Dream Content and Physiology

  • Michael Schredl


The body-mind interaction has fascinated scientists for a long time, that is, are the subjective experiences (here: dreaming) related to physiology like brain activity or autonomic activity? If we experience severe fear within a nightmare, is the heart rate increasing? Although, the number of studies in this field is still small, empirical evidence is in favor of an interaction between the body and the mind during sleep.


  1. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2007). The AASM manual for the scoring of sleep and associated events: Rules, terminology, and technical specifications. Westchester: American Academy of Sleep Medicine.Google Scholar
  2. Antrobus, J. S. (1983). REM and NREM sleep reports: Comparison of word frequencies by cognitive classes. Psychophysiology, 20, 562–568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arkin, A. M., Toth, M. F., Baker, J., & Hastey, J. M. (1970). The degree of concordance between content of sleep talking and mentation recalled in wakefulness. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 151, 375–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aserinsky, E., & Kleitman, N. (1953). Regularly occurring periods of eye motility and concomitant phenomena during sleep. Science, 118, 273–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Aserinsky, E., Lynch, J. A., Mack, M. E., Tzankoff, S. P., & Hurn, E. (1985). Comparison of eye motion in wakefulness and REM sleep. Psychophysiology, 22, 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berger, R. J., & Oswald, I. (1962). Eye movement during active and passive dreams. Science, 137, 601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. De Gennaro, L., Cipolli, C., Cherubini, A., Assogna, F., Cacciari, C., Marzano, C., Curcio, G., Ferrara, M., Caltagirone, C., & Spalletta, G. (2011). Amygdala and hippocampus volumetry and diffusivity in relation to dreaming. Human Brain Mapping, 32(9), 1458–1470. Scholar
  8. Dement, W. C., & Kleitman, N. (1957). Cyclic variations in EEG during sleep and their relation to eye movements, body motility and dreaming. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 9, 673–690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dement, W. C., & Wolpert, E. A. (1958). The relation of eye movements, body motility and external stimuli to dream content. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 44, 543–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Desseilles, M., Dang-Vu, T. T., Sterpenich, V., & Schwartz, S. (2011). Cognitive and emotional processes during dreaming: A neuroimaging view. Consciousness and Cognition: An International Journal, 20(4), 998–1008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dresler, M., Koch, S. P., Wehrle, R., Spoormaker, V. I., Holsboer, F., Steiger, A., Sämann, P. G., Obrig, H., & Czisch, M. (2011). Dreamed movement elicits activation in the sensorimotor cortex. Current Biology, 21, 1833–1837.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dresler, M., Wehrle, R., Spoormaker, V. I., Koch, S. P., Holsboer, F., Steiger, A., Obrig, H., Samann, P. G., & Czisch, M. (2012). Neural correlates of dream lucidity obtained from contrasting lucid versus non-lucid REM sleep: A combined EEG/fMRI case study. Sleep, 35, 1017–1020.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Erlacher, D., Schredl, M., & LaBerge, S. (2003). Motor area activation during dreamed hand clenching: A pilot study on EEG alpha band. Sleep and Hypnosis, 5, 182–187.Google Scholar
  14. Erlacher, D., Schädlich, M., Stumbrys, T., & Schredl, M. (2014). Time for actions in lucid dreams: Effects of task modality, length, and complexity. Frontiers in Psychology, 4.
