Why It Matters: States of Consciousness

A painting shows two children sleeping.

Figure 1. Sleep, which we all experience, is a quiet and mysterious pause in our daily lives. Two sleeping children are depicted in this 1895 oil painting titled Zwei schlafende Mädchen auf der Ofenbank, which translates as “two sleeping girls on the stove,” by Swiss painter Albert Anker.

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. Some people also experience altered states of consciousness through meditation, hypnosis, or alcohol and other drugs.

This module will discuss states of consciousness with a particular emphasis on sleep. You’ll learn about the different stages of sleep, sleep disorders as well as the altered states of consciousness produced by psychoactive drugs, hypnosis, and meditation.