For those of you that do not know, this blog was an assignment for a class I am taking called Communicating Science. With the end of the semester, comes the end of this blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading about the magical world of dreams and sleep. My main goal when I started this project was to determine if it was possible to invent the DreamHelmet (a helmet that you can wear while you sleep that will record on video your dreams). With the knowledge I have learned about dreams, I sadly am not any closer to knowing if the DreamHelmet is possible. Dreams and the brain are still only slightly understood. Research is being done to learn more about the brain each and every day. With the advances in technology, I believe the DreamHelmet will be possible one day. I guess I will just have to wait.
Throughout this blog I have covered numerous topics including: an introduction to dreams, bulleted notes from a PBS documentary (in response to a suggestion by another classmate), a dream log page, dream control (lucid dreams), what part of memory dreams come from, advertising in dreams, color in dreams, nightmares, death in dreams, animal dreams, dreaming about toilets, universality and quantification of dreams, the effects of cheese on dreams, baby dreams, sexual dreams, effects of alcohol on dreams, test dreams, reality checks, pain in dreams, dream incubation, puns in dreams, how dreams change with age, the difference between men and women dreams, sleep paralysis, and sleep walking. The only topic I did write about, but wanted to include was a comparison of Freud vs. Jung dream theory. However, most of the dream theory is pretty complex and who is really interested in reading about theory anyways.
Although I will not be posting any new posts on this blog, you are welcome to still make comments. I receive an email notification every time someone comments, so if you have any questions or comments, I would be happy to answer them. You can also click on any of the pages I have linked to my blog for more information.
Now for the last time, just close your eyes and dream…
I found this video on the national geographic channel discussing sleep walking. I have always been really interested in sleep walking and thought it was so bizarre that it happens. I know that I sometimes sleep walk during the night (although it is difficult these days since I sleep on the top bunk of a bunk-bed). Usually if I do end up sleep walking, I go to the bathroom, or at least I assume I do, because when I wake up all of the lights in the bathroom are on when they were clearly off before I went to bed. Sleepwalking was initially thought to be a dreamer acting out a dream, however, contrary to most belief, has little to do with dreaming. Sleepwalking occurs when the sleeper is enjoying the most oblivious, deepest sleep.
The video for a brief second also mentions sleep talking. All I have to say about sleep talking is I know my roommate does it. One night when I was working on homework and he had already gone to bed, he called me over and started yelling at me about how to solve a particular math problem. Enjoy the video.
Check out this video on sleep paralysis. It’s kind of long, but really interesting.
I also found a really good article written by Ekaterina Tikhoniouk on the The University Observer, Ireland’s student newspaper. Sleep paralysis is exactly what it sounds like, you are paralyzed and unable to move while sleeping. The sufferer may also be awake but unable to move for a period of time, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to between 15 and 20 minutes. It is described as the most terrifying of all sleep disorders. Sleep paralysis was once considered very rare, but recent studies have revealed that almost half of all people have suffered some form of sleep paralysis at least once during their lives.
In 80% of the cases, sleep paralysis is accompanied by a sense of danger as well as terrifying hallucinatory experiences. This can include any or all of the following: “feeling pressure on the chest, feeling phantom hands on the throat, the sound of shuffling or dragging footsteps, noises and bright lights, phantom voices, visions of humanoid forms, sensation of floating and out-of-body experiences.” Several scientists believe that there is a direct link between sleep paralysis and the increased number of alleged alien abductions reported every year. Richard McNally, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, believes that many of these ‘victims’ were actually just experiencing sleep paralysis, and not really abducted by aliens. Dang.
Sleep paralysis usually occurs when a person is moving into or out of REM sleep. This results in the nervous and endocrine systems attempting to send out signals for movement inhibition, even when the person has woken directly from REM sleep. When this happens, the person wakes up unable to move for a short period of time until the brain realizes that it is awake and stops inhibiting movement.
I have personally never have experienced sleep paralysis, at least that I remember (this seems like something that would be pretty memorable). To me it sounds like you would be living a nightmare, even after you have woken up. Maybe people that experience nightmares will be relieved to hear about sleep paralysis, and feel better knowing there are far worse experiences that can occur while you are asleep.