  15. Etevenon, P., & Guillou, S. (1986). EEG cartography of a night of sleep and dreams: A longitudinal study with provoked awakenings. Neuropsychobiology, 16, 146–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fahrion, S. L. (1967). The relationship of heart rate and dream content in heart-rate responders. Dissertation Abstracts, 27(9-B), 3307.Google Scholar
  17. Firth, H., & Oswald, I. (1975). Eye movements and visually active dreams. Psychophysiology, 12, 602–606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fisher, C. (1966). Dreaming and sexuality. In R. M. Loewenstein, L. M. Newman, M. Schur, & A. J. Solnit (Eds.), Psychoanalysis – A general psychology (pp. 537–569). New York: International Universities Press.Google Scholar
  19. Fisher, C., Gross, J., & Zuch, J. (1965). Cycle of penile erection synchronous with dreaming (REM) sleep. Archives of General Psychiatry, 12, 29–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fisher, C., Byrne, J., Edwards, A., & Kahn, E. (1970). A psychophysiological study of nightmares. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 18, 747–782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gardner, R., Grossman, W. I., Roffwarg, H. P., & Weiner, H. (1975). The relationship of small limb movements during REM sleep to dreamed limb action. Psychosomatic Medicine, 37, 147–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Glaubman, H., & Lewin, I. (1977). REM and dreaming. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 44, 929–930.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gottschalk, L. A., Buchsbaum, M. J., Gillin, J. C., Wu, J. C., Reynolds, C. A., & Herrera, D. B. (1991). Anxiety levels in dreams: Relation to localized cerebral glucose metabolic rate. Brain Research, 538, 107–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gross, J., Byrne, J., & Fisher, C. (1965). Eye movements during emergent stage I EEG in subjects with lifelong blindness. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 141, 365–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Grossman, W. I., Gardner, R., Roffwarg, H. P., Fekek, A. F., Beers, L., & Weiner, H. (1972). Relation of dreamed to actual movement. Psychophysiology, 9, 118–119.Google Scholar
  26. Hauri, P., & Van de Castle, R. L. (1973). Psychophysiological parallels in dreams. Psychosomatic Medicine, 35, 297–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hearne, K. M. T. (1978). Lucid dreams: An electrophysiological and psychological study. Doctoral dissertation, University of Liverpool.Google Scholar
  28. Herman, J. H., Erman, M., Boys, R., Preiser, L., Taylor, M. E., & Roffwarg, H. P. (1984). Evidence for a directional correspondence between eye movements and dream imagery in REM sleep. Sleep, 7, 52–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hobson, J. A. (2009). REM sleep and dreaming: Towards a theory of protoconsciousness. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(11), 803–813.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hobson, J. A., & Stickgold, R. (1995). The conscious state paradigm: A neurocognitive approach to waking, sleeping, and dreaming. In M. S. Gazzaniga (Ed.), The cognitive neurosciences (pp. 1373–1388). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  31. Hobson, J. A., Pace-Schott, E. F., & Stickgold, R. (2000). Dreaming and the brain: Toward a cognitive neuroscience of conscious states. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23, 793–842.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hong, C. C., Gillin, J. C., Dow, B. M., Wu, J., & Buchsbaum, M. S. (1995). Localized and lateralized cerebral glucose metabolism associated with eye movements during REM sleep and wakefulness: A positron-emission tomography (PET) study. Sleep, 18, 570–580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hong, C. C., Jin, Y., Potkin, S. G., Buchsbaum, M., Wu, J. C., Callagham, G., Nudleman, K., & Gillin, J. C. (1996). Language in dreaming and regional EEG alpha power. Sleep, 19, 232–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hong, C. C., Potkin, S. G., Antrobus, J. S., Dow, B. M., Callaghan, G. M., & Gillin, J. C. (1997). REM sleep eye movement counts correlate with visual imagery in dreaming: A pilot study. Psychophysiology, 34, 377–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Horikawa, T., Tamaki, M., Miyawaki, Y., & Kamitani, Y. (2013). Neural decoding of visual imagery during sleep. Science, 340(6132), 639–642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Jouvet, M. (1999). The paradox of sleep – The story of dreaming. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  37. Jovanovic, U. J. (1967). Einige Charakteristika des Traumbeginns. Psychologische Forschung, 30, 281–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kalat, J. W. (2014). Biological psychology. Independence: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  39. LaBerge, S. P. (1980). Lucid dreaming: An exploratory study of consciousness during sleep. Doctoral dissertation, Stanford University.Google Scholar
  40. LaBerge, S. P. (1985). Lucid dreaming. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher.Google Scholar
