Living The Dream? The Medical Mysteries of REM Sleep

A dream is a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that occur involuntarily in the mind during REM sleep.

So during REM sleep our subconscious minds are supposed to be active, while we lie unaware with our bodies perfectly still. However, two unusual phenomena can occur during REM sleep:


1. Lucid dreams

A lucid dream is when a person is aware they are dreaming, and may have some control over their own actions in the dream or even the characters and the environment of the dream.

This is different from simply having a passive memory of a dream, which can sometimes happen if we awake directly from REM sleep.

when a person recognizes he or she is dreaming while in a dreaming state and often manipulates events within the dream.”Read more at:

Sound like Inception? It should, the screenplay was inspired by the phenomenon of lucid dreaming:


Scenes from the Matrix have also been compared to the mind control techniques used by lucid dreamers:


Stephen LaBerge is a psychophysiologist who did research on lucid dreaming at Stanford University in the 1970s.

He found that subjects who could control their dreams had more volitional (and not random) eye movements during REM sleep.

He now runs the Lucidity Institute, which aims to train people how to achieve lucid dreaming:

Proponents of lucid dreaming claim they can control their dreams to enjoy fantasies and over come nightmares.

This might have been a skill that would helped those ill fated victims of Freddy Kruger in Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors:

Click here to listen to a RadioLab podcast about Lucid Dreaming.


2. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is in a sense the opposite of lucid dreaming. Affected patients lose the motor inhibition that is a typical feature of normal REM sleep, and regain the motor strength to “act out” their unconscious dreams. This is an uncommon disorder, and can be associated with underlying neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s Disease.

Or, if you prefer the Disney interpretation of RBD:

RBD video clips courtesy of Matthew J. Davis.


The medical mysteries of REM sleep:

So, during REM sleep our conscious minds and bodies are supposed to be switched off, while our subconscious brain performs a scandisk generating passive dreaming. If our conscious brain somehow switches on during this time we experience lucid dreaming. Of our bodies switch on, and we start unconsciously reacting to these dreams we have REM sleep behavior disorder. If both were to happen simultaneously, we’d be awake!


One thought on “Living The Dream? The Medical Mysteries of REM Sleep

  1. Pingback: Narcolep…… ZZZZZZ | Neurology Update

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