Critically Discuss Research Findings On Altered States Of Awareness

1419 words - 6 pages

Altered states of awareness refer to any state involving loss of conscious control of behaviour such as drug induced states, sleep states and dream states. As a great deal of research has been carried out into all three altered states it is not possible to do justice to all three areas in a time restricted essay therefore it is the latter two altered states of awareness that will be considered in this essay.Research into sleep (a circadian rhythm) has shown that sleep consists of a number of cycles (ultradian rhythms) during which the sleeper's state awareness is altered many times. As the person moves from a waking state into the hypnogogic state their awareness of the outside world becomes limited and their muscle tone relaxes and their eyes begin to make slow rolling movements. However the sleeper is fairly responsive to external stimuli and if wakened during this stage they often report that they were not asleep at all.In the second stage of sleep their awareness of the outside world decreases and the sleeper's waking threshold lowers thus it becomes increasingly harder for external stimuli to waken the sleeper. Nevertheless there is still some responsiveness to specific external stimuli for example their distressed infant or child can readily awaken a parent during this state or if the stimuli is strong such as a very loud bang.Progression into stage three of the sleep cycle causes the sleeper to become even less aware of external stimuli thus even strong stimuli is unlikely to readily awaken the sleeper. In stage four sees awareness of external stimuli drop even lower and it is now exceedingly difficult to waken the sleeper. However if they are eventually wakened from this altered state of awareness they report feeling very groggy and disorientated. As stage four comes to an end the sleeper now ascends through stages 3 to 2 and then paradoxical or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that has now replaced stage one sleep. This involves the most noticeable altered state of awareness as the sleeper often experiences vivid moving images in the form of dreaming.Research has revealed that during each consecutive ultradian rhythm the bouts of REM or paradoxical sleep get progressively longer (Dement & Kleitman) occupying one and a half to two hours of the average night's sleep. REM sleep is a puzzling combination of mental alertness (as indicated by electroencephalograph) of internal images and near muscular paralysis however the latter is thought to prevent the dreamer acting out actions in their dream.Detailed studies of this rather unique altered state of awareness reveals that REM sleep is not a unitary state of awareness but consists of two alternating sub-stages, REM-M and REM-Q. If the dream experience is regarded as a theatre play, then the REM-M (eyes moving) state of awareness may be likened to the acts of the play and the REM-Q (eyes quiescent) state of awareness may be compared to its intermissions. During REM-M, the sleeper's eyes...

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