Sample Psychology Paper on Sleep and Dreams

Sleep and Dreams

Sleep and dreams represent different levels of consciousness in any living being. There are three levels of consciousness in any human including waking, lucid dreaming, and rapid eye movement sleep.[1] The discussion of sleep has to be conducted concurrently with the discussion of dreams since the latter are what constitute the major part of the former. Some of the benefits associated with sleep have been connected closely to dreams that occur during sleep.[2] The connection between the benefits of sleep and those of dreams thus implies that the concepts of sleep and dreams are inseparable and one cannot exist independent of the other. Understanding dreams, therefore, requires an in-depth exploration of the factors that influence dreaming.


There are three states of consciousness based on the brain activities during the three different stages of sleep.[3] The waking state is defined by full consciousness and awareness of one’s status. Decision making during waking durations engages most parts of the brain that would otherwise be inactive or engaged in other activities. The second phase of perception is described as lucid dreaming whereby people experience dreams as if they were awake; therefore, they are reactively engaged in the activities of the dreams.[4] The last status is described as the REM sleep, whereby dreams are characterized by more depth and the dreams themselves dig deep into the unconscious for content. The differences in the brain operational patterns in each of the states of consciousness provide a basis for the description of sleep as either short wave sleep (SWS) or rapid eye movement sleep (REM).[5] The capacity to recall dreams is affected by the period of occurrence of dreams. Dreams experienced during the REM are easily remembered unlike those that occur during the SWS.

Effective sleep should have a good balance of the REM and the SWS.[6] The shortwave sleep is characterized by more static dream events[7], which are in most cases violent and emotion-charged. Rapid eye movement is characterized by the replay of past experiences as dreams. The state is associated with problem-solving practices. The REM sleep is described as a proto-conscious state.[8] The proto-conscious hypothesis is founded on the argument that the capacity of the brain to maintain waking consciousness and other more complex brain activities during waking hours depends on the level of the brain activity during sleep. This thus means that the REM sleep has the objective of keeping the brain active enough during sleep to sustain its activity through the waking period.

Waking consciousness is a phenomenon that is more active in humans than in other living The rationale for this experience is that human cortical structures are more complex and more evolved. Evolutionary theory of psychology which bases the actions of man on the neurological systems and responses, explains the complexity of human cortical structures as the basis for waking consciousness and other sleep experiences. The human brain has extensive structures that influence its responses to the changing environmental conditions and subsequently to brain experiences during the sleep duration. The brain activity during waking is a result of the cooperation of brain nerves controlling human waking and those controlling dreaming. It is the cooperation of the two sets of nerves that contribute to the optimal functioning of the brain. Without the functional interplay between waking and dreaming brain nerves, humans would lose their sense of direction such as the experiences of those who have constant hallucinations on waking.

Sleep quality varies from one person to another depending on the age and the gender of the person.[9]In explanation, Wenk says that the best quality of sleep is experienced between 8 and ten years of age.[10] Such children rarely experience dreams whose content can be explored. The quality of sleep declines continuously from 10 years onwards, with worst sleep qualities being experienced from 55 years of age onwards. Gender also influences the quality of sleep experienced. Men have a higher quality of sleep compared to women. Moreover, men’s sleep quality improves with the availability of a partner within the sleeping area. Co-sleeping improves the sleep quality for men, with sex being a non- determinant. On the other hand, women do not seem to benefit much from co-sleeping with men. Women only have improved sleep when there is sex involved in their co-sleeping.

Understanding the concept of sleep can be challenging. For this reason, and the continuity and discontinuity theories were established to explain the happenings in the body during sleep and waking. The continuity theory holds that sleeping and waking have similar themes in the brain.[11] The thoughts projected during sleeping are similar in theme to those exhibited during waking. Because of the continuity of thoughts, there is a high probability for one reproducing what they had been thinking about during the day in their sleep through dreams. The discontinuity theory explains that thought patterns that occur during waking are distinct from those experienced during sleeping.[12] The discontinuity hypothesis is, therefore, the rationale behind the argument that dreams extract content from the unconscious, and thus depict things that one is afraid of portraying during their waking hours.


