21 Module Introduction

Consciousness and Sleep

Module Introduction

Topics Covered:

  • Consciousness
  • Sleep
  • Dreams

With all of the current study that is currently being done to better understand the brain and central nervous system, one simple question is still being debated. What is consciousness? We can define consciousness in a somewhat simplistic fashion, yet a more scientific definition and explanation seems to elude us. In face, consciousness it often referred to as the hard problem. Our text defines consciousness as “an awareness of internal and external stimuli. (2) For our purpose we will not go into the philosophical approach to understanding consciousness, we will approach the state of consciousness from human experience and awareness.

To gain an understanding of consciousness and how it fits into the study of psychology, we look and topics of sleep and wakefulness, their characteristics, and how we exhibit and feel altered states of consciousness. We will study the biological rhythms of the human body, the circadian rhythm, in order to understand our sleep-wake cycle. We will also learn how certain body functions, such as temperature, blood pressure, and glucose levels, change throughout the 24 hour cycle known as the circadian rhythm.

Understanding the sleep cycle is important, not only as part of our circadian cycle, but also because of the connection of sleep to information processing as well as learning and memory processes. The study of sleep from a physiological point of view is a relatively new area of study as it began in the late 1920’s. The electroencephalogram (EEG) was developed in 1929. This piece of equipment measured electrical activity in the brain and allowed researchers to record differences in brain waves during sleep and wakefulness. These sleep studies expanded our knowledge of brain activity long before the advent of the PET scan, MRI, and fMRI. Today, scientific research is expanding our understanding of the physiology of sleep. Several new theories propose reasons for sleep, among them a theory that proposes sleep as a process of “cleansing” fluid in the brain and spinal cord. You will want to access the Links to Learning in Chapter 4 to better understand many implications of sleep and sleep deprivation.

The text will take you through an introduction and understanding of sleep disorders. Sleep disorders have been linked to health and wellness as well as safety issues. Some sleep disorders are widely recognized as being related to physical health and we are now discovering the relationship of sleep disorders to workplace accidents as well as automobile and other transportation accidents. You will learn about something known as “mini sleeps” which are minute periods of time when we actually fall asleep and become distracted from our activities.

Students studying psychology find the topic of dreams interesting and want to know more about this state that we all experience. Even if we think we do not dream or do not remember our dreams, our brain is alive, transferring information and trying to make sense of people and events we were exposed to during the day. When we measure brain activity during sleep, we find the brain to be as active, and at times more active, than the brain during wakefulness. To find out more about dreams, refer to the supplemental material listed below for interesting readings and videos on dreams.

In the study of consciousness, we also learn about altered states of consciousness. You will learn about substance use disorders and how substances affect the brain’s neurotransmitters and therefore alter behavior and experiences. You will also learn about hypnosis and meditation, altered states of consciousness that can have positive effects on mental and body processes. (2)

Learning Outcomes Related to this Module

1. Demonstrates the ability to think critically
6. Comprehends the biopsychosocial aspects of behavior and mental processes
7. Synthesizes empirical information to draw accurate evidence-based
conclusions about behavior and mental processes
8. Comprehends the basic concepts and investigative processes of the scientific method as applied to Psychology


Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:

  1. Define Consciousness
  2. Discuss the theories about why we sleep
  3. Explain the stages of sleep, sleep problems and disorders
  4. Describe substance use and abuse as an altered state of consciousness
  5. Define effects of drugs and alcohol on the neurotransmitters, behavior and experiences
  6. Explain altered states of consciousness (1)

Assigned Readings

Note: You will need to click on “Get This Book” button to download the textbook. Students are not required to purchase a textbook. You can download the entire Psychology textbook from OpenStax for free.

Supplemental Material/Resources

(Note: This material, in the media form of online videos, is considered supplemental and thus is not used for assessment purposes.)

  • Reading: Microsleep: Brain regions can take short naps during wakefulness, leading to errors.Science Daily. Retrieved on 3/11/2017 from:
  • Reading: The Science of Dreams: 5 of Humanity’s Best Ideas of What Dreams Actually Are, Baer, Drake; retrieved from: NY Magazine
  • Video: Crash Course Psychology #8: Consciousness – This video explains historical theories about consciousness and how we view consciousness in the study of psychology today. It explains the various states of consciousness we experience through out our day to day activities.
  • Video: Crash Course Psychology #9: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream – This video explains sleep as another state of consciousness. The video covers why we sleep, what happens in our brain when we sleep and what happens when we do not or cannot sleep.
  • Video: Crash Course Psychology #10: Altered States – This video covers altered states of consciousness including hypnosis, meditation, and even day dreaming. The video also covers substance use and how they affect the neurotransmitters in the brain.

Assignments | Learning Activities

  • Read Module Introduction
  • Complete Assigned Readings
  • Complete Critical Thinking Assignment #3
  • Complete Annotated Bibliography #1


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

General Psychology Copyright © by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book