Till date, it was believed that when we are in a deep sleep we lose our consciousness. It is a phase of our sleep where we don’t even dream about something. According to conventional wisdom, our sleep is so deep at one point of time that consciousness disappears.
But, now, this theory has been challenged by a new finding where it has been seen that even when a person is in a deep sleep, he or she doesn’t lose their complete consciousness. It is a complicated process and not that easy to explain because somewhat it is seen that consciousness is not switched off, there are different reasons for being dreamless at that point in time.
According to Evan Thompson, one of the researchers from the University of British Columbia, Canada unconscious state and dreamless sleep cannot be linked together because there is no such evidence to prove the fact.
As a matter of fact, the reality can be totally opposite to what we assumed for so long. There is a possibility of people having consciousness even during the deep sleep time. So, people who have committed a crime while sleepwalking could actually be in some state of consciousness.
Now, what is this dreamlessness?
Generally, we all have dreams when we sleep, but there is a period of time in our sleep when we don’t have any dreams because we are in a deep sleep. This phase is known as dreamlessness. It is not the same as that time when you actually have a dream but isn’t able to remember it when you finally wake up.
Researchers of a dream from the University of California, Santa Cruz states that a person who is over 10 years of age dreams a minimum of 6 times each night during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep. The children below 10 dreams during 20% of their REM phase.
The REM can differ from person to person, but generally, they are 5-10 minutes in length during the first phase of the night and later it can be around 30-34 minutes. So, no matter what you dream of, you can’t have a dream that will last beyond 34 minutes.
There were some evidence of people dreaming just 1-2 hours prior to waking up, outside the REM phase, if you have managed to get a 7 hour of sleep.
It is a simple approach of suggesting that dreamless phase is the unconscious state where people slip into deep sleep. According to Thompson, it is rather arguable that even if the person in an unconscious phase of sleep, still there will be some cognitive activity and certain stimuli will be involved.
In one of these below-mentioned states, dreamlessness can be experienced:
Non-Immersive Description and sleep thinking – This is the phase where you keep thinking about something or experience something without getting engrossed in it completely as if it is a dream.
Insightful know-how and bodily feelings – This is the phase where you feel some bodily sensation or you encounter perceptual experiences from the real world even when it is not connected to the dream. It is like hearing the alarm clock when you are asleep. It might take some time to listen to that alarm, but eventually, we do hear it ringing.
Altruistic states and discontented sleep experiences – This is the phase where you are in a dreamless sleep, but then you are also aware of the fact that you are sleeping. This conscious awareness is there in with you even while sleeping, according to Stephanie Bucklin from Live Science.
This is the first time that dreams are being categorized in these three stages, but this doesn’t mean that the consciousness gets completely switched off during any time of the sleep. It can be related to something like a shift in experience.
It is still a dubious matter whether or not consciousness exists while we are in deep sleep. According to the researchers, there are some kinds of conscious activities going on in our mind while we are sleeping and now whether it happens during dreamless sleep also, is something that they need to find out.
The intriguing point is that the evidence that is present at the moment don’t give us a proof of complete loss of consciousness during dreamless sleep.
Now taking this point in mind, it is important that we rethink the cases of crime committed to sleepwalking like the homicidal sleepwalking.
It is often argued that if the person is not conscious while committing the crime or the person doesn’t remember committing the crime as he /she was sleepwalking, then how can they be charged guilty, but now with this new research, it is being said that there is some consciousness present even when the person is asleep.
Dreamlessness or the dreams are quite difficult to explain even after several attempts at understanding why we actually dream. It is puzzling though because if our dreams carried several meanings, then we should have been able to remember all our dreams, but that is not the case.
Though it is hard to figure out the reason of our dreams, if we can estimate how much control our brains have while we are asleep, then it will be easier to treat sleep disorders and find out a cure for sleepwalking too.
According to Thompson, the relation between sleep experience and the sleep behaviour is still unknown and a lot of study needs to be done before zeroing down on any conclusion.