The study of dreams through experimental psychology focuses on the dream content and the frequency of dreams. Various studies have provided theoretical bases for dreams. In particular, extensive studies conducted by Sigmund Freud and Wilfred Bion resulted in the emergence of two different approaches to the consideration of dreams as a concept of psychology.[13] The psychoanalytic approach developed by Freud was expanded in terms of context by Bion, who supported some of Freud’s arguments on dreams while adding to them his perceptions about dreams. The brain activity during dreaming comparable to the waking hours indicates that dreams are important in ensuring that there is a psychological balance between sleeping and waking. Dreams are described in terms of their major attributes surrounding content and the frequency of dreams.[14] Therefore, dreams vary from one person to another both in terms of frequency and content.

Bion points to dreams as psychological works in progress, contrary to Freud’s holdings that dreams act as mental phenomena for understanding the functioning of the brain.[15] Based on Bion’s arguments, dreams can be described as visual hallucinations, through which people see what they have been thinking about or their imaginations.[16] While this may be true for some dreams especially those which occur during the shortwave sleep, the same cannot be said for REM dreams which are more aligned to events in the past and creative problem-solving.[17] In the SWS dream process, the visuals observed are characterized by a lot of illusion and may be aggressive. In the REM dreams, most of the objects seen and the people with whom people interact are familiar hence cannot be exactly described as a mirage. Understanding dreams from Bion’s perspective thus requires an in-depth analysis of the dream content and context in which it occurs. Freud’s theory, on the other hand, describes dreams as the guardians of sleep in that they provide a way of understanding the works of the mind. Freud’s works can be compared to the position presented by Hobson (2009) on the argument that brain nerves have to be working cooperatively during waking and sleeping hours to ensure there is a continuous activity during the brain.

Dreams can be considered as vehicles for the continuous psychological work and psychological growth until they are interpreted.[18] This could also be connected to the perception of dreams as representations of what the dreamer is unable to think within their waking realm. Inability here may depict limitations or constraints that prevent the dreamer from imagining certain things during waking hours. This implies that dreams reveal the true thoughts and ideas of people beyond what they are willing to reveal in their conscious. Dreaming can, therefore, be said to be progressive through waking and sleeping hours. In the waking durations, dreams may be manifested as imaginations, aspirations, or individual plans and may not be considered to be similar to the sleeping dreams per se. Bion developed another re-conception of dreaming as an unconscious process of emotional thinking.[19] This explains why most of the dream contents and concepts are tied to human emotions. Exploring dreams in this context provides a strategy for understanding the origin of various dream contents and manner in which they occur.

Characteristics of Dreams

Dreams have explicit visual imagery, which is incomparable to other forms of sense perceptions in dreams.[20] During dreaming, people experience visual imagery more than they experience olfactory, audition, touch, and taste senses. The prevalence of visual imagery in dreams is confirmed by Wenk who asserted that they explore the visual perception of the dreamers and their emotions more than they explore reasoning.[21] The contents of dreams in whatever circumstance they occur are influenced by certain aspects of life, some of which are external while others are internal. According to Wenk, the age and gender of sleepers also have impacts on the dream content and outlooks. Men are more prone to dream in no colors or washed out pastels while women dream in more bright colors. Furthermore, children between 8 and ten years of age have a dreamless sleep, and in cases where they dream, the dreams cannot be described in terms of content. Dreams become more lucid as people grow, resulting in various psychological outcomes among the dreamers.

The contents of dreams are often influenced by real-life experiences.[22] Also, the sequences of happenings in any dream are beyond the conscious control of the dreamer. This implies that as much as the content may be out of the dreamer’s life, they have no control of the sequence in which the contents appear while in the dream. Another attribute is that during dreams, there are temporal and spatial incoherencies. This can be evidenced by the confusion of elements in a dream. For instance, people one meets at work may appear in the primary school settings, or family members appear at work engaging in activities that should be out of both work and home settings. Dream reports are characterized by interactions between people in the form of discussions, pursuits, fights, and sexuality. The normal day interactions also appear in dreams in varying contexts. The level of interactions in dreams inevitably implies that emotions have to be involved. In some cases, dreams may depict people crying, laughing, or even fighting. Emotions are uncontrollable in dreams and help may at times be inaccessible. The conclusion made by Ruby is that dreams portray variability in the substance and context of observation.[23] Other authors also described other attributes of dreams such as the deduction that they are not volitional and have no self-reflection for the dreamer.[24] According to Wenk, the dreamer does not control what they dream about but merely experience dreams without any choice. Moreover, the dreamers have no insight or abstract thoughts into what they would be dreaming about when asleep. The thoughts in dreams do not constitute part of conscious thoughts.

