Sleep and Dreaming Experiments
You may not have thought about it, but people sure sleep a lot. Imagine...if on the average, people sleep 8 hours a day, they are sleeping away 1/3 of their life. How much is that? Well, 8 hours of sleep every day is the same as 233,600 hours of sleep by the time you are 80 years old. That's the same as sleeping 26.67 years!!! We also dream about 4-5 times a night: that is the same as 116,800 to 146,000 dreams by the time you are 80 years old!!!

Activity 1: Keep a "SLOG" (Sleep Log)

For grades 3-12

A SLOG is great way to study sleep by keeping a record of your sleep behavior and the dreams that you have each night. It is best to write down the dreams immediately when you wake up because the events and details of dreams fade with time. Therefore, keep a pen or pencil and a notebook filled with Dream Journal worksheets (see below) near your bed. You could even use a tape recorder to document your dreams. When you wake up, immediately write down or record everything that you remember about the dream. After a few nights of sleep and dreams, you will get better at remembering what happened in the dreams.

Print out this DREAM JOURNAL WORKSHEET to keep track of your dreams and this SLEEP JOURNAL WORKSHEET to record your sleep behavior. You will need the free Acrobat Reader to view this worksheet.

Some questions to keep in mind:

  1. Are your dreams in color?
  2. Do you have a "sense of time" in your dream?
  3. What emotions did you have during your dream?
  4. How many different dreams can you remember in one night?
  5. Do the same people, events or places reoccur in different dreams?
  6. Do some events that happened during the day appear in your dreams?
  7. If you think about something before going to sleep, does this "something" appear in your dreams?
  8. Does watching a movie or a TV show influence what you dream about?
  9. Does eating certain food influence what you dream about?
  10. Does your mood affect what you dream about? If you are happy, do you dream about different things than if you were sad?
  11. Are dreams on weekdays different than dreams on the weekends?
  12. Does the time of year influence what you dream about?
  13. Does the time you go to sleep influence what you dream about?
  14. Are nighttime dreams different from dreams you have if you take a nap (or fall asleep during class)?
  15. Are dreams different when you are sick?
  16. Are dreams different when you take medicine?
  17. Do you remember dreams you have had in the past? How long ago?
  18. Do you have the same dreams more than once?
  19. Are your dreams similar to the dreams of other people in the class? Compare some of your notes.
  20. Can you remember your dreams better when you wake up by yourself or when you wake up with an alarm clock?


Activity 2: Be an REM Detective

For grades 3-12

If you have read about sleep, then you know that REM is an abbreviation for Rapid Eye Movement sleep. Sleep labs use expensive equipment to monitor brain waves, but you too can be a sleep researcher. During REM sleep, the eyes move back and forth. Even though most peoples' eyes are closed (or partially closed) when they are sleeping, you can still detect movement of their eyeballs through their eyelids.

Practice observing this in someone who is awake. Just ask the person to close his or her eyes and then to move their eyes. You should be able to see a bulge moving behind the eyelid quite easily. Now you are ready to do some sleep research. When your brother or sister or mother or father is sleeping, take a peek at their eyes. Are their eyes moving back and forth rapidly? If they are, the person is probably in REM sleep.

Remember that there are only about 4-5 REM periods in a whole night's sleep, so you might miss it.


  • A sleeping subject
    • A family member - brother, sister, mother, father, etc.
    • A friend
    • You could even use a pet dog or cat

Be quiet and do not to wake up the person. Otherwise, you might have a very angry test subject!


Activity 3: Drop off or Drift off?

For grades 6-12

Most people do not gradually "drift off" to sleep. Rather, the change from being awake to being asleep is very quick. It is similar to switching off a light. To investigate if this is true for you, turn on a TV or radio as you are going to sleep. Keep the volume low. When you wake up, ask yourself if the TV or radio gradually faded out or if suddenly, everything just went blank. What was the last thing you can remember before you fell asleep?


Activity 4: Sleep Latency

For grades 6-12

Exactly how long does it take you to fall asleep? Dr. William C. Dement in his book, The Promise of Sleep (1999), describes one way to measure the time it takes to fall asleep. Write down the time you get into bed. When you are in bed trying to get to sleep, hold a metal spoon over a plate on the floor. When you fall asleep, your muscles will relax and the spoon will fall out of your hand. The noise of the spoon hitting the plate should wake you up. Write down the time you woke up. The difference between the time you got into bed and time you woke up is your sleep latency.

If the spoon misses the plate, you may not wake up. You could substitute a large metal cookie sheet if this happens.


  • Spoon
  • Plate (or cookie sheet)
  • Clock (or timer)


  • Sleep - from Neuroscience for Kids
  • The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explains the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night's Sleep by William C. Dement, M.D., Ph.D. and Christopher Vaughan, New York: Delacorte Press, 1999, 447 pages, ISBN: 0-3853-2008-6.
  • For more information about sleep go to the Sleep Medicine Home Page or find out how much animals sleep. Also explore the "stages of sleep" here on Neuroscience for Kids. The Sleep Well lists many resources on sleep disorders.

Did you know?

Thomas Edison, the famous inventor, thought that sleep was a waste of time. He is reported to have said, "Sleep is an acquired habit. Cells don't sleep. Fish swim in the water all night. Even a horse doesn't sleep. A man doesn't need any sleep." Isaac Asimov, the science fiction writer, also did not like sleep. He said, "I never use an alarm clock. I can hardly wait until five a.m. In the army I always woke before reveille. I hate sleeping. It wastes time."

GO TO: Explore the Nervous System Experiments and Activities Table of Contents

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