Monday, February 20, 2012
To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
I have been spending the last few days thinking rather intensely about the rules of hyphenation and how the placement of a single comma can change the meaning of a sentence. Yes. Manuscript edits. If I seem a bit fuzzy, that's why.
So I thought this might be a good week to talk about dreams. Today I'll talk a bit about actual dreaming, and on Wednesday we can chat about dreams in stories and writing (and maybe a little about the meaning of dreams? Yes?).
There are a lot of myths about dreams. We all dream in black and white (nope). Our dreams only last a few seconds (some last over half an hour). Lots of people don't dream at all (there's some evidence that folks who have parietal lobe injuries lose the ability to dream, but apart from that ... we all do, even if we don't remember). If you die in a dream, you'll die for realzzz! (nah ... I'm living proof that one's untrue)
Another myth is that people only dream during the phase of sleep called REM (rapid eye movement). That's not true, either! There's plenty of evidence that we dream during non-REM sleep, too, but the nature of the dreams is different. During non-REM sleep, we tend to have more mundane, repetitive dreams, ones that are more grounded in everyday life. There's speculation (and research) that these non-REM dreams can help us rehearse or practice things we've learned so that we perform better when we're awake. In addition, there's some research to suggest these dreams involve a bit more positive and neutral emotion than REM dreams.
During REM sleep, dreams are more emotional and perceptual. These dreams can be bizarre or nightmarish. Some sleep researchers believe that while non-REM dreams are rehearsal and processing of the present or past, REM dreams are more speculative, like a safe way for the brain to experience future possibilities. Some studies have demonstrated that REM dreams can result in greater creativity in specific tasks/endeavors, but there are also studies that show that people with certain types of depression have a lot more REM sleep than non-depressed people--REM sleep involves activation of the amygdala, the processing center for intense negative emotions.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dreams. The research is getting more refined and more fascinating as the years go by. One thing they haven't quite figured out, though--how to really eavesdrop on people's dreams. You know how they do it? They have these sleep studies where they wait until the participant is in a particular phase of sleep, and then they wake him up and ... ask him what he was dreaming about.
So ... what are your dreams like? Do you have vivid, memorable dreams, or are you one of those folks who doesn't remember your dreams at all? Do you want to share a dream or two with us? Here, I'll start: I sometimes dream I can fly, except I can never do it very well, and so I spend most of the dream trying to will myself off the ground and hovering, like, a few inches off the pavement. At some point, something starts chasing me, and I'm simultaneously annoyed and panicked because I know this flying thing doesn't work so well for me, but it's all I've got, so usually I end up (sort of, clumsily, with lots of fits and starts) flying away just ahead of the menacing presence (which I can never see, by the way).
And after you're done telling us about your dream life, please go visit Lydia for her Medical Monday post (leech therapy! Aaaah! Talk about nightmare fodder) and Laura for her Mental Health Monday post (about whether it's normal to have imaginary friends ... or not).