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Know Your Dream Cycles

To fully understand and record your dreams, it's best to start with some knowledge about your sleep and dream cycles, and how your dream cycles affect your waking life. Science tells us that everyone dreams for a total of approximately two or three hours per night. Robbed of vital dream activity through sleep deprivation or stress, you might become irritable and disoriented and will balance yourself by dreaming excessively the first chance you get.

The dreams of children are shorter than those of adults and often contain animals and monsters. Nearly 40 percent of children's dreams are nightmares, which may be part of the normal developmental process of learning to cope.

Every night, you rotate through four basic phases of sleep that repeat approximately every 90 minutes. During these cycles, you oscillate between awareness that is close to waking reality and awareness that penetrates deep into the collective, spiritual realms. What's important to understand here is that if your deep sleep cycles are disturbed, you may not be able to renew your vitality and sense of purposefulness easily.

  • Phase one: Brainwaves slow from their waking frequency, called beta, to the more relaxed alpha state, where you may feel you are floating, and pictures may drift through your mind. Your muscles relax, and your pulse, blood pressure, and temperature drop slightly.
  • Phase two: Your brainwaves slow more until they reach the level known as theta. You are now in a light sleep state characterized by many bursts of brain activity. Most dreams occur at this level, during which the eyes move back and forth rapidly beneath the eyelids. This is known as Rapid Eye Movement, or REM, sleep, and it lasts from several minutes to an hour.
    During REM sleep, your extremities may twitch, but most of your body is paralyzed. Your heart may beat erratically, and breathing can become irregular and shallow. When awakened, you easily remember your dreams. A newborn infant experiences eight to ten hours of REM sleep per day. By age five, a child's sleep pattern has become almost the same as an adult's.
  • Phases three and four: In the third and fourth phases, about 20 to 45 minutes after you fall asleep, your brainwaves finally reach the ultraslow, regular delta frequency, which produces a deep, "dead sleep." You progress from 20 percent delta waves in phase three to over 50 percent in phase four. If you awake during either of these stages, you feel fuzzy and lost; so resist waking fully, and drop back to sleep immediately.

Teenagers and small children need about ten hours of sleep, while those over 65 need about six. For the average adult, eight hours is optimal. Some studies suggest women need up to an hour's extra sleep a night compared to men, and not getting it may be one reason women are more susceptible to depression.

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