sleep of a little child was the most peaceful and undisturbed of all sleep. One still hears comments such as, “I slept like a baby last night!”, which, being interpreted usually means a dreamless night. It is also commonly held that certain ingredients will almost certainly make for a troubled night with bad dreams, such as late-night horror movies, or cheese snacks just before turning in. These and many other common beliefs have had to be abandoned in the light of recent scientific research. And let it be said before going any further, that babies dream for a far greater percentage of their sleeping time than adults, and late-night-cheese is far more likely to give you a disturbed night through indigestion than through dreams!
Dreams are related to activity within the brain. The human brain is an extremely complicated mechanism, too wonderful for us to fathom even by today’s technological advances. However we do know that the brain consists of two main portions, known as hemispheres, and that these hemispheres behave somewhat differently in their functioning. The left hemisphere is the one we use mostly during our waking hours. It deals with the constant bombardment of facts that need to be sorted, analysed, and judged as good, bad or indifferent. Whether we like it or not ALL information that is received by the brain is stored within the memory banks, but not all of it is available for recall. The type of information available for recall is that which we give the most focussed attention during the day. Hypnotists have found that the rest of the information stored is still there, and may be recalled under hypnosis.
(As an aside here, the authors of these notes do NOT favour the use of hypnosis.)
The right hemisphere of the brain is concerned with perceived feeling rather than objective fact. And it has been found to function more vigorously during the hours of sleep than the left hemisphere. A psychologist in the USA (Rosalind Cartwright) has observed, “This sort of processing of information is our regular night-shift work. Mostly it concerns the personally relevant information that has to do with who we are. At night we reconcile the new information to our old self, and put it all together so that we can get up and fight another day!”
In 1953 scientists began to study the behaviour of sleeping subjects and realised that at intervals during sleep people go through phases where there is rapid eye movement under the lids. If the lids are drawn back during these times, the subject seems to be looking intensely at objects that move from side to side with amazing rapidity. This ‘rapid eye movement’became the first big clue to the world of dreams, and has since become known as D-state sleep, or REM sleep. By rousing subjects during or just after REM periods, there was always a greater chance of recall of dreams than if subjects were roused at other times. Hence the rapid eye movement was associated with the visual appreciation of effects within dreams.
The next thing learned from these studies was that if subjects were deprived of their REM type sleep, they underwent subtle personality changes, showing symptoms of becoming increasingly abrasive and anxious, and often unable to concentrate. After several days of dream deprivation signs of paranoia develop, with subjects resorting to behaviour quite uncharacteristic of their normal morality.
However, when sleep is allowed to return to such people in an uninterrupted fashion, they go on a ‘dream binge’ to make up for what they had lost. And as a result normality returns to them during their waking hours. This shows us quite clearly that dreaming is an essential part of our lives. We cannot live without it. All those nights when we are completely unaware of dreams are nevertheless full of them, more full than most of us have ever realised.
When researchers tested their subjects by connecting them to a machine called an Electroencephalograph (EEG for short) they found out even more about the hours of sleep. The ‘brain waves’ recorded by the machine were of fairly distinct types, and after falling asleep, the waves changed their patterns or rhythm to reveal that there are four distinct depths of sleep. One of these rhythms is typical of the REM phase, and is nearest to the surface, in other words of being almost awake. It has been found that dream sequences occur roughly at 90 minute intervals during the night, getting longer with each successive sequence, until by the fifth the dreaming seems to continue unabated until we wake up.
These 90 minute cycles are an important element of research, because scientists have found more than one hundred different body functions, from stomach contractions to normone secretions, as well as many mental activities, that follow a repetitive cycle of 90 minutes duration.
Psychologist Paul Bakan said, “Every night for the brief duration of a dream, the illogical emotional, highly visual right brain is almost completely freed from the dominance of the rational left brain, and the result is the torrent of images, sounds and feelings known as a dream.” About 25% of our sleeping time is spent in REM state dream-sleep. But the percentage is greater for infants. Newborn babies show an average of 50% REM which declines steadily until age 10, and then remains steady at 25% right through until we are about 60, after which there is some evidence that REM sleep tends to decline somewhat.
And human beings are not the only ones to exhibit REM-type sleep. All mammals that have been studied show it, amongst which are dogs, cats, monkeys, rats, shrews, and elephants. There is also some evidence that REM sleep is present in some birds and reptiles.
I said that the fifth REM cycle is as long as sleep continues. It is therefore quite significant that our sleep duration should be ideally regulated by the knowledge of these facts. Most people tend to wake by themselves during this fifth dream phase, but if one ‘sleeps on’, say on a Sunday morning, then the dream sequences will continue unabated, and this can become unnecessarily tiring, because REM sleep requires energy for the brain activity. It is best therefore if one’s waking time can be kept tolerably constant according to the experience of the cycles, and their length in a particular case. There used to be an old adage about sleep, “Six for a man, seven for a woman, and eight for a fool!” This is clearly an over-simplification, but in the ordinary conditions of life, there is much truth in it. In these strange and gruelling days of Satanic mind-zapping and insidious control of mental conditions, many of God’s people would be blissfully happy to get one or two good nights of sleep each week. For them, all such ‘sayings’ would appear ironic.
