Dream deprivation

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William Dement, widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of sleep medicine, and a graduate student and psychiatrist working in Kleitman's laboratory at that time, was more interested in the dream story than his physiologist colleagues [6,7]. Dement was motivated by the conviction that he could test Freud's dream theory rigorously using the burgeoning knowledge of sleep physiology and REM sleep. By preventing subjects from entering REM with enforced awakenings, he and the neurobiologically educated psychoanalyst,

Charles Fisher, theorized they could prevent dreaming and thus cause psychological distress in their subjects [8]. Although their subjects did become psychologically distressed, they were perhaps more importantly increasingly difficult to awaken from sleep. By the fifth night of the experiment, subjects made no less than 50 attempts to enter REM (up tenfold from five such attempts on the first night). This observation indicated that REM sleep, if not dreaming, was carefully conserved, and therefore must be important.

In the years to follow, the National Institutes of Health (NIMH) funded a significant number of laboratories focused on dream research. Subjects, usually students, were awakened during sleep so as to give reports of antecedent mental activity that were then correlated with polysomnographic data. The results were inconclusive and often contradictory. Controlled experiments by Anthony Kales, another psychiatrist involved in the early development of sleep research, revealed that NREM sleep interruption was every bit as psychonox-ious as the enforced REM sleep awakenings [9], a finding that did not fit with the dominant psychoanalytic paradigm of the time. By 1975, when the NIMH ceased funding of "dream lab" research, the psychiatric community had made relatively few inroads into the scientific status of Freud's dream theory.

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