  41. LaBerge, S. P., Nagel, L. E., Dement, W. C., & Zarcone, V. P. (1981). Lucid dreaming verified by volitional communication during REM sleep. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 52, 727–732.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Leclair-Visonneau, L., Oudiette, D., Gaymard, B., Leu-Semenescu, S., & Arnulf, I. (2010). Do the eyes scan dream images during rapid eye movement sleep? Evidence from the rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder model. Brain, 133, 1737–1746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Levin, R., & Nielsen, T. A. (2007). Disturbed dreaming, posttraumatic stress disorder, and affect distress: A review and neurocognitive model. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 482–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Maquet, P., Peters, J.-M., Aerts, J., Delfiore, G., Deguelde, C., Luxen, A., & Franck, G. (1996). Functional neuroanatomy of human rapid-eye-movement sleep and dreaming. Nature, 383, 163–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Maury, A. (1861). Le sommeil et les reves. Paris: Didier.Google Scholar
  46. Max, L. W. (1935). An experimental study of the motor theory of consciousness: III. Action-current responses in deaf-mutes during sleep, sensory stimulation and dreams. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 19, 469–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. McGuigan, F. J., & Tanner, R. G. (1971). Covert oral behavior during conversational and visual dreams. Psychonomic Sciences, 23, 263–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Moiseeva, N. I. (1975). The characteristics of EEG activity and the subjective estimation of time during dreams of different structure. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 38, 569–577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Moody, R. A. (1989). The light beyond. New York: Bantam Book.Google Scholar
  50. Pietrusky, F. (1922). Das Verhalten der Augen im Schlafe. Klinische Monatsblätter für Augenheilkunde, 68, 355–366.Google Scholar
  51. Rechtschaffen, A., & Kales, A. (1968). A manual of standardized terminology, techniques and scoring system for sleep stages of human subjects. Washington, DC: U. S. Public Health Service.Google Scholar
  52. Roffwarg, H. P., Dement, W. C., Muzio, J. N., & Fisher, C. (1962). Dream imagery: Relationship to rapid eye movements of sleep. Archives of General Psychiatry, 7, 235–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Rosenlicht, N., Maloney, T., & Feinberg, I. (1994). Dream report length is more dependent on arousal level than prior REM duration. Brain Research Bulletin, 34, 99–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Schredl, M., & Erlacher, D. (2010). Is sleep-dependent memory consolidation of a visuo-motor task related to dream content? International Journal of Dream Research, 3, 74–79.Google Scholar
  55. Schredl, M., Paul, F., Reinhard, I., Ebner-Priemer, U. W., Schmahl, C., & Bohus, M. (2012). Sleep and dreaming in patients with borderline personality disorder: A polysomnographic study. Psychiatry Research, 200, 430–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Shimizu, A., & Inoue, T. (1986). Dreamed speech and speech muscle activity. Psychophysiology, 23, 210–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Siclari, F., Baird, B., Perogamvros, L., Bernardi, G., LaRocque, J. J., Riedner, B., Boly, M., Postle, B. R., & Tononi, G. (2017). The neural correlates of dreaming. Nature Neuroscience, 20, 872–878.Google Scholar
  58. Siegel, J. M. (2017). Rapid eye movement sleep. In M. Kryger, T. Roth, & W. C. Dement (Eds.), Principles and practice of sleep medicine (6th ed., pp. 78–95). Philadelphia: Elsevier.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Stegie, R., Baust, W., & Engel, R. R. (1975). Psychophysiological correlates in dreams. In W. Koella (Ed.), Sleep 1974 (pp. 409–412). Basel: Karger.Google Scholar
  60. Stoyva, J. M. (1965). Finger electromyographic acitivity during sleep: Its relation to dreaming in deaf and normal subjects. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 70, 343–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Stumbrys, T., Erlacher, D., & Schredl, M. (2013). Testing the involvement of the prefrontal cortex in lucid dreaming: A tDCS study. Consciousness and Cognition, 22(4), 1214–1222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Valli, K., Frauscher, B., Gschliesser, V., Wolf, E., Falkenstetter, T., Schönwald, S. V., Ehrmann, L., Zangerl, A., Marti, I., Boesch, S. M., Revonsuo, A., Poewe, W., & Högl, B. (2012). Can observers link dream content to behaviours in rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder? A cross-sectional experimental pilot study. Journal of Sleep Research, 21, 21–29. Scholar
  63. Voss, U., Holzmann, R., Hobson, A., Paulus, W., Koppehele-Gossel, J., Klimke, A., & Nitsche, M. A. (2014). Induction of self awareness in dreams through frontal low current stimulation of gamma activity. Nature Neuroscience, 17(6), 810–812.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wolpert, E. A. (1960). Studies in psychophysiology of dreams: II. An electromyographic study of dreaming. Archives of General Psychiatry, 2, 231–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Zadra, A. L., & Nielsen, T. A. (1996). EEG spectral analyses of REM nightmares and anxiety dreams (abstract). Conference of the international association for the study of dreams, Berkeley.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Schredl
    • 1
  1. 1.Central Institute of Mental HealthMannheimGermany

Personalised recommendations