Dreaming Separate from REM

For years I have been following the debate about REM and why we experience this odd period of sleep. I have always been a supporter of the Activation-Synthesis Hypothesis proposed by Allan Hobson which related REM as a driving action for dreaming. My view has recently changed due to some interesting studies that were conducted recently showing that the science behind dreaming has changed.

If you don’t want to read the whole article here is the Too Long to Read (TLTR) to help summarize what I am going to be talking about:

  • The Activation-Synthesis Hypothesis was proposed by Dr. Allan Hobson
  • Dr. Hobson stated that dreaming was a result of REM and initiated in the brainstem area called the Pons
  • Mark Solms has disagreed with Allan Hobson for years
  • Recent studies show that dreaming will exist in the brain regardless of REM
  • Dreaming is created in the frontal cortex and not the Pons
  • Dreaming is a separate event that occurs in the brain and is not dependent on REM.


The Activation-Synthesis Hypothesis

What is the activation-synthesis hypothesis? Well, it’s its a hypothesis created by a Dr. Allan Hobson who is one of the most profound dream researchers today. The concept behind the hypothesis is that dreams are a creation of REM. That’s pretty much the most simplistic answer. The hypothesis gets more complex when it takes into consideration the combination of neurotransmitters that are key components in dreaming as well as sleep. A good portion of what Dr. Hobson hypothesizes still holds up much of modern research, however, it seems that one part of his story is inaccurate, where dreams are made.

Where are Dreams Made?

Dr. Hobson states that dreams are created in the Pons in the brainstem and activated through REM. What we know today that this is simply not true. Mark Solms who is also a leading researcher on dreaming has disagreed with Hobson for years. I remember geeking out watching a debate in 2009 on them disagreeing with each other and this is well before the research has shown to favor Solms.

Thanks to additional research since then and thanks to a few unlucky individuals, the scientist had found that dreaming occurs regardless of the existence of the Pons. Due to a number of individuals who had their brainstems damaged scientists were able to watch to see if they still dreamed. Surprisingly they were still dreaming. Additionally, thanks to fMRI imaging we can also see that dreaming is created in the frontal lobs of the brain and not the Pons as originally believed. This has shown that dreaming is not a result of REM but just happens to also occur during that phase of sleep.

Another study has also shown that when subjects were awakened during non-REM sleep stages that they often reported having a number of dreams during that time. This again is an indication that dreams can occur during NREM stages of sleep and is not dependent on REM.

What Are Dreams?

Unfortunately no one can answer the question to what are dreams, however, we can say that it’s an important process that happens to all humans every night that we go to sleep. It’s also a separate and independent event that seems to not be dependent on the old reptilian areas of our brainstem as previously believed. It also happens throughout the night as we sleep which makes it even that much more important to understand.

Here is is a wonderfully well-written article to read that will greatly clear up some further questions you may have.

Lee Adams is a Ph.D. candidate in Jungian Psychology and Archetypal Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute and host of Cosmic Echo, a lucid dreaming podcast, and creator of taileaters.com, an online community of lucid dreamers and psychonauts. Lee has been actively researching, practicing, and teaching lucid dreaming for over twenty years.


Lee Adams

Psychonaut, Consciousness Explorer, Taileaters.com

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