We’ve all heard the quote, “men are from Mars, women are from Venus,” but does it hold true when it comes to dreams? According to Richard Wilkerson, director of DreamGate, yes. The reason for the difference, however, is still unknown. They are probably due to the fact that men are simply different then women. The differences even appear to be cross-cultural and worldwide. Calvin Hall and Bill Domhoff did studies comparing the dreams of people from Nigeria, Scotland, Australia, and of the Native American Hopi, and found similar findings. According to Van de Castle (same guy still), gender differences begin to show up pretty early, between the ages of 3 and 5 years old.
So what exactly is the difference content wise? Well, girls’ dreams have more people they know in them and are more concerned with personal appearance (makes sense). There also appears to be more references to food which I find surprising and don’t quite understand. They also have more female characters in them. Adult women dreams have a similar pattern. They usually have an emphasis on indoor settings, family, and the home. They also often dream of enclosed bodies of water. Dream reports also typically show more emotion and colors then the men dream reports. Women are usually more descriptive in my opinion.
On the other hand, men have more men present in their dreams and the dream contains conflict or competition. Weapons, tools, cars, and roads are common. As I explained in the sexual dreams post, men also have more sexual dreams. (source) Another difference between men and women is the amount of aggression that appears in dreams. There is an equal amount of aggression in boys and girls up until the age of 12, at which point aggression for females decrease while it continue to increase for males. This makes sense for the average male, although I do not notice too much aggression in my dreams personally.
It basically seems like men dream about what the stereotypical man enjoys and the same goes for women. Dreams appear to be an extension of the typical differences that appear in everyday life. A simple explanation for the difference is because as I have said in previous posts, humans often dream about concerns in the waking life. If these concerns are gender specific, then our dreams will be gender specific too.
Obviously, the content of dreams is greatly influenced by a variety of factors including how the person was raised. If a girl that has four brothers, she might have more male topic related dreams. Also, as you might expect, there are gender related factors that influence dreams. Women’s dreams during their menstrual cycle are more violent. Pregnant women also have dreams that reflect anxieties, concern about the baby, and issues of self image.
So I guess the saying “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus” is accurate, well at least when it comes to dreams.
A dream is just like a normal human. As our mind matures over time so do our dreams, well at least up until 13 to 15 years old. The dream content of children under 5 years old are bland, only containing static images and thoughts about daily events that occurred. The most common dream characters prevalent in dreams of toddlers and preschoolers are animals. According to a study conducted by Robert Van de Castle (his name appears quite often in the dream world), almost 40% of children at ages 4 to 5 contain animals. By the time the children are teenagers, this drops by 14%. Between the ages of 5 and 8, dreams start to develop and include more of a story-like style with movement and interaction. It is not until around 8 years old where the dreamer becomes an active participant in the dream. At ages 9-11, the dreams start to become more adult-like. However, the tone of dream is not as negative as adult dreams. When you are in your pre-teens (11 to 13) the length and content is the same as adult dreams. At this time, the dreamers personality finally starts to appear within the dream. By 13-15 years old, the dream has finally matured to an adult level. (source)
As we age, the amount of dream recall also changes. Surprisingly, the ability to recall dreams increase as we age at least until a certain age (the frequency of being able to recall dreams decreases with age as well). G. William Domhoff argues that the dream recall in children is lower than in adults. In research studies, the average rate of dream recall is only 20-30% from REM awakenings until the child reaches the age of 9 to 11 years. At that age recall rate increases to the adult level of around 79%.
Dreaming continues as people age, but the themes they dream about change because their daily concerns change. There are fewer nightmares, less frequent aggressive dreams, shorter average length of dreams, and less frequent dream recall. As we get older, the content may eventually evolve into concerns about death. Shorter dreams and lower dream recall can be partly explained by the fact that memory no longer functions as well as it used to. Research has shown that the largest drop-off in dream recall occurs at around 26, especially among males.
Our minds and dreams are quite complex. You may sometimes wake up in the morning and think to yourself, “Wow! How did I even come up with the events that happened in that dream?” Your mind is a lot smarter than you usually give yourself credit for. According to Robert Van De Castle, the same guy who outlined a system of coding rules which I described in an earlier post, puns are prevalent and can be identified and interpreted in many dreams. In an article titled, “Listening for Puns in Your Dreams,” Van De Castle explains that dreams like to often match words that have similar sounds and assign them similar meanings. A pun is simply any form of word play which suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar sounding words. One example of a pun found in a dream is dreaming about the sun. In actuality, the dream might be trying to say something about your son.
