Do Coma Patients Dream?
Published June 26, 2020
Often when comatose patients “wake up” from their coma, they have memories of all sorts. And many times, these memories are of people, places, and events that never even existed.
So, were they just dreams? Can you dream in a coma?
Before we can even begin to answer those questions, we must define the two main points: dreams and comas.
What is a coma?
WebMD says that a coma is a prolonged state of unconsciousness. During which, the affected patient is generally unresponsive to his or her environment. While that person may appear dead, they are still very much alive.
There are many reasons why a person goes into a coma. Some possible causes are:
- Head Trauma
- Swelling (of brain tissue)
- Bleeding (in the layers of the brain)
- Blood Sugar (hyper or hypoglycemia)
- Oxygen deprivation
- Infection (of the central nervous system)
- Toxins within the body
And the list goes on. You can see that most causes of comas stem from the brain or brain-related injuries. But there aren’t only natural causes. Doctors can medically induce a coma onto a patient. This procedure usually follows an injury to allow the brain to heal.
Depending on the nature and severity of the injury, comas can last from a few days to a few weeks.
What are dreams?
Everybody knows what dreams are. They’re these figments of your imagination that run wild while you sleep. At least, that’s the common understanding of what dreams are.
Early civilizations thought of dreams as the way our earthly bodies connected to divine beings. They even considered them prophetic to a high degree.
Science explains dreams in a different, more technical vein. An article explains in detail the findings of researches related to dreams, and why we have them.
In the last paragraph of the article, they explain the underlying mechanism of dreams. “Dreams seem to help us process emotions by encoding and constructing memories of them,” the first line goes.
Speaking of encoding and constructing memories, there is scientific evidence that supports that dreams are real! There was debate over whether we only “feel” our dreams happened. But with the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists were able to correlate dreams with our waking thoughts.
Scientists captured patients’ brain activities when looking at objects. They then compared these to their brain activities while sleeping. The images of their sleeping brain activities matched those of their waking brain. In other words, your brain projects images into your thoughts while you sleep.
The whole brain is working while we dream. And different parts of it are responsible for varying functions. The cortex is responsible for the context; the amygdala handles the feeling of fear, to cite a few.
So comatose patients can dream too, right? Since they’re still alive?
How the brain functions in a coma
Comas happen because of the interference between the brain stem and the cerebrum. When you are in a coma, your brain does not exhibit any signs of consciousness whatsoever. In turn, your brain loses its sense of the circadian cycle.
The circadian cycle is an internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle in our bodies. There is no middle ground between consciousness and unconsciousness in our brains. So, losing this sense means that dreams shouldn’t occur. Therefore, it should be highly doubtful that a person experiences dreams while in a coma.
But some people do have accounts of having strange dreams or memories post-coma. Some say that’s the way the brain interprets the different stimuli around it. Scientists, however, have not yet fully grasped the process of going from unconscious to awake. There is also much they don’t know yet about the unconscious brain.
Until we know for sure, we can only cling to the theories at present.
About The Author
Terrence Tan Ting is an industrial engineer by profession but a full time writer by passion. He loves to write about a wide range of topics from many different industries thanks to his undying curiosity.