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Q: Various states of Conscienceness ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   4 Comments )
Subject: Various states of Conscienceness
Category: Science > Biology
Asked by: psychopoet-ga
List Price: $8.00
Posted: 02 Aug 2004 14:27 PDT
Expires: 01 Sep 2004 14:27 PDT
Question ID: 382592
What is the difference between being asleep and being unconscience or "passed out"?
Subject: Re: Various states of Conscienceness
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 02 Aug 2004 15:21 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Basically, the main differences between sleep and unconsciousness have
to do with the way the brain deals with information (from both
internal and external sources) and the kind of response (if any) that
is given in reaction to changes in that information. A sleeping person
will rouse if a loud noise or other unusual event occurs; an
unconscious person will not. In the depths of unconsciousness, very
little information processing occurs; there are no thoughts or dreams,
no signs of self-awareness, and even a painful stimulus may not bring
the person to a state of alertness. Consciousness is a continuum, and
the boundaries between wakefulness, sleep, unconsciousness, and coma
are not hard-edged.

Here's a good (if brief) list of some differences between being asleep
and being unconscious:

"A. Difference between being asleep and being unconscious 

     1. brain continues to process external information 

     2. brain continues to process internally generated information 

     3. body remains active 

     4. in general, easily awakened" 

Sue Ann Kelley, Ph.D.: Consciousness

More online info on the subject:

"Sleep... is defined in the Stedmans Medical Dictionary as 'A
physiologic state of relative unconsciousness and inaction of the
voluntary muscles, the need for which recurs periodically'. Totora &
Grabowski in Principles of Anatomy and Physiology add that 'it is a
state of unconsciousness from which a person can be aroused;
associated with a low level of activity in the reticular activating

Learning Discoveries Psychological Services: What Is Sleep?

"Breathing emergencies also come in different forms, the person can be
conscious or unconscious, breathing on their own or not. It is very
important to determine whether the person is conscious or not;
sleeping is NOT unconscious. A good way to find this out is to nudge
the person or tickle their feet. If they move around and can be
aroused you will then know they are sleeping. If it is found that the
person is not responding to anything that means they are unconscious."

Essortment: Breathing emergencies

"Sleep is defined as a state of unconsciousness from which a person
can be aroused. In this state, the brain is relatively more responsive
to internal stimuli than external stimuli. Sleep should be
distinguished from coma. Coma is an unconscious state from which a
person cannot be aroused. Sleep is essential for the normal, healthy
functioning of the human body. It is a complicated physiological
phenomenon that scientists do not fully understand. Historically,
sleep was thought to be a passive state. However, sleep is now known
to be a dynamic process, and our brains are active during sleep."

eMedicine Health: Basics of Sleep Introduction

"In medical textbooks, unconsciousness is typically divided into four
subcategories: obtundation, hypersomnia, stupor, and coma. Obtundation
is simply a reduced level of alertness/consciousness, similar to the
confused state with which you awaken from a sound sleep. Hypersomnia
is a very deep sleep from which you can only be awakened by vigorous
stimulation. Stupor is deep unconsciousness from which you can only be
aroused briefly using noxious or painful stimuli. Coma is deep
unconsciousness from which you cannot be awakened at all--truly

Fire EMS: Unconscious, Unresponsive, or Underestimated?

"Coma is a prolonged period of unconsciousness. Unconsciousness is the
lack of appreciation of (or reaction to) a stimulus. Coma differs from
sleep in that one cannot be aroused from a coma."

While You Are Waiting: Understanding Coma

"Levels of unconsciousness vary from a very light state, in which
movements or even protesting sounds are made when the unconscious
person is disturbed or subjected to pain, to a state of deep
unconsciousness (called coma) in which even the strongest stimuli
bring no response."

NHS Direct: Unconsciousness

Google search strategy:

Google Web Search: "being asleep and being unconscious"

Google Web Search: "sleep and unconsciousness"

Google Web Search: "levels of unconsciousness" + "sleep"

Thanks for an interesting question. If anything needs clarification,
please don't hesitate to ask.

Best regards,

Request for Answer Clarification by psychopoet-ga on 02 Aug 2004 15:49 PDT
So, one cannot dream in a coma?  Which would mean that Nate isn't
dreaming the Fourth season.  :-)  What causes a coma and how easy is
it to slip into one?

PS last night's episode was wicked, no?  Do you think it's possible
that Claire has always been a lesbian?

Clarification of Answer by pinkfreud-ga on 02 Aug 2004 16:39 PDT
Dreaming, as it is commonly understood, does not occur in comatose
patients (nor in those who are under deep anesthesia). However, I can
testify that certain incoherent, visionary imaginings can pass through
the mind of a comatose or deeply anesthetized person. It happened to
me many years ago. My experience did not resemble a dream, since it
didn't have a "plot" or any recognizable people or things in it. It
was more like a surreal screensaver that my brain was generating to
keep from slipping deeper into blackness.

Here's an excellent article about the causes of coma:

Newfoundland Brain Injury Association: Understanding Coma

Regarding how easy it is to slip into a coma, normally it isn't easy
at all, unless drugs or injury are involved. Fortunately, people who
"pass out" generally become conscious, rather than drifting into coma.

Oh, and about "Six Feet Under": I taped it, and haven't watched the
tape yet, so please don't tell me too much!


Request for Answer Clarification by psychopoet-ga on 02 Aug 2004 17:13 PDT
Where does "Passing out" fall into the levels of conscienceness?  Too
bad we can't exchage E-mail addresses, I'd love to talk to you in a
more private setting :-(

Clarification of Answer by pinkfreud-ga on 02 Aug 2004 17:39 PDT
As I mentioned, consciousness is a continuum. There aren't clear
guidelines as we drift from one state to another. Generally, a person
who has "passed out" (from alcohol use, for instance) will provide
some responses, even if full wakefulness is not reached. Poke a pin in
someone who has passed out, and he or she will probably flinch; a
comatose person doesn't respond to pain. "Smelling salts" (usually
ammonium carbonate) may rouse a person who has passed out, while a
person in a coma can inhale the vilest of substances without giving a
reaction. Note, however that poking pins in a person and exposing him
or her to smelling salts may make the person really ticked off at you
when they do wake up. ;-)
psychopoet-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Excellent.  Pink, You are the standard by which all researchers should aspire.

Subject: Re: Various states of Conscienceness
From: steph53-ga on 02 Aug 2004 19:13 PDT
My son's girlfriend's sister was hit by  a train in early June. She is
still comatose and has no reaction to pain or touch :(
Subject: Re: Various states of Conscienceness
From: psychopoet-ga on 03 Aug 2004 07:26 PDT
That's awful
Subject: Re: Various states of Conscienceness
From: pinkfreud-ga on 03 Aug 2004 09:03 PDT

Thank you very much for the five stars and the tip! And a special
thanks for your kind words about my performance as a Researcher.

Subject: Re: Various states of Conscienceness
From: psychopoet-ga on 04 Aug 2004 06:22 PDT

You are one of the best and I was thrilled when you answered my
question.  You are complete and precise on every question no matter
how much it pays.  You go above beyond the call of duty every time and
for that I love you.   It also doesn't hurt that you are a fan of one
of the best shows on Television. :-)

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