Does Consciousness Disappear in Dreamless Sleep?

Trends Cogn Sci. 2016 Dec;20(12):871-882. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2016.09.006. Epub 2016 Oct 18.


Consciousness is often said to disappear in deep, dreamless sleep. We argue that this assumption is oversimplified. Unless dreamless sleep is defined as unconscious from the outset there are good empirical and theoretical reasons for saying that a range of different types of sleep experience, some of which are distinct from dreaming, can occur in all stages of sleep. We introduce a novel taxonomy for describing different kinds of dreamless sleep experiences and suggest research methods for their investigation. Future studies should focus on three areas: memory consolidation, sleep disorders, and sleep state (mis)perception. Our proposal suggests new directions for sleep and dream science, as well as for the neuroscience of consciousness, and can also inform the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders.

Keywords: consciousness; dreaming; memory; sleep; sleep disorders; slow-wave sleep.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Consciousness*
  • Dreams*
  • Humans
  • Neurosciences
  • Perception
  • Sleep / physiology*