Monday, February 20, 2012

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

(Ay, there's the rub.)

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).


Your turn.

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).


  1. Ooh, your dream sounds a lot like mine. I've had this one for years and years--I'll have some sort of ability, whether it's flight or elemental control or whatever (I grew up on X-Men, it's true) and then I'll lose that power. I'll spend the entire dream trying to make it work again. Sometimes because I'm being chased or I need it to defend myself, other times just because I know I should be able to do it.

    I haven't had any of these recently, though, which is a relief as they're incredibly depressing and frustrating.

    Another recurring dream is that I get really angry at a certain family member and start shouting at them. That one's pretty transparent though. Issues, I have them. *g*

    Very interesting info about the dreams--thanks!

  2. I'm similar; I have recurring dreams where I can fly, but then I start to lose the ability (sometimes completely, sometimes it just loses strength so I have to fly low). I assume it's a subconscious self-esteem thing. But other times I can just do it, so that's cool. I dream about my primary and upper school a lot.

  3. ooo! I love stuff like this. What a cool post, and isn't that interesting about the ... that part of the brain w/the negative emotions. I wonder if they could use that to treat those types of people...?

    Anyway, you should use your recurring dream for a book. I can totally see that happening in novel form! I only have one recurring dream, and it's a house. Or maybe I should say it's a place that appears as a house because every time I dream it, the house looks different--either it's bigger or smaller or it's in a different location. But I always recognize it. And there's always something wrong that's hidden at first, but I find it. Like once I dreamed it was this huge mansion with gorgeous staircases and balconies. But when you tried climbing them or walking on them, they all wobbled and trembled wildly b/c they were all held up with toothpicks.

    Yep. It's always something like that. :D <3

  4. I have vivid, memorable dreams. Some are very repetitive--I have a recurring one that I'm back in college and somehow I can't figure out how I'm going to live in a dorm room and take care of my kids at the same time, LOL.

    Great post!

  5. This year, I've been having a lot of dreams about standing in front of a rowdy class of students who laugh in my face and don't listen to a word I say. No -- wait -- that's reality. That's my afternoon reading class!

    Speaking of punctuation, did you see the recent episode of 30 Rock where Tracey's entourage messed up his birthday party invitations? They printed the invitations to say: "Give to charity. Please no presents."

    What Tracey claims he wanted was: "Give to charity? Please, no! Presents!!!"

  6. hi dr sarah! wow! cool post! i get lots of dreams. and i dream i could fly and i love that dream. some times i dream a part of something and cant wait til the next night to dream more. its like im dreaming chapters of a book. the last time i was a secret agent like james bond and had to take out a nuclear arms plant hidden way up in a mountain in siberia. it lasted a whole week and was soooo exciting. i wrote a lot of it down cause it could be a good book. on my last dream last night i dreamed i got up and opened my door and two raccoons were standing in the hall. ha ha. happy dreams!
    ...hugs from lenny

  7. I have that flying dream all the time! Lately, I've been dreaming about people I used to know but haven't seen in quite a few years. It's really weird because I haven't thought about them at all, but I dream about them. Hmm...maybe that means I'm going crazy. ;)

  8. I used to have vivid, mostly technicolor, dreams, but haven't for years. I miss them so much! My sister consistently has vivid, metaphorical dreams about what's happening in her life, and the metaphors are almost always fairly obvious--I am jealous. Nowadays I access those (or what feels like those) areas of my mind with meditation.

    Love that flying dream you have. I'm thinking that one day it will surprise you and instead of hovering, you will soar.

  9. I dream about being chased by international villains. Must have been James Bond in another life. Also, there's the recurrent one where I'm taking an exam, and either get lost on the way to the exam room, or discover I've studied for the wrong test.

    There are several other macabre dreams I regularly have, but this is a family audience and I wouldn't want to terrify you for the rest of the day. If you contact me privately, and waive your hourly fee, I'll spill...

    Great post, Sarah. Looking forward to Wednesdays.

  10. OMG, I have epic, vivid, wild dreams every night! Sometimes I can even control them. Ooooo.

  11. Lately I've been having this recurring dream. It can be any kind of scenario, but it always has this one same aspect: that I've recently moved out of state, and forgot to tell my job that I was leaving. This usually results in me panicking within the dream, but sometimes I manage to work out a great solution - like VPN access, just for one example.

    Don't worry, I don't need you to analyze it; I know exactly what it means.

  12. I use to have snake dreams. Dreams in which I was covered in snakes. They would writhe all over me. I'd wake up in a dead panic and be to scared to move.

    I had these for years on and off until I figured out that I got them when I was worried about something. In my mind, snakes were short hand for fear. After figuring this out (yes, rather obvious in retrospect) the snake dreams went away. They were not particularly frequent to start with, but I haven't had one in years.

  13. As far back as I remember I have had vivid dreams and nightmares. Not fun. Example: I am locked in a bathroom. I turn around and an enormous spider is in the bathtub crawling up and out towards me. I also dream of family. I noticed when I went to university that after a night of studying, when I just couldn't remember or understand something, after I slept it was all clear.

