Dreaming - new insights

An essential part of being human is the capacity to dream. Identified as taking place in the sleep phase known as REM (rapid eye movement), and until recently lacking a comprehensive explanation of why humans dream. Several things were known:

  • the foetus spends about 90% in REM sleep
  • nearly all warm blooded animals have REM sleep
  • animals deprived of REM sleep die
  • echidna the only animal that has no REM sleep
  • depressed people spend about 80% in REM sleep

The REM sleep phase is characterised by activation of the startle reflex and engagement of the orientation response mechanism. As no stimuli are accessed from the environment, the focus is on de-activating the startle response and unfulfilled expectation from the previous day's activities. The expectations are metaphorically discharged in a dream, a fraction of which is accessed by the conscious mind at the point of waking.

The new theory of dreaming proposed by Irish psychologist Joe Griffin (who with colleague Ivan Tyrrell wrote the seminal text Human Givens - a new approach to emotional health and clear thinking) explains the reason why:

  • the foetus is laying down instinctive metaphorical patterns or templates needed for its survival in the environment
  • warm blooded animals need the innate patterns accurately preserved during REM sleep to regulate vital body functions
  • animals die if deprived of REM sleep because the control of body temperature is disturbed
  • the echidna has a unique mechanism for consciously regulating its own body temperature
  • depressed people have unmet needs and unfulfilled expectations creating a state of emotional arousal that limits clear thinking, and overloads the orientation response mechanism. They wake exhausted and unmotivated, and the nature of their interaction with their environment usually leads to a continuation of the cycle.

Why understanding dreaming is important

Dreaming and the REM sleep phase are human givens - universal across each culture. Griffin and Tyrrell's explanation is important because:

  • it challenges Freud's thinking that has dominated the field of psychology for decades
  • it recognises the importance of interaction with the environment
  • it highlights the role of the orientation mechanism
  • it defines the healthy mind - needs met and expectations fulfilled

A complete explanation of Griffin's Expectation Fulfilment Theory of Dreaming can be seen here


The "human givens" explained
Why humans dream
The Mind - new insights
Depression - new insights


Online Course now available

In collaboration with the Australian Association of Clinical Hypnotherapy & Psychotherapy (AACHP), Human Givens Australia is offering a Certificate Course in Applied Psychotherapy. See Online Course


Members of Professional Associations who have completed the Certificate of Applied Psychotherapy (Human Givens) are now available for consultation:

Linda Black, Wantirna VIC
Maureen Bracken, Ballina NSW
Belinda Hulstrom, Williamstown VIC
Simone Power, Frankston VIC
Christine Priestly, Suffolk Park NSW
Glenn Trigg, Emerald VIC
Julie Begg, Greensborough VIC
Dr Portia Reading, Dewhurst VIC
Christine Bell, Sandringham VIC

Contact Details and Websites