One of the few arguments that occurs within the subject of dreams, is if there is an international language of dreams (i.e. do dreams have the same meaning in all languages?). In a previous post, I explained how some scientists believe that dreams are universal (both across ethnicity and race, and even throughout history). However, it is often argued that it is impossible to have an international language of dreams. With the ability to identify puns present in our dreams, it becomes clear why some people believe this. The pun of dreaming about the sun to actually represent a son only works in the English language. The pun does not work in the Spanish language; the Spanish word for sun is sol (which oddly enough could actually be another pun for the sol (the currency used in Peru)). Although both languages use puns in dreams, they have different meanings and interpretations for the same dream in Spanish or in English. Are our dreams then really considered universal if it is possible for the dream to have different meanings based off the language you know? In my opinion, the interpretation of specific symbols within dreams may not be universal, however, the types of dreams that occur and content present appear to be.
Another example of puns found in dreams is if you dream about holding coins in your hands. The common dream interpretation from a dream dictionary would be that the coins are a symbol for money. Dreaming about holding coins may suggest that you are concerned with monetary issues. However, another way to interpret this event could be to consider the coins to be a pun. If the coins contained no pennies, then your dream could be expressing that things haven’t made much sense (i.e. no cents) lately. With the use of puns, there are usually a variety of ways the dream could be interpreted. A group or collection of coins is usually referred to as change. This could represent your desire to change. If the coins were in someone else’s hands, this would represent your desire for someone to show change in their life. The puns in dreams can even be more complex or enriched. If the coins in your hands were contained within a piece of paper, this would be considered a roll of change (typically if you receive or bring coins to the bank it is placed within a roll. This is most commonly used for having a roll of quarters used for laundry.) Well, a roll of coins could represent wanting to change a role in your life. This could possibly be deciding to follow a new career path or taking more responsibility in a new role. Maybe we should ask Randy Olson if he every dreamed about a roll of change. (Randy Olson is the author of the book, “Don’t Be Such A Scientist”, that we read for communicating science class. After spending years as a scientist and professor, he does a complete 180 and decides to go to film school.)
Before reading the article, I never thought that dreams had the ability to use puns in such a clever way. It’s amazing how smart the human brain really is. On the other hand, I feel that interpreting everything present within a dream as a pun is kind of of stretch. Are we over-interpreting something, just to potentially provide an explanation or possible meaning to the events that occur in dreams? This is one of the key reasons why I dislike reading Shakespeare so much. I agree that some of his writing probably was intentionally and was suppose to have hidden meaning such as metaphors. Although much of the analysis that you learn in high school after reading a Shakespeare play, seems to me to be over-interpreting and potentially giving him credit for a metaphor that wasn’t actually originally intended by Shakespeare. Alright no more ranting about my dislike of Shakespeare….
So, in the future try to keep an eye out for puns present within dreams. They may provide an alternative meaning/way of interpreting a dream that you never would have thought of initially.
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could control exactly what you were going to dream about the night before? Well surprisingly, you can! Practicing a technique called dream incubation to allow you to do just that. Dream incubation consists of “planting a seed” in the mind, in order for a specific dream topic to occur. It is kind of like using a Tivo; you are essentially programming your mind in advance telling it exactly what you want to dream about during the night. You can either incubate objects, people, or scenes. Dream incubation is not difficult to learn. The main key is to focus your attention on a specific issue when you are falling asleep. Reality Shifter provides an easy to use method on how to accomplish dream incubation.
I have summarized her method below:
Before you go to sleep, write down in a notebook the details of your desired dream. Describe the dream as if it already happened (as if you were recording a dream journal entry).
Create a detailed mental image of the dream. Include details about all 5 senses.
Use a magazine picture to provide your mind with an already made visual image.
Look at the picture before bed, and immerse yourself in the dream scene. Essentially live the dream.
As you fall asleep tell yourself, “Tonight I will dream about _________”, filling in the blank with the object or scene you want to dream about.
Don’t be discouraged if the first time you attempt dream incubation you fail. The first attempt is usually the hardest. Like most other techniques in life, each attempt will become easier and easier with practice. It is often said that dream incubation is easier to learn than lucidity.
Dream incubation can be used for recreation purposes, but the true beauty of it is seen when it is used to attempt to solve a problem. Everyone has heard the cliché, “just sleep on it.” If you had a difficult problem that you needed to solve, wouldn’t it be great if the solution came to you in your sleep. You just have to focus and tell your mind to dream about the problem, and the solution may appear during the dream.
