It is said that if you have a dilemma, a decision to make or problem to solve it is useful to think of it just before you go to sleep because often the answer will just seem to be there in your mind as you wake or soon after. Perhaps my own recent experience bears this out! I woke from a deep sleep and felt very confused, in my hand I had a five-pound note! Not one of the tiny plastic feeling modern notes but a substantial 'feels like it's worth a fortune', older version. My fist was clasped tight around the prize and I was so pleased because it felt like a very valuable five pounds...
You can only imagine my disappointment as I opened my hand and for a moment confusion reigned because there was nothing there at all. My excitement quickly reduced to a real feeling of sadness. Of course it had been just a dream, there was no five-pound note just an empty space where it should have been! I had woken from a period of rapid eye movement sleep or REM sleep as it is more commonly known and my dream of the 'fiver' seemed vividly real.
REM sleep is very interesting, is one of the periods we go through during sleep when our eyes move around in different directions, it looks for all the world as though the eyes are tracking the action or in this case the action we are dreaming of. Although described as rapid it is not as fast as our eyes move when we are awake. We experience REM sleep about every 90 to 120 minutes. In this state our body is paralysed, if not for this we would act out our dreams and the accompanying movements, but our brain connectivity in REM is not like when we are in waking state, it is thought to be somewhat chaotic, our minds sort it out once we wake. About 20 to 25% of our adult sleep time is thought to be in REM sleep. Babies spend about 80% of sleep in the REM cycle!
Waking someone during a period of REM sleep is the best way to obtain a report of their dreams. But it's not just humans, warm blooded animals that have REM sleep as well. Any pet owner will know the faint growling or puffing of a dog or cat who is obviously dreaming. Without the paralysis the animal would be up and be acting out the dream, perhaps chasing birds or facing unseen adversaries up on its feet, yet still sound asleep, this has been witnessed in an experiment with a cat. Sleep is a fascinating and sometimes misunderstood part of our lives, the subject of much research and many theories. In my own case perhaps there is an explanation that was not immediately apparent as I awoke but later seemed very clear. Just before I went to bed I had been talking on the phone about the coin collection of a friend. I went to bed wondering if they would also like to collect old paper money. I remembered I have a really old five-pound note, one like it would be great for them to add to their collection. I considered giving it to them but one part of me wanted to keep it because it was given to me by an old family friend years ago. It could be interpreted that my mind gave me the answer as I awoke. Perhaps listening to our sleeping mind is a good idea, the feeling of loss I felt when the £5 was not there in my hand after the dream is perhaps an indication that I should dismiss all thoughts of giving it away and keep it!