  14. For the most part I don't remember my dreams, with a few exceptions. Unfortunately those exceptions are more nightmarish than dreamy. :(

  15. I had a weird one the other night:
    I was paddling a boat through a swamp - with my hands - and the gross green stuff that floats on top was hiding all sorts of 'things', but I couldn't see what the things were. I just kept paddling and hoping nothing would bite.
    I reached an island with a bunch of boarded up summer cabins. Somehow, the cabin I was staying in was a 'special' deal. I couldn't understand why.
    So we go swimming. And there's a little girl with us - I have no idea who she was. She dove down, and then there were kangaroos swimming in the water, and she got clawed up by their kicking feet. Then she got some sort of zombie-like illness I didn't want to catch.
    LOL. Any idea what the kangaroo thing is? And I never dream of zombies. ??

  16. My dreams have always been very vivid and entertaining. Isn't it fascinating how many people share variations of the same dream? Like the flying one. As a child, I dreamt regularly that I could fly. I'd simply lift my legs as though I were on an invisible flying carpet ... and take off. Other recurrent dreams have been spitting out my teeth, discovering wonderful unused rooms (and whole floors) in my house, miniature animals, like horses, that can be held in the hand, and of course, the familiar back in school, but either not ready for a test, don't remember the combination to my locker, or can't remember my schedule or how to get to my next class.

  17. I tend to have epic adventure dreams. They're more once-and-a-while than every night when it comes to actually remembering them. Actually, I'm more likely to remember them if I'm allowed to wake up naturally. (Aka, whenever I don't have to use an alarm clock.) Any way, they tend to involve plots and casts and are completely unrelated to my day-to-day existence, and I'm usually not me. There have been a couple of occasions where I have the same dream twice...and then, I'll get REALLY EXCITED because that means I can find out what happens next.

    My nightmares are few and far between, but the ones I do have stick with me. There was the time where my mom sliced open my head and removed half my brain when I was little. Woke up SCREAMING after that one. It's a pretty lucky thing I ran into my dad and not my mom that night.

  18. that non-REM thing is fascinating, because- it's weird. to some extent, i've always had image-dream-ish shows on the inside of my eyelids right before i fall to sleep. but lately, it's just about as soon as i lay down to head to sleep- like a moving art gallery show of vivid images. i always wish i had a notepad to write down the ideas, but then it would keep my hubby awake! oh no! so, i've been wondering lately with the enhancement of my nightly picture show about the whole only dreaming during REM thing... but then i wasn't sure if those pictures constitute as dreams. it sure is pretty to watch though. sometimes, i'll even mumble "ooooh! pretty!" and my hubby will pat my side and say, "shh!" :)

  19. Very interesting post, Sarah, thanks for sharing.

    Honestly, I'm not too sure I dream that often (I probably do, but I am a stay-at-home dad of three boys under five, so I am *always* exhausted :)

  20. Whenever a stumbling block comes up in my life, I tend to have dreams where I'm at an old gymnastics meet and just as I start running to do a series of flips, someone always runs in front of me and I have to bail out on the move, or there's a mat on the floor and it trips me.

    The dream interpretation is so literal it's like my own brain is trying to mock me.

  21. I dream a lot, but usually only remember tiny bits of them. I do have the teeth-falling-out one quite a lot though. And I often dream about people I know, or famous people, who don't look anything like they do in real life.

  22. I usually remember my dreams. I often have the same dream over and over again. One dream I've had first began when I was about 7. I'm in a row boat in a pond and there is a little island with a big weeping willow in the center of the pond. I'm with my mother's friend Allen and the boat starts taking on water. He tries to get the boat to the island. I never know the ending. I always wake up while we are struggling to get to the island and the water is rushing into the boat.

    Sometimes I wake up mad at my husband. I know it's illogical, but I can't shake whatever it was that happened in my dream.

  23. Gah! I have stranger, weirder dreams lately because of the pregnancy (yeah, I like to blame everything on the pregnancy hormones. :D )

    I've had those flying dreams, too, where I'm supposed to know how to fly only I can't actually do it, or I'm having trouble getting off the ground. Along the same lines, I've had dreams where I had superpowers or magic, but when the villain shows up, my wand doesn't work or I can't deliver a mighty punch. But the worst kind of dream ever is the one where I go back to school and I'm in the middle of a test, only I don't know anything.

  24. Hmmm, I've been having the same repetitive dream about how I die ever since I can remember. I drown. I think I started having it when I was 4 or 5. It's always an incredibly peaceful feeling though, not scary or traumatic at all. In fact, that feeling of peacefulness is why I love swimming and scuba diving so much, even though I did almost drown once, but not until I was around 9 or 10, so that wasn't the inspiration for the dream.

  25. I have those "discovering wonderful unused rooms (and whole floors) in my house" dreams quite often (or at least I used to), and also flying dreams where I have to learn how to fly and start out not very good at it.
    Once I had a dream where lumberjacks in the woods were doing surgery on a man who was mostly just a skeleton except he had a normal head. And he was smoking a cigar and talking to them during the surgery.
    I keep a record whenever I have interesting dreams. I've had a lot of interesting dreams, and it makes me want to remember more of them. I've read the best way to remember your dreams (like Becky said) is to wake up naturally without using an alarm clock. Alas, if I didn't use an alarm clock I would be fired from my job for being at least an hour late every day.