Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Sleep Science: The Mystery of Dreams and Dreaming" from Voice of America

Salvador Dali "The Dream". His paintings were often influenced by dream like images.


I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Do you dream? Do you create pictures and stories in your mind as you sleep? Today, we are going to explore dreaming. People have had ideas about the meaning and importance of dreams throughout history. Today brain researchers are learning even more about dreams.



Dreams are expressions of thoughts, feelings and events that pass through our mind while we are sleeping. People dream about one to two hours each night. We may have four to seven dreams in one night. Everybody dreams. But only some people remember their dreams.

Four Armchairs in the Sky
Salvador Dali, 1949
The word "dream" comes from an old word in English that means "joy" and "music." Our dreams often include all the senses – smells, sounds, sights, tastes and things we touch. We dream in color. Sometimes we dream the same dream over and over again. These repeated dreams are often unpleasant. They may even be nightmares -- bad dreams that frighten us.


Artists, writers and scientists sometimes say they get ideas from dreams. For example, the singer Paul McCartney of the Beatles said he awakened one day with the music for the song "Yesterday" in his head. The writer Mary Shelley said she had a very strong dream about a scientist using a machine to make a creature come alive. When she awakened, she began to write her book about a scientist named Frankenstein who creates a frightening monster.


People have been trying to decide what dreams mean for thousands of years. Ancient Greeks and Romans believed dreams provided messages from the gods. Sometimes people who could understand dreams would help military leaders in battle.

Balmy Alley Mural
off 24th Street, San Francisco
In ancient Egypt, people who could explain dreams were believed to be special. In the Christian Bible, there are more than seven hundred comments or stories about dreams. In China, people believed that dreams were a way to visit with family members who had died. Some Native American tribes and Mexican civilizations believed dreams were a different world we visit when we sleep.

In Europe, people believed that dreams were evil and could lead people to do bad things. Two hundred years ago, people awakened after four or five hours of sleep to think about their dreams or talk about them with other people. Then they returned to sleep for another four to five hours.



Early in the twentieth century, two famous scientists developed different ideas about dreams. Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud published a book called "The Interpretation of Dreams" in nineteen hundred.

Sigmund Freud
Freud believed people often dream about things they want but cannot have. These dreams are often linked to sex and aggression.

For Freud, dreams were full of hidden meaning. He tried to understand dreams as a way to understand people and why they acted or thought in certain ways. Freud believed that every thought and every action started deep in our brains. He thought dreams could be an important way to understand what is happening in our brains.

Freud told people what their dreams meant as a way of helping them solve problems or understand their worries. For example, Freud said when people dream of flying or swinging, they want to be free of their childhood. When a person dreams that a brother or sister or parent has died, the dreamer is really hiding feelings of hatred for that person. Or a desire to have what the other person has.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung worked closely with Freud for several years.

Carl Jung
But he developed very different ideas about dreams. Jung believed dreams could help people grow and understand themselves. He believed dreams provide solutions to problems we face when we are awake.

He also believed dreams tell us something about ourselves and our relations with other people. He did not believe dreams hide our feelings about sex or aggression.



Today we know more about the science of dreaming because researchers can take pictures of people's brains while they are sleeping.

In nineteen fifty-three, scientists discovered a special kind of sleep called REM or rapid eye movement. Our eyes move back and forth very quickly while they are closed. Our bodies go through several periods of sleep each night. REM sleep is the fourth period. We enter REM sleep four to seven times each night. During REM sleep, our bodies do not move at all. This is the time when we dream. If people are awakened during their REM sleep, they will remember their dreams almost ninety percent of the time. This is true even for people who say they do not dream.


One kind of dreaming is called lucid dreaming. People know during a dream that they are dreaming.

An organization in Canada called The Dreams Foundation believes you can train yourself to have lucid dreams by paying very close attention to your dreams and writing them down. The Dreams Foundation believes this is one way to become more imaginative and creative. It is possible to take classes on the Internet to learn how to remember dreams and use what you learn in your daily life.

There is a great deal of other information about dreams and dreaming on the Internet. There is even a collection of more than twenty thousand descriptions of dreams called the DreamBank. People between the ages of seven and seventy-four made these dream reports. People can search this collection to help understand dreams or they can add reports about their own dreams.


