The neuroanatomical substrates controlling and regulating sleeping and waking, and thus consciousness, are located in the brain stem. Most crucial for bringing the brain into a state conducive for consciousness and information processing is the mesencephalic part of the brain stem. This part controls the state of waking, which is generally associated with a high degree of consciousness. Wakefulness is accompanied by a low-amplitude, high-frequency electroencephalogram, due to the fact that thalamocortical neurons fire in a state of tonic depolarization. Information (...) can easily pass the low-level threshold of these neurons, leading to a high transfer ratio. The complexity of the electroencephalogram during conscious waking is high, as expressed in a high correlation dimension. Accordingly, the level of information processing is high. Spindles, and alpha waves in humans, mark the transition from wakefulness to sleep. These phenomena are related to drowsiness, associated with a reduction in consciousness. Drowsiness occurs when cells undergo moderate hyperpolarizations. Increased inhibitions result in a reduction of afferent information, with a lowered transfer ratio. Information processing subsides, which is also expressed in a diminished correlation dimension. Consciousness is further decreased at the onset of slow wave sleep. This sleep is controlled by the medullar reticular formation and is characterized by a high-voltage, low-frequency electroencephalogram. Slow wave sleep becomes manifest when neurons undergo a further hyperpolarization. Inhibitory activities are so strong that the transfer ratio further drops, as does the correlation dimension. Thus, sensory information is largely blocked and information processing is on a low level. Finally, rapid eye movement sleep is regulated by the pontine reticular formation and is associated with a ''wake-like'' electroencephalographic pattern. Just as during wakefulness, this is the expression of a depolarization of thalamocortical neurons. The transfer ratio of rapid eye movement sleep has not yet been determined, but seems to vary. Evidence exists that this type of sleep, associated with dreaming, with some kind of perception and consciousness, is involved in processing of ''internal'' information. In line with this, rapid eye movement sleep has higher correlation dimensions than slow-wave sleep and sometimes even higher than wakefulness. It is assumed that the ''near-the-threshold'' depolarized state of neurons in the thalamus and cerebral cortex is a necessary condition for perceptual processes and consciousness, such as occurs during waking and in an altered form during rapid eye movement sleep. (shrink)
Merker suggests that the thalamocortical system is not an essential system for consciousness, but, instead, that the midbrain reticular system is responsible for consciousness. Indeed, the latter is a crucial system for consciousness, when consciousness is regarded as the waking state. However, when consciousness is regarded as phenomenal consciousness, for which experience and perception are essential elements, the thalamocortical system seems to be indispensable. (Published Online May 1 2007).
The validity of dream recall is discussed. What is the relation between the actual dream and its later reflection? Nielsen proposes differential sleep mentation, which is probably determined by dream accessibility. Solms argues that REM sleep and dreaming are double dissociable states. Dreaming occurs outside REM sleep when cerebral activation is high enough. That various active sleep states correlate with vivid dream reports implies that REM sleep and dreaming are single dissociable states. Vertes & Eastman reject that REM sleep is (...) involved in memory consolidation. Considerable evidence for this was obtained by REM deprivation studies with the dubious water tank technique. [Nielsen; Solms; Vertes & Eastman]. (shrink)
Walker's target article proposes a refinement of the well known two-stage model of memory formation to explain the positive effects of sleep on consolidation. After a first stage in which a labile memory representation is formed, a further stabilisation of the memory trace takes place in the second stage, which is dependent on (REM) sleep. Walker has refined the latter stage into a stage in which a consolidation-based enhancement occurs. It is not completely clear what consolidation-based enhancement implies and how (...) it can be dissociated from a stage for memory-stabilisation. A more serious consideration, however, is whether a second stage in memory consolidation that is solely dependent on sleep, is really necessary. The classical, passive, interference theory is able to explain adequately the findings related to the effects of sleep and memory, and can lead perhaps better to an understanding of the highly variable data in this field. (shrink)