Sleep and Consciousness

Jayne Gackenbach

This is an invited address on consciousness in sleep given at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., for a lecture series entitled "The Brain and Consciousness: Frontier of the 21st Century", May 19, 1994.



Sleep and Dreams

Brain/Body Activity During Sleep and Dreams

Functions of REM and NREM

Why is Dream Forgetting Common?

Metaphoric Magic in Dreams

Consciousness in Sleep

Lucid Dreaming: The Maximum Self-reflectiveness?

Lucid Dreaming Proof

Lucid Dreaming Is REMing at It's Best

Individual Differences in Lucid Dreaming

How to Have a Lucid Dream

Lucid Dreaming Is Only the Beginning

Development of Pure Consciousness from Lucidity

What Does It Feel Like?


Freud helped us focus on consciousness with the idea that there's an unconscious and never the twain shall meet. They're separated because, according to Freud, we're driven by unconsciousness impulses. To the point where it can feel like, "who the heck is driving this boat called 'me'." I've been interested in this question for most of my life. I'm a first generation baby boomer, born 1946. I've done all that baby boomers were supposed to do including living in New Mexico in the 6O's. After doing the prerequisite baby boom agenda of the 7O's, I shaved my legs after finishing my master's thesis on a feminist topic and went on to get my doctorate. In looking for a topic for my dissertation the question of consciousness came up as I watched the death of an elderly friend.

Thus my research, writing, and a lot of my thinking has been involved with dreams and sleep, and in particular the experience of consciousness during sleep or lucid dreaming. During this experience you're sound asleep, which we popularly think of as unconscious. You're whacked out and lying there in bed. If that isn't unconscious, I don't know what is. Yet at the same time some say they know they're dreaming. This seems a paradox. How can you know you're unconscious when you're unconscious? If you're unconscious, you can't be conscious. You get into this sort of wafflely feeling just thinking about it, so ingrained in our society is the idea of consciousness and unconsciousness being mutually exclusive. If you've had the experience of knowing you are dreaming while you're dreaming, then you know what it is like. Typically it's fun and you enjoy it. If you've never had it you may scratch your head and feel confused. In any case for 20 years I've pursued these questions. I'm 48 years old, and I'm still wondering who's driving this boat, while awake and while asleep? I've a little better idea which I will share with you tonight.

I'm going to try to walk that thin line between an intellectually sophisticated member of the audience and the person who's kind of interested but not really informed about contemporary psychological thinking. I shall try as much as possible to broach that gap. I'm going to start by talking in general about some of the biology of sleep and dreams and then move into the notion of consciousness in sleep and the various forms that consciousness can take in sleep as it develops.

Go to: Next Section

Return to Table of Contents

Return to Other Papers on Related Topics

Return to Spiritwatch Home Page