While dreams may be unplanned and without the volition of the dreamer, the contents depicted in dreams are influenced by a variety of external and internal factors in the life of the dreamer. An assertion by Ruby is that gender affects the content of dreams, in that males are more likely to experience aggressive and violence oriented dreams while females experience gentler forms of dreams. Gender as a basis for dream differences is also discussed extensively by In his arguments Wenk opines that color and frequency of dreams also depend on gender and age as key factors of influence. Other factors that affect dream contents include external stimulations such as daytime aggressions, fears and control issues, news events, chronic pain experienced by the dreamer, violent living conditions, religious beliefs, and musical interests in the dreamer. All these factors affect the content, emotions and dynamics surrounding dreams in various extents.

Contrary to many people’s beliefs, dreams have a great psychological impact on the life of the dreamer.  Dreams help to maintain psychological balance and to adjust to waking life. Other impacts of dreams include improvement of psychological well- being, promotion of life coping capabilities, and recovery from past experiences.[25] Lucid dreaming, in particular, is strongly linked to the promotion of psychological health as it explores facts beyond what the dreamer would be thinking about in normal waking life.


Studies conducted on sleep and dreams have shown that the two are an essential interconnected and inescapable part of human life. Sleep occurs in two cycles which are the shortwave sleep and the rapid eye movement sleep. In each of these cycles, the sleeper experiences different kinds of dreams with different attributes and different capacities for recall. Studies conducted by Bion and Freud in the past aimed at providing a theoretical basis for understanding dreams. The two diverge on their perception of dreams in that while Freud considers dreams as sleep guardians and phenomena for understanding brain functioning, Bion considers dreams as psychological works in progress. These divergences result in the description of dreams based on the continuity and discontinuity theories in correspondence with Freud’s and Bion’s assertions respectively. Dream contents are influenced by several factors both internally and externally. While dreamers are incapable of controlling the content or even color of dreams, their lives are the greatest motivations behind dreams.



Hobson, J.A. (2009). REM sleep and dreaming: Towards a theory of protoconsciousness. Nature Reviews, 10, 803 – 814. Retrieved from

Schneider, J.A. (2010). From Freud’s dream work to Bion’s work of dreaming: The changing conception of dreaming in psychoanalytic theory. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 91(3), 521 -540. Retrieved from

Ruby, P.M. (2011). Experimental research on dreaming: State of the art and neuropsychoanalytic perspectives. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 286. Retrieved from

Wenk, G.L. (2011, February 7). Sleep and dreams: Men benefit by sleeping with women; women do not. PsychologyToday. Retrieved

Zink, N., & Pietrowsky, R. (2015). Theories of dreaming and lucid dreaming: An integrative review towards sleeping, dreaming and consciousness. International Journal of Dream Research, 8(1), 35 – 53. Retrieved from…/14059


[1] Zink, N.,&Pietrowsky, R. (2015). Theories of dreaming and lucid dreaming: An integrative review towards sleeping, dreaming and consciousness. International Journal of Dream Research, 8(1), 37.


[2] Zink & Pietrowsky, p. 37.

[3] Hobson, J.A. (2009). REM sleep and dreaming: Towards a theory of protoconsciousness. Nature Reviews, 10, 803.


[4] Lucid dreaming is characterized by experiences involving full information, descriptive details, and plain meanings.

[5]Hobson, p. 308.

[6] Wenk, G.L. (2011, February 7). Sleep and dreams: Men benefit by sleeping with women; women do not. Psychology Today.

[7]Static dreams events are motionless compared to the REM dreams which are more dynamic and movie like.

[8] Hobson, p. 307

[9]Wenk, G.L. (2011, February 7). Sleep and dreams: Men benefit by sleeping with women; women do not. PsychologyToday.

[10] Probably because young children have limited causes of stress hence tend to rest easier after days of play.

[11] Ruby, P.M. (2011). Experimental research on dreaming: State of the art and neuropsychoanalytic perspectives. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 286.


[12] Ruby, p. 286.

[13] Schneider, J.A. (2010). From Freud’s dream work to Bion’s work of dreaming: The changing conception of dreaming in psychoanalytic theory. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 91(3), 523.

[14]Wenk, 2011.

[15] Schneider, p. 524.

[16] Schneider, p. 524.

[17] REM dreams provide a transition from wakefulness into unconscious sleep and vice versa.

[18] Schneider, p. 524.

[19] Schneider, p. 525.

[20]Ruby, p. 286.

[21] Wenk, 2011.

[22] Ruby, p. 286.

[23] Ruby, p. 286.


[25] Zink & Pietrowsky, p. 51.