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Unlike being awake, a vigilant consciousness, sleep corresponds to a withdrawal of cathexis from the outside world accompanied by a suspension of motor activity. It is an active phenomenon, and although at the beginning of life the opposition wakefulness/sleep is closely dependent upon that of satisfactions and needs; wishes, the capacity for regression, and the nature of the infant's relations to the mother soon modify this binary rhythm. In the waking state, excitation begins with sensory perception and in a sense traverses the psychic apparatus to emerge any motility; whereas during sleep the reverse happens: excitation passes from ideation to sensory perception, the dream.

Sigmund Freud approached the issue of waking and sleep through the analysis of dreams. In The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a), he advanced the hypothesis that dreams are the guardians of sleep. Unconscious excitation, linked to previous day's residues, is liable to disturb sleep. The dream is responsible for bringing this free energy under the control of the Preconscious; it diverts this energy, serves as a safety valve, and thus, with a minimal effort of vigilance, ensures sleep.

Freud did not modify this hypothesis, but later did flesh it out, most notably in the article "A Metapsychological Supplement to the Theory of Dreams" (1916-1917 [1915]), where he introduces the concept of a wish to sleep emanating from the ego, a veritable sleep drive that impels the sleeper to return to intrauterine life. Sleep must be understood as a period of withdrawal toward primary narcissism: The mind renounces most of its acquisitions via a return to its developmental starting point as a way of reliving of its stay in the maternal body, some of the conditions of which are reproduced in sleep. It is as if a kind of inversion happens in sleep: The subject turns toward his or her inner world by almost totally withdrawing interest in the outer world of waking reality.

As Freud pointed out in the introduction to his "supplement," sleep, like mourning or being in love, can be considered the normal prototype of a pathological state. Regression and backward steps in development are observed. There are two types of regression. First, a temporal regression involving the organization of the ego, which, through this step backward, moves closer to the id. Second, a regression of libidinal development at the level of the drives which goes so far as to restore primary narcissism during sleep. Associated with a relaxation of repression during sleep, which is conducive to the emergence of the Id's drive energies, this state leads to the formation of dreams through hallucinatory wish-fulfillments. The dreamer is only interested in external reality to the degree it may threaten to bring about an end to the sleeping state by awakening.

After Freud, and until the early 1950s, this conception of the opposition sleep waking remained unchanged, and made enriched by concepts such as Bertram D. Lewin's 1949 postulation of the "screen dream," the result of introjecting the good maternal breast, which opens up "the dream space" and actualizes the matrix in which the dream's binding activity can occur. In 1953, when electroencephalographic images revealed the alternation between periods of slow sleep (also called non-rapid eye movement, or NREM sleep), which has a reparative function, and periods of paradoxical sleep (or REM sleep), in which dreams occur, attempts were made to distinguish between the somatic and psychic aspects of hypnic phenomena. As André Green emphasized, it appears to be essential to not transpose concepts from one domain to the other. However, it is both legitimate and productive to explore points of convergence between the two.

Authors do agree that sleep plays an organizing role in the case of both the physiological paradoxical sleep, and the psychological dreams. Dream phenomena seem to have binding functions: maintaining the continuity of sleep, connecting waking mental life to sleeping mental life, and integrating lived experiences by binding them to libidinal needs. Masud Khan called this linking function the "capacity for dreaming," and Didier Houzel suggested that this involves a process of stabilization, not in the form of a return to a fixed energy level of zero, but rather as a form of "structural stability," that is, a dynamic equilibrium that assumes constant exchange with the environmental milieu.

Philippe Metello

See also: Alpha-elements; Amphimixia/amphimixis; Animal magnetism; Contact-barrier; Day's residues; Development disorders; Dream; Ego feeling; Functional phenomenon; Hypnosis; Infantile omnipotence; Infantile psychosis; Isakower phenomenon; Mania; Manifest; Maternal care; "Metapsychological Supplement to the Theory of Dreams"; Mourning; Narcissistic withdrawal; Narco-analysis; Nightmare; Night terrors; Outline of Psychoanalysis, An ; Perception-consciousness (Pcpt.-Cs.); Phobias in children; Projection; Somnambulism; Thalassa. A Theory of Genitality ; Wish, hallucinatory satisfaction of a.


Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4-5.

. (1916-17f [1915]). A metapsychological supplement to the theory of dreams. SE, 14: 217-235.

Houzel, Didier. (1980). Rêve et psychopathologie de l'enfant. Neuropsychiatrie de l 'enfance et de l 'adolescence, 28 155-164.

Khan, Masud. (1972). La capacité de rêver. Nouvelle Revue de psychanalyse, 5 283-286.

Lewin, Bertram D. (1949). Sleep, the mouth and the dream screen. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 15, 419-434.

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