Coming to Grips with a “New” State of Consciousness: The Study of Rapid-Eye-Movement Sleep in the 1960s
ADRIAN R. MORRISON
The recognition of rapid-eye-movement sleep (REM) and its association with dreaming in 1953 by Aserinsky and Kleitman opened a new world to explore in the brain. Discussions at two major symposia in the early 1960s reveal that a state with charac- teristics resembling both wakefulness and sleep was overturning accepted views of the regulation of the two states. Participants grappled with the idea that cortical activation could occur during sleep. They struggled with picking a name that would capture the essence of REM without focusing on just one aspect of the state. Questioning whether REM in cats could be homologous with that of humans suggested an anthropocentric focus on human dreaming as the essence of the state. The need for biochemical studies was evident given that deprivation of REM caused a rebound in the amount of subsequent REM, which indicated that simple synaptic activity could not support this phenomenon.