We have mentioned that during dreams our eyes appear to be in rapid motion. If we try to move our eyes at this speed during the day, we end up with bad headaches. And yet during the night we not only do this, but continue to do it for about a quarter of the sleep-time, and yet when we wake (for the most part) we are not aware of headaches. Why is this? The answer must come from a little known and poorly understood fact, one that most of the scientists who work on dreams would not even contemplate, and that is “Time dilation”.
If our eyes are in such rapid motion, then we are watching events at a great speed. But to us, in the dream, these events are passing by at a normal rate. Indeed, sometimes we find that they are too slow. We might be trying to escape from something unpleasant, only to find that our legs will not carry us fast enough. We seem to be within a film that is being shown in slow motion. How can we account for this?
Unbelievably, the only satisfactory answer is that during the night we are allowed to exist in a dimension of existence where time moves at a different rate to that on the earth. Subjects who are known to have been dreaming for say 10 minutes, often report events which (for them, in the dream) occupy a much greater time. This “time dilation” effect is most important to our studies, and in all the books that we have read so far, not one has given a satisfactory answer to the problem. Most of them do not even grapple with it. But if there is another time-axis in existence in the universe, then who lives in it normally? To all such questions, we shall have to delay giving any full exposition now, for fear of creating a major diversion from the subject in hand.
Our next point of interest concerns what are commonly called ‘nightmares’, so called from the female monsters that seem to come and sit upon people, thereby to suffocate them in their sleep. But the word is broadened to include any dream experience which throws the subject awake in a state of terror. Nightmares and night terrors (pavor nocturnus) occur mostly in children. Terrors seem to be present in children from 4 to 7 years of age, but only 2%-3% of children experience them. There is never any recollection of a dream on waking. Nightmares occur in 5%-10% of children between the ages of 8 and 10. Strangely, this type of activity does not derive from REM sleep, but from the very deepest sleep, as do also sleep-walking and bed-wetting (enuresis). We have no idea what triggers off these happenings; except that they come from the lowest levels of sleep. There is some evidence that in this lowest level, there exists a mode of sub-consciousness that allows the entrance of information from outside the brain, and because Christians believe that there is another world of beings, quite different to ourselves, in the angelic sphere, and in the demonic sphere, there is no difficulty in believing that ‘intrusions’ occur, which can be most unpleasant, and frightening. But why this occurs mostly in young children is not understood. The present authors believe that no adequate theory or solution can be arrived at WITHOUT accepting that the invisible external world exists. The only research workers capable of approaching this issue must therefore be fully committed Christians.
To move on, we must ask the question, is there anything that can reduce our REM sleep? In fact there are a number of factors. And it is very important to understand this area of artificial deprivation of REM sleep, knowing how personality and morality change subtly when we are deprived. It has been found that certain man-made drugs are responsible for deprivation of REM sleep, such as barbiturates, amphetamines, and tranquillizers. These drugs are supplied by doctors very liberally these days. (Not all doctors are quite so free and easy with the pills, thank God!) From the records of the nation, the numbers of these drugs prescribed annually is prodigious, and the effect that it is having on the general public purely from the side-effect of REM deprivation must be staggering. Too much alcohol is yet another way of reducing the REM sleep. When people come off these drugs, or dry out after alcohol abuse they go on a ‘dream binge’ with nights of exhausting and often nightmarish dreams.
It has been found that when people are anxious, or have an important event on the following day, the percentage of REM sleep increases. One might almost say that during the night, the right brain grapples with the problems of the following day, and prepares us for the ordeal or the challenge. This cannot be proved, but the evidences seem to point in that direction. Certainly it would be a bad idea to take a sleeping pill under such conditions. It would be better to ‘dream on it.’
Whence come all these dreams? Are they the product of our own fertile imaginations, using items locked away in our memory banks? Are they the crazy mixed up world of floating pieces of information, coming together in a random fashion during the night? We must be able to find an answer to this question, because it is of great importance to all who have faith in Christ.
Let us first of all recall the classical work of the French physician Alfred Maury, who over one hundred years ago did a lot of work on dream-content. He studied more than 3,000 reported collections of dreams, and came to the conclusion that dreams arose from EXTERNAL STIMULI, which instantaneously accompany the impressions within the dreams. He wrote that part of his bed-head once fell on the back of his neck and woke him out of a dream, in which he had been brought before a French revolutionary tribunal, questioned, condemned, led to the scaffold, bound by the executioner, and that the guillotine blade fell.