In order to show that the technique of dream incubation works, Dr. Deirdre Barrett conducted a study at the Harvard Medical School. Dr. Barrett had seventy-six college students (47 women, 29 men; ages 19-24) incubate dreams addressing problems as a homework assignment in a class on dreams. They were instructed to select a problem of personal relevance with recognizable solution(s). Approximately half of the subjects recalled a dream which they felt was related to the problem and 70% of these students believed their dream contained a solution to the problem. (source)
It is clear that dream incubation has it’s benefits. On the other hand, I personally enjoy the mystery every night of closing my eyes and having no idea what I am going to dream about. It’s the mystery of the unknown that is exciting, and allows me to just going along with the ride. I do, however, recognize the advantages of being able to master the technique of dream incubation and feel that it would be a good skill to learn for the future.
It wasn’t until I read Reality Shifter’s post titled, “How Physical Pain Finds Its Way Into Our Dreams“, that I realized that some people experience physical pain while dreaming. Reality Shifter is a blog I recently found that explores consciousness, dreams, and mind enhancement. I have created a page tab on my blog linking to the blog.
——————————————————————————————————————— Personally, I have never felt any pain in a dream regardless if I was feeling pain in the waking life. According to Kris, the author of the blog, physical pain is capable of crossing the border between waking and dreaming. She explained that after she injured her foot in the waking world, she felt the same intense pain in the dream world when she went to sleep. Even weirder, some dreamers have experienced the opposite effect; a dreamer would dream that they were injured, and when they woke up they would feel severe pain in the same part of the body that was injured during the dream. These examples pose an interesting question: what is the connection between mind and body when it comes to dreaming pain? Currently little is known about the relationship of pain to dreaming.
It is known that pain is caused by the brain. If you stub your toe, it hurts simply because your brain tells you it does. Pain medication simply stops the pain signal from ever reaching the brain. One of the benefits of dreaming is the ability to control dreams once you enter a lucid state. Dreamers usually attempt to fly, travel through time, and basically do whatever they want within the confines of the dream world. Dreams allow the ability to test ideas and take risks with no harm to the dreamer. If you feel physical pain when you wake up from an injury that occurred in the dream world, you may not want to attempt flying in a dream.
I found an article published in 2002 in Sleep, a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal, regarding pain felt in dreams of hospitalized burn victims. From the study it was concluded that localized painful sensations can be experience in dreams either through direct incorporation or from past memories of pain. Twenty-eight burn victims (24 men, 4 women) were interviewed and asked about dream content, quality of sleep, and pain intensity during the first week of their hospitalization. From the study, 39% of the patients reported at least one pain dream. There was a total of 19 pain dreams out of 63 (about 30%) from the test subjects. Patients with pain dreams experienced worse sleep and more nightmares, then those without pain dreams. On the other hand, the frequency of pain dreams from healthy subjects is low (approximately 1 out of 170 dreams reported by healthy participants).
Another study from another article from Sleep Journal, explains that pain was absent from both a collection of 80 and 100 dream reports submitted. This low frequency of dreamed pain could reflect the fact that pain is relatively infrequent in waking life and therefore it is not mirrored in dream life. This could be the reason why I do not experience pain in my dreams; I have never broken a bone, been to the hospital, and usually hardly ever feel pain. The article also explains another study where five subjects (2 male, 3 female), who had reported one instance of dreamed pain in previous studies, were used as test subjects. This test included the use of pressure stimulation; each subject wore a blood pressure cuff above either their right or left knee. After at least 5 minutes of REM sleep, a reduction of blood pressure (ischemia) was applied by inflating the cuff on the patient. Pain dreams occurred 13 time out of 42 total stimulation trails (about 31% of the time). The results show that when pain is directly applied, the dream world sometimes incorporates this pain.
On the plus side, if you do not experience pain in dreams, you can use the lack of pain as a trigger for lucidity. This could be another easy to perform reality check that you can use to see if you are dreaming (I discussed this topic in my video blog post).
Now just close your eyes and dream… and try to be careful not to injure yourself…
Here is my video blog post. Now you can actually see what I look like! Enjoy.
(The acting skit is about 1:35 long, while the webcam explanation from me is about 3:10) ——————————————————————————————————————————– For a list of reality check techniques you can perform to see if you are dreaming check out: DreamViews. The more you practice, the easier it will be to identify a lucid dream and the closer you are to controlling the destiny of your dreams.