Started it on Saturday. Fell asleep. Had a nightmare. Yet to find out why...
"Why is your cat called Nelson?"
"Because I had a dream"
"Surely, his name should be Martin though?"
"It doesn't really matter what he's called. He ignores it anyway."
Both Nelson and I are dreamers. Nelson sleeps for England. So do I. Unless Nelson is hungry. What I've never really thought about is why I dream, and whether I should take them more seriously. This book, however, is absolutely fascinating. It took me a while to get into it - but that's because I kept falling asleep. Rammed with interesting facts I did not know about sleep, let alone dreams, this book is a meander into the history of dream research.
Whereas the latest sleep research can make headlines, dream research does not. Not least because sleep research is so much easier to investigate. Yet it turns out that in labs up and down the country, volunteers (or the hapless lab assistants) are routinely allowed to drop off, only to be prodded awake as they enter REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and expected to coherently answer the question "What were you dreaming about?". If you sleep with someone, just wait until their eyelids go haywire and then give them a thorough prodding.
"Sod off" would be my reply if anyone was stupid enough to wake me mid-slumber. I can only recommend it as an approach if you're hoping your spouse will divorce you sooner rather than later.
Western society can be quite scoffing about reciting dreams - it is, I've learnt, apparently not good dinner conversation, nor viable conversation in fact, to share one's dreams with others. It is the height of dreary chat. Dreams, and whether they can foretell omens or good fortune, largely occupies fringe elements of modern British society, although this has not always been the case - and certainly not world-wide. Freud's extrapolation of dreams having some perverse meaning or other caused us to stop telling anyone about our dreams just in case we inadvertently let it out we were psychopathic. Turns out that Freud, you'll be please to know, spoke a pile of tut. Surprisingly, dreams can be predictive - although not always. As recently as the 20th century, the CIA funded secret research to try to weaponise ESP, whilst in London we had a Premonitions Bureau' set up in 1966 to predict and avert disaster. I guess you'd get sacked for insomnia.
Personally, I believed I would have little interest in this book and yet it is probably the most enjoyable reads I've had this year. It has also helped me understand things about mental health that I had no previous idea about. I've learnt a ton of facts about dreams...
- dreams populated with people occur less frequently amongst schizophrenics and those suffering chronic depression. In fact, during severe depression, one rarely dreams.
- dreams are more vivid when one sleeps in short spurts rather than a long stretch. We average four dreams a night - even if, like me, you rarely remember them. Women are much better at remembering their dreams than men. I am, once again, an anomaly.
- People who fall asleep quickly are pants at remembering their dreams. I'm not sure this is a bad thing though. Likewise people who wake up with an alarm clock.
- you can train yourself to remember your dreams better, and you can be trained to communicate morse code with your fists whilst dreaming!
I'm likely to say:
_ _ . _ _ _ . _ . _ _ . _ _ . _ _
- you continue to practice stuff when you're dreaming, this is especially useful if you want to improve your ability to play tetris. The more REM sleep you have, the better you are at making progress and learning. Sleep deprivation can be extremely dangerous and the Guinness World Records have banned wakefulness challenges.
- You can solve complex problems, even personal issues, during your sleeping time. If you dream about forthcoming stresses, e.g. exams then generally you perform better at them!
- Talking helps. The more repressed you keep your worries, the more likely you're going to have nightmares about upcoming stressful events.
- When you suffer a marriage breakdown, or a death of a loved one, it is part of the healing process to dream of them often in the early weeks. I thought it was a form of torture personally. Dreaming about your own death brings calm acceptance and indeed even welcome expectation - as long as you know you're already dying that is.
- PTSD, or rather Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a failure of the brain to shift the traumatic event into a healing process. One becomes stuck in a excruciating, unchanging loop. They are still looking into this sadly.
- Women who have been assaulted suffer with twice as many nightmares. Proving once and for all, that crimes, especially sexual assaults, are never truly recovered from.
- Migraine sufferers have more nightmares. There's a link but they haven't quite figured it out yet. When incubating an illness, our dreams are more distinctive, and often more horrible.
- 93% of people lie in therapy. I realise this has nothing to do with dreaming but I thought it quite astonishing nonetheless. I am not an anomaly after all!
- Young adults who do not get enough sleep are more likely to struggle with obesity. Anorexics dream a lot about food. Healthy people, however, don't.
- Poor sleep results in irritability. So does having a nightmare. Granted these last facts aren't exactly mind-blowing.
If you have any type of sleep disorder (and I have done although not recently); have ever wondered how dreams are formed; why some people remember them and others not; whether dreams have significant meanings and how to 'lucid dream': that is being able to control the plot of a dream, a sort of 3-D choose your own adventure, then this book is really quite insightful.