Oneirology refers to the study of dreams using scientific methods. This discipline seeks to find a relationship between current knowledge of how the brain works and dreaming. Scientific dream research also attempts to understand how the brain functions during dreaming as pertaining to formation of memory and mental problems. Studying dreams is often differentiated from analysis of dreams in that the goal is to study quantitatively the dream process rather than analyze what they mean.
Dream research includes exploration of dream mechanism, disorders closely associated with dreaming and influences on dreaming. This field of work usually overlaps with neurology, it can range from analyzing brain waves when dreaming to quantifying dreams and the effects that drugs or neurotransmitters have on dreaming. There is an on-going debate on the origin and purpose of dreams; in future a lot of gains will be realized from the study of dreams in an attempt to understand brain activity. Knowledge gathered in this area is likely to affect the management and treatment of mental disorders.
Human beings have sleep cycles that alternate between Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep. Brain waves that are evident during dreaming are quite clear during REM sleep. Researchers are highly interested in these waves since most dreaming happens when deep sleep is signaled by REM. Most observations indicates that dreams are closely linked to REM sleep .During this period an electroencephalogram indicates that the activity of the brain is almost similar to wakefulness. Basically human beings spend about 6 years dreaming, on average, this is about 2 hours every night.
Generally dreams last from five to twenty minutes. Experts in this field are not yet sure where dreams originate in the brains. A lot of research is still going on to find out if there are several parts of the brain involved or there is a one origin as well as figure out the real reason why dreaming is critical to the mind or the body.
Dr. David Maurice, a professor of ocular physiology in the department of ophthalmology at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center has ignited a lot of interest and debate in dreams. His startling line of scientific dream research if added to other findings might change the understanding of the nature of dreams and REM.
Dr. Maurice has suggested that there could be an alternative explanation for REM sleep; this is the stage when the eye moves rapidly. The professor argues that current theories that seeks to explain REM and why it occurs could be missing something. He suggests that human beings experience REM in an attempt to supply oxygen to the cornea region of the eye. Maurice claims that the clear watery liquid in the anterior part of the eye requires to be stirred to supply oxygen to the cornea.
According to J. Allan Hobson M.D, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, dreaming sleep is physiologically determined and shaped by the activation of brain neurons. This theory is in sharp contrast with Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic view of the dreaming process.
Dr. Hobson argues that what is at stake is the theory of scientific dream research and its validity. According to him the psychoanalytic dream theory is not scientifically valid; this means that even the psychoanalytic dream interpretation cannot be scientifically authenticated.
Sigmund Freud’s approach stated that dreams are the royal path to the unconscious. This is the belief that is still held by psychoanalysts. Proponents of this approach claims that dreams are a manifestation of the turmoil going on in the subconscious. Psychoanalysts hold that by understanding and examining the dream content dreamers can be assisted to get rid of external conflicts. Most modern psychoanalysts use a pluralistic approach unlike the approach taken by the founder, Sigmund Freud. According to Arnold Richards, M.D, editor of the journal of American Psychoanalytic Association modern psychoanalytic approach holds that dreams are only one of the many roads that lead to the unconscious.
There is an on-going debate on whether dreaming involves both physiological and psychological functions. This is likely to be the reason why professionals on both sides of the divide cannot agree on the right method of approaching scientific dream research. At some point Dr. Richard retorted that Scientists can develop an understanding of the physiological functions of dreams but not have an inkling about what they mean because while one is psychological phenomenon the other is physiological. Experts from both sides agree that researchers are just scratching the surface and more needs to be done to understand the meaning and functions of REM.