Scientists have done serious research about dreams. The International Association for the Study of Dreams holds a meeting every year. At one meeting scientists talked about ways to help victims of crime who have nightmares. Scientists have also studied dreams and creativity, dreams of sick people and dreams of children. The group will be meeting next month in Chicago, Illinois. An Australian professor named Robert Moss will talk about how dreams have influenced history.

Harriet Tubman
For example, he says Harriet Tubman was able to help American slaves escape to freedom because she saw herself flying like a bird in her dreams. Mister Moss also teaches an Internet course to help people explore and understand their dreams.



Scientists who study dreaming often attach wires to the head of a person who is sleeping. The wires record electrical activity in the brain. These studies show that the part of the brain in which we feel emotion is very active when we dream.

The front part of the brain is much less active; this is the center of our higher level thinking processes like organization and memory. Some scientists believe this is why our dreams often seem strange and out of order.

Rosalind Cartwright
Rosalind Cartwright says the study of dreams is changing because scientists are now spending more time trying to understand why some people have problems sleeping. Ms. Cartwright says for people who sleep well, dreaming can help them control their emotions during the day. Researchers are still trying to understand the importance of dreams for people who do not sleep well and often wake during the night.


Other researchers are studying how dreaming helps our bodies work with problems and very sad emotions. Robert Stickgold is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University in Massachusetts. Doctor Stickgold says that when we dream, the brain is trying to make sense of the world. It does so by putting our memories together in different ways to make new connections and relationships. Doctor Stickgold believes that dreaming is a biological process. He does not agree with Sigmund Freud that dreaming is the way we express our hidden feelings and desires.

Scientists believe it is important to keep researching dreams. Doctor Stickgold says it has been more than one hundred years since Sigmund Freud published his important book about dreaming. Yet there is still no agreement on exactly how the brain works when we are dreaming or why we dream.



This program was written by Karen Leggett and produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Barbara Klein.


And I'm Steve Ember. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our reports at Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.


1. All nightmares are __________ .
bad dreams
pleasant dreams
repeated dreams
prophetic dreams

2. A Beatles song that was inspired by a dream is entitled ______ .
"Hey Jude"
"The Yellow Submarine"

3. Carl Jung believed that dreams ____________ .
were about sex and aggression
were warnings bout the future
told us something about ourselves
shouldn't be discussed

4. Brain researchers _________________ .
generally don't think dreams are important
are learning a lot about dreams
sleep more than other people
believe that dreams contain hidden messages

5. REM is a sign that _____________ .
the sleeper is really awake
the sleeper is closing his eyes tight
the sleeper is dreaming
nightmares are taking place

6. In the Bible, _______________ dreams.
there are more than seven hundred
there are no records of dreams
there is a law forbidding dreams
there is one book entirely about dreams

7. The psychologist Sigmund Freud believed that dreams ____________ .
helped us to remember daily experiences
were about our hidden aggressive or sexual thoughts
only occurred during the early morning hours
were only useful to artists and writers

8. There is a vast collection of written dreams on the internet at the ___________ .
teacher's website
library of Carl Jung
Dream Bank

9. This story is mainly about __________ .
Sigmund Freud's theories
Rapid Eye Movement during sleep
dreaming of the future
theories of dreaming from past to present

10. Another name for this story could be _________________.
"The practical uses of dreams"
"Dreams and Animal Behavior"
"The History of Our Ideas about Dreams"
"Great Dreamers and Their Accomplishments"

Salvador Dali from Youtube:

"Sleep Science: The Mystery of Dreams and Dreaming" Vocabulary Check

Salvador Dali in Wikipedia, a biography of the great painter.

Salvador Dali, Online Exhibit of His Artwork

Robert Stickgold, Harvard Professor, shares with us his research
on sleeping and dreams.


  1. thank you very much ...

    My esteemed teacher for their dedication and commitment to do their jobs ..... never forget because you do a great job, feels that loves his job.

    thanks .... is an angel

  2. Before you can make your dreams come true, first you have to know what exactly you dream about. Dream interpretation will give you a handbook to solve your dream and what does it mean. To find your dream meaning is very important in your life, believe or not.

  3. I like Salvador Dali and his unusual paintings, they make me think and consider! has some tips that may help you to apply the university of your dreams!