Oneirology: Your Dreams & How they work

Technical Process Scope & Description

If you’re reading this, it’s because you’re on the journey of exploring your subconscious and the intricacies of its energy. In layman’s terms? Dreams while you sleep, and what your brain does while you do it! Dreaming is very complex and can be an explorative hobby to take up, in terms of analyzing and even gaining control of them. However, this is an explanation as to the scientific study of dreams; oneirology. Process descriptions on dreaming and its analysis will be described. This information may be helpful for those curious as to why some are able to remember theirs after they wake up.

The intended audience for this process description is general with an interest in brain functionality and research. The targeted reader would have a high school education or above, and will learn about the brain in its dream state. Furthermore, methods to analyze these brain patterns will also be described. A basic knowledge of biology and anatomy is also helpful for this reader.

Technical Process Introduction

Dreaming is not simply resorted to the processes in which scientists used to think happens to the mind during sleep; simply coping with traumatic experiences and purely reacting to emotional experiences. Dreaming, a combination of many psychiatric thought, are the visuals and feelings experienced during various brain activity, usually during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

The Process

Snow White & 7 Dwarves by Franz Shrotzberg

1) Sleep
This is generally the first step in achieving the goal of having a dream. All mammals dream and their brains control the process. During sleep, various functions (like swallowing/saliva production and bladder) are temporarily shut down.

2) REM Sleep & the Brain
Since REM sleep occurs about every 90 to 120 minutes, and the brain activity being most similar to that of the awakened state, this is generally the phase in which many dreams can be recalled. During this stage of sleep, the muscles are relaxed, aside from any dreamer’s muscle movement(ex. twitching), the body temperature fluctuates, and the heart rate increases.

Rapid eye movement. It’s simple and named appropriately, as the eyes are moving at an increased rate, due to visual cortex neurons in the eye. 

Cortical surface with an overlay of the basal ganglia and thalamus
Cortical surface with an overlay of the basal ganglia and thalamus

The pons-thalamus-occuipal cortex, or pons-thalamus cortex (Sensory Association Cortex), activates when the pons-lateral geniculate (Globus Pallidus), sends waves from the pons, to the geniculate section, and through the thalamus. This starts the REM and imagery (dreaming). 

So let’s review this stage:

  1. Your eyes are moving really fast
  2. Your muscles are relaxed (near paralysis)
  3. Your heart rate is increased
  4. Your body temperature fluctuates (so sometimes that blanket is needed or thrown off to the side)
  5. Your body will physically react in other ways (but whether or not something is actually exciting is not always so)
  6. Your thalamus beings to produce various patterns that form images
  7. These images come from PTO section, up the occipital lobe and through thalamus

Process Analyzed

Research conducted by a team at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, recorded various brain activity of three adult males during a voluntary sleep study.

An MRI scan is magnetic resonance imaging, a technique that combines magnetic and radio waves to imprint on parts of the human body, as the subject. The researchers were able to do the same by scanning the brain tissue of the subjects in the study during and when awakened from their dreams.

US Navy 030819-N-9593R-228 Civilian technician, Jose Araujo watches as a patient goes through a Magnetic Resonance Imaging, (MRI) machine
Civilian technician, Jose Araujo watches as a patient goes through a Magnetic Resonance Imaging, (MRI) machine

An MRI machine is used to conduct an MRI scan, and the volunteers, most likely were told to drink plenty of water beforehand. Most MRIs are performed after 4 to 6 hours without eating or drinking. Sleep deprivation (the volunteer’s sleep was interrupted over 200 times! ) and dehydration don’t tend to mix well.

The sleep study was conducted in the following manner:

  • The volunteers fell asleep
  • The volunteers were awakened (sleep cycle interrupted) during the early stages of sleep (about the beginning of REM cycle)
  • The volunteers were told to recall the images they saw while sleeping
  • After each patient was awakened, the researchers immediately asked for a recall of the various images they saw in their dreams. Some saw people, parts of a building, furniture and some in black and white.
Brain MRI
(brain in normal state)

In preparation for the results the researchers:

  • Divided the objects into various categories (such as street, furniture, girl)
  • The volunteers entered the MRI machine once more
  • Algorithms (rules or commands) within the computer paired each pattern that appeared in the subject, with the objects recollected
  • Each object pattern would match with various patterns found during the dreaming stage

For a majority of people, the average sleep cycle is about 7 hours or less, and this single uninterrupted cycle can lead to various dream segments momentarily paused before the next one occurs. The reason why some dreamers are able to remember their dreams without external prompting, may lie in part of their own brain chemistry; the more creative a person is, the more vivid their dreams and longer they can recall. Each recollection has a window of 20 seconds to a minute before the dream falls away from the person’s memory.


In the case of this process, the dreaming stage is a product of brain waves that can be analyzed for future studies and imagery analysis. The analysis stage uses magnetic and radio waves to imprint on the brain and its waves, to produce the scan.
If you are curious about being able to see your dreams outside of your dreams, you don’t need an MRI machine to do it! Plenty of dreamers have painted, drawn, or written about their dreams. Even photography has its surrealist capabilities due to modern technology. And due to the latter, oneirology research is only becoming more of a fruitful and intricate process for those curious on the brain and its dreaming state.

 Reference Visuals

By Colder B [CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Nevit Dilmen (talk) and Tekks (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Access a full write-up of this process in print form.