Various points arise from Maury’s dmam. In the first place, we should point out the clear evidence for the ‘time dilation effect’ mentioned above. In the second place, allowing for the extremely short time available, how could the brain itself be considered responsible for the tragic events in his dream? Are we supposed to believe that we are ourselves responsible for the things we dream? And if so, how can Maury’s dream be explained? How can a sleeping person be aware of an event that WILL VERY SHORTLY transpire, and then, in a flash, THINK UP a suitable train of events in such a way that AT THE EXACT MOMENT when the bed-head fell, so also the guillotine blade made contact with his neck? It is asking far too much of an individual to think up such a sequence, even given a few minutes of his waking time. But to consider that we may beresonsible for such sequences WHILST STILL ASLEEP is quite preposterous! And so we are led to believe that Maury was right. There are external stimuli at work on us during the night, and our brains are the subject of continual attack fromoutside, and often very hostile forces, because Maury’s dream could not have come from a beneficent source!
To those who have read the Bible, there is clear evidence that SOME dreams have been given by God, and have a special meaning in their symbolism. Famous dreams in the O.T. and in the N.T. come to mind, and on the Day of Pentecost, amongst other things that Peter quoted from Joel’s prophecy was the clear intimation that God was going to give dreams to His ‘old men’. Hence it was an on-going process. And today we still find that believers have meaningful dreams.
We say these things because they show to us that at least SOME dreams have been proven to be of external stimulation. It is only one further step to take to accept that ALL dreams have external agencies in their working. But if we accept this, then many other questions arise, and they cannot all be answered at once. However, it does lead us to look at my “brain-berg” diagram, which we believe to be of great significance. The brain may be likened to an iceberg, and the sea-level then represents the division between the conscious thinking world, and the unconscious world of the memory and dreams.
You will see that there are four levels beneath the waves, and these may very well correlate with the four levels of activity recorded on the EEG traces. But the lowest level is shown to be spread out sideways, and open at the edges. This is the presumed entrance, or doorway, into which the external stimuli come, and they may be from God, from angelic beings (of light or of darkness), of demonic agencies, and even other human beings. Because of this idea, which we here present ourselves, though the diagram is really a representation of many lines of thought put forward by researchers, we have a device, a tool, a concept, for further evaluation, not just of the dream world, but of everything germane to the human nature.
Take the phenomenon of telepathy as an example. We have read of a case where a man had a sudden vision of his brother, known to be in some other part of the world. In this vision, he saw him dressed in dripping wet clothes, and looking in a very distressed and fearful condition. Within a day or so, this man received intelligence that his brother was lost at sea, presumed dead, and that the ship went down at almost exactly the time he was receiving his vision. The science of what is often called ‘nuts and bolts technology’ these days, can hardly provide us with a satisfactory explanation of this type of event, an event in fact which is far more common than is usually realised. But by the use of our diagram, it is possible to accept that there may be a device whereby thought transference is made strong and focussed at times of great distress, and which is picked up by someone who is genetically close . Clearly the ‘communication lines’, or the ‘submarine cables’ that connect people with each other, must be of a strange and transient nature, and do not operate all the time, but they are nevertheless there, and many will testify to the messages received. We are most complex in our make-up. Doctors may examine us, surgeons may cut us about, students may disect cadavers in medical school, but no one can lay hold of that which is invisible and examine it. All research must proceed along lines of circumstantial evidence, rather like the physicists who study the behaviour of sub-atomic particles. It doesn’t mean that we CANNOT arrive at the truth. It does mean that our experiments often have to be subtle and ingenious in their devising.
In the Bible, in Numbers 12:6 we read, “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known to him in a vision, I will speak with him (lit. IN him) in a dream.” The Hebrew here shows clearly that the divine mode of speaking is such that God is INSIDE the person, causing the dream sequence to unfold. He is the Composer, and the Author of the intelligence. Isaiah was told (30:21) “Your ears shall hear a word BEHIND you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.'” In this reference we are shown that in the waking state we shall be aware of the AREA in which the voice of the Lord seems to emanate. We can literally validate this statement in Isaiah, in that whenever we hear the Lord speak, it is indeed at the back of the head, as though the Lord were addressing us from behind. Facts such as these need to be marshalled in order to build up a tenable understanding of the ‘mechanics’ of ‘information transfer’ in the unconscious as well as the conscious state.
Finally, quoting Eccles.5:3, we have the following, “Dreams come from the multitude of business.” The Hebrew word translated “business” is elsewhere translated “afflictions”. This gives the verse quite a different force. It isn’t the result of the previous day’s business, or activities, that determine the dream-state, but rather, as Maury said, a “multitude of (external) afflictions.” An on that tantalising thought we shall conclude this article, hoping that it will engender further research.
The Brainberg Diagram
|Conscious analytical thinking during our waking hours by the use of the left hemisphere of the brain. The wavy line below represents the division between being awake and being asleep. Hence, this portion is like the visible part of an iceberg that rises above the level of the sea.
|This region we may call the “first memory bank”. There will be a constant interchange between this layer and the layer above, during waking hours.
|This is the “second memory bank”, which allows for almost no recall except under strange conditions like hypnosis.
|This is the region of deep determinative thought patterns. It is the struggling region, where deep emotions of fear, anguish, resentment, anger, and despair constantly vie with determination, courage, vision and destiny.
|This is the very deepest region, where the brain seems to be open to external stimuli, where telepathy occurs between genetically related individuals, and where communication is possible from external sources, whether it be from God, or from satanic or demonic agencies.