Close to a third of an entire human’s life is spent sleeping. With a life expectancy of about 79 years, close to 25 years of that entire lifespan is spent sleeping. Sleep is defined by lessened heights of physical activity and sensory cognizance. While some animals do not sleep, others can go to extended periods without sleep and negative consequences. For instance, rats are more susceptible to sleep deprivation and easily die from long periods of sleeplessness. For humans, sleep is an important aspect of life given its role in restoring resources used during the day and increased capacity of creative thinking. Dreams occur during sleep, and these play an important role in everyday human life. Given the importance of sleep, any problems that occur during sleep or prevent one from sleeping are matters of great concern. Among the most common problems of sleep are night terrors. Often, individuals experiencing night terrors are unaware of their actions. The terrors, however, disturb the normal and healthy forms of sleep. While dreams are welcome during sleep, night terrors disturb sleep, thereby requiring treatment and other corrective measures to stop them.
Sleep is an important aspect of human life. By definition, sleep is a period illustrated by low levels of physical activity and sensory consciousness (Spielman 118). Two of the most important mechanisms that regulate sleep are the circadian and homeostatic mechanisms, which refer to body temperature regulation and maintenance of a balance of the biological system respectively (Spielman 118). These mechanisms are important as they regulate sleep and allow individuals to enjoy the functions of sleep. Among them is the adaptive function (Spielman 118). Herein, sleep enables individuals to restore resources expended in the day and reduce energy expenditure. Another function of sleep is safety and self-preservation. Spielman argues that humans sleep in safe areas to reduce the chances of harm (119). Additionally, sleep is important in the prevention of disruptions and memory deficits caused by sleep deprivation. Moreover, sleep increases creative thinking, language learning, and inferential judgment besides playing a critical role in processing emotional information. Here, better sleep is associated with better emotional information processing.
Dreams form one of the most important features of sleep. Dreams are a common human feature during sleep defined by cognitive, sensory, and emotional manifestations. Sigmund Freud, one of the most renowned researchers on dreams, contends that humans had little control over the content, visual images, and activation of the memories while dreaming (Spielman 120). Freud adds that dreams offered a relief over the trials, joys, pleasures, and pains of the waking life. Dreams, according to Freud, offered something alien or selected a combination of alien and reality, or elements that provide some semblance of reality (Freud 5). The intricacies of dreams make them one of the most studied human cognitive states. Notably, regardless of such high levels of study, dreams remain highly misunderstood.
Sleep occurs in different stages and it is the fifth stage in which dreams occur. There are two phases of sleep: the rapid eye movement stage (REM) and the non-REM (NREM) stage. REM typifies rapid movements during sleep (Spielman 121). REM is the final stage of sleep where dreams occur with similarities in brainwaves with individuals that are awake. During this stage, individuals have paralysis of the entire muscle system of the body save for circulatory and respiratory muscle systems (Spielman 123). REM is also referred to as paradoxical sleep since muscular contractions are reduced to a minimum while there is high brain activity. The high brain activity is pivotal to emotional processing and regulation, as well as learning and memory.
On the other hand, non-REM sleep marks the first stages of sleep. NREM sleep occurs in 5-15-minute stageswith no random eye movement under closed eye lids (Spielman 121). At the first stage, individuals have their eyes closed and it is easy to wake them up. The second stage involves lowering of the heart rate and body temperature as the body prepares for deep sleep. The third stage is the deep sleep state. Notably, it is especially difficult to rouse someone from this stage of sleep and disorientations are a norm when woken up (Spielman 121). NREM sleep is pivotal to regrowth and repairing of tissues as well as augmenting the body’s immune system and building bones and muscles.
The association between paradoxical sleep and dreams offers an opportunity for the interpretation of dreams. Freud, as an authority in the interpretation of dreams, argues that dreams offer an opportunity to access the unconscious (Spielman 125). Freud herein postulates that the access and analysis of dreams can provide an avenue through which humans can become more self-aware in addition to acquiring treasured insight into ways of overcoming everyday life challenges (Spielman 125). The idea of dreams assisting in increasing self-awareness lies in the view that while they offer an escape from reality, dreams are also ideally extensions of the waking life. Dreams, in this case, have a connection with everyday life in that they lead individuals directly back into everyday life, instead of releasing them from it. This enables people to get a fresh perspective of the occurrences (Freud 5). The new perspective then assists the dreamer to solve any underlying problems undergone in the waking life.
