Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Control of dream sleep
The neurobiology of sleep is complicated - so many pathways in our brains seem to affect sleep and the different sleep stages. For example, the pons, a part of the brainstem, is thought to be the major part of the brain generating dream sleep. This article and abstract summarize elegant research demonstrating that a group of neurons in the medulla, which is below the pons, can generate signals that start dream sleep. The researchers postulate that these medullary neurons project up into the pons. This finding is interesting in that the medulla is responsbile for unconscious processes that regulate heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing, as well as other autonomic features. These research results may bolster the argument that dreams are not from the conscious brain, but more of an automatic process like breathing or heart rate. Unfortunately, these findings don't help us understand the function of dreaming any better than our current understanding.