Our lives involve regular, dramatic changes in the degree to which we are aware of our surroundings and our internal states. While awake, we feel alert and aware of the many important things going on around us. Our experiences change dramatically while we are in deep sleep and once again when we are dreaming. Sometimes, we seek to alter our awareness and experience by using psychoactive drugs; that is, drugs that alter the central nervous system and produce a change of consciousness or a deep meditative state. Consciousness is an awareness of external and internal stimuli. As discussed in the chapter on the biology of psychology, the brain activity during different phases of consciousness produces characteristic brain waves, which can be observed by electroencephalography (EEG) and other types of analysis.
This chapter will discuss states of consciousness with a particular emphasis on sleep. The different stages of sleep will be identified, and sleep disorders will be described. The chapter will close with discussions of altered states of consciousness produced by psychoactive drugs, hypnosis, and meditation.