Dreams differ in their content, which creates a distinction in the meaning of dreams. Freud distinguished between manifest and latent content of dreams informing that manifest content is the concrete plot of a dream (Spielman 125). The events and storyline within the dream that involves the characters and activities carried out by the characters form the manifest content. Latent content, in contrast, denotes the buried meaning in the dream. Herein, the interpretation of the dreams allows individuals to derive the meaning represented by the symbols that are in the dreams. For instance, a woman dreaming of a snake going after her could be a representation of the fear of sexual intimacy, where the snake is representative of a man’s penis (Spielman 125). The distinction between the latent and manifest content of dreams, in this case, allows for better comprehension of dreams, even when some may not have any underlying meaning for interpretation.
Dreams are also a reflection of life events of great importance to the dreamer. Research on dreams shows that some repeated occurrences or themes when people dream are related to experiences or issues that the dreamer finds important or what they are undergoing in their current lives (Spielman 125). Dreams about losing teeth and failure, for instance, can be a reflection of apprehension of imminent danger or bodily harm, as well as failure in an exam or an undertaking respectively (Kluger n.p.). Moreover, the fact that similar dreams occur to people across different cultures may also play to the idea that they are a reflection of everyday events, as well as tapping into the collective unconscious available to everyone.
Related to dreams are night terrors, which occur during sleep. Night terror is part of a group of sleep disorders called parasomnias (Turan et al. 2014). The disorder is a recurring nighttime episode of panic that goes together with screams and efforts to get away from the prevailing environment (Spielman 128). Often, individuals suffering from night terrors may appear awake during such episodes but fall back to sleep. Such individuals may have no memory of the events that caused their panic, and additionally, they cannot recall the terror and screams. The absence of memory of the event distinguishes night terror from nightmares, which (nightmares) are normally vividly recalled with lucid details.
Aside from the aforementioned distinguishing features between night terror and nightmares, night terrors have characteristics that are exclusive to the occurrences. Individuals suffering from night terrors sit up in bed and cry out. Crying may also be accompanied by screaming or shouting (Spielman 128). Extreme cases of night terror involve the sufferer jumping out of bed and running around the room. Such an individual may also become aggressive at any attempt to subdue them by a partner or family member. People with night terrors also experience increased heart rates, heavy breathing, and often, heavy sweating. The terror experienced during sleep and the attempts to get away from these imaginary terrors largely cause visible physiological reactions such as increased heart rates, heavy breathing, and sweating.
Night terrors often occur to children. The high prevalence among children, however, does not exclude its occurrence among adults (Turan et al. 204). The undeveloped faculties of dealing with emotions, danger, and present fear among children contribute to the high rates of occurrences among children than in adults. Following the progressive stage of sleep, night terrors conventionally occur in the third and fourth stages of NREM sleep (Turan et al. 204). Often, individuals experience them once in a night, and often last a few seconds to a minute. They can, however, continue for up to ten minutes, although this is uncommon. Most individuals that suffer terrors do not recall the events, especially if not awaken at the end of the episode. Few of those successfully awaken after an episode can describe the mental contents of a dream, with the remembrance of only a single frightening feeling or sensation.
The cause of night terrors remains unknown. Speculations, however, indicate underlying mental health conditions that predispose adults to night terrors. Bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety are among the mental conditions associated with night terrors (Turan et al. 207). Sleep apnea is also another contributing factor to the development of night terrors. Other contributing factors include; alcohol use, sleep deprivation, illness, and some medication.
Sleep terrors generally do not require treatment. Corrective measures, however, are necessary given the disturbance of normal healthy sleep. Moreover, in case there are underlying mental health conditions, treating the mental health conditions often eliminates the terrors. Providing information and education on health hygiene can also go a long way in correcting the disorder (Turan et al. 207). Frequent and violent attacks of night terrors may, however, call for medication such as benzodiazepines.
Sleep is an important feature in human life given its importance. The fact that it allows the body to replenish resources, assist in creative thinking, and processing emotions through dreams makes it a necessity in human life. Night terrors, on the other hand, disrupt normal healthy sleep. While removing the underlying factors work in correcting night terrors, extreme cases may call for medicatio
Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. 1900. https://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Freud/Dreams/dreams.pdf
Kluger, Jeffrey. “What Your Dreams Actually Mean, According to Science.” Time, 2017. https://time.com/4921605/dreams-meaning/.
Spielman, Rosie,M.Psychology. Rice University, 2017. https://d3bxy9euw4e147.cloudfront.net/oscms-prodcms/media/documents/Psychology-OP_F4YYkDr.pdf
Turan, Hatice, S., et al. “Treatment Approach to Sleep Terror: Two Case Reports.” Noropsikiyatriarsivi: Archives of Neuropsychiatry, vol. 52, no. 2, 2015, pp. 204-206. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5353201/