Hypothesis & Theory ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 23 September 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00637

Dreaming, waking conscious experience, and the resting brain: report of subjective experience as a tool in the cognitive neurosciences

  • Department of Psychiatry, Center for Sleep and Cognition, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA

Even when we are ostensibly doing “nothing”—as during states of rest, sleep, and reverie—the brain continues to process information. In resting wakefulness, the mind generates thoughts, plans for the future, and imagines fictitious scenarios. In sleep, when the demands of sensory input are reduced, our experience turns to the thoughts and images we call “dreaming.” Far from being a meaningless distraction, the content of these subjective experiences provides an important and unique source of information about the activities of the resting mind and brain. In both wakefulness and sleep, spontaneous experience combines recent and remote memory fragments into novel scenarios. These conscious experiences may reflect the consolidation of recent memory into long-term storage, an adaptive process that functions to extract general knowledge about the world and adaptively respond to future events. Recent examples from psychology and neuroscience demonstrate that the use of subjective report can provide clues to the function(s) of rest and sleep.

Keywords: sleep, consciousness, dreaming, mentation, memory, cognitive neuroscience, default network

Citation: Wamsley EJ (2013) Dreaming, waking conscious experience, and the resting brain: report of subjective experience as a tool in the cognitive neurosciences. Front. Psychol. 4:637. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00637

Received: 02 April 2013; Accepted: 27 August 2013;
Published online: 23 September 2013.

Edited by:

Jennifer M. Windt, Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz, Germany

Reviewed by:

G. William Domhoff, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA
Lampros Perogamvros, University Hospitals of Geneva, Switzerland
Piera C. Cicogna, University of Bologna, Italy

Copyright © 2013 Wamsley. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Erin J. Wamsley, Instructor in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, 330 Brookline Avenue, E/FD 862, Boston, MA 02215, USA e-mail: ewamsley@bidmc.harvard.edu

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