I’ve made a few references to my sleep/dreams in the last few months and I’ve got more feedback on that than anything other than porn addiction. So, since we’re all holed up in our homes, probably take more naps and sleeping in, I figure I’d talk about it more in-depth.
I am a very lucid dreamer. For most people, lucid dreaming means that you can pause in the middle of a dream and recognize that you’re dreaming. Usually, that derails the dream, which can be frustrating if it’s enjoyable.
My lucid dreaming is different. I can largely control my actions and the action of what’s happening in the dream. I do not create the premise of the dream, nor do I pick the characters. I know this is not technically true, because it all comes from my subconscious, so really, it is coming from inside of me. However, once the subconscious sets the characters and plot, my conscious usually takes over about 75% of the dream.
There are some upsides, lots of downsides and a handful of just weird-sides to being able to be an active participant in dreams:
I don’t have nightmares – If anything starts going awry, I simply remind myself none of it is real and that I should enjoy the ride. For instance, the other night, I had a dream where I was driving my car through my parents’ neighborhood at night. There were fires burning everywhere and tigers were running around. (Thanks, Joe Exotic.) As I was driving, the thought occurred to me, “This could never happen, but visually, it’s amazing, like a velvet painting from the 1970s…I wonder what else I’ll see.” It was like a safari through hell, but you can’t tell that’s not a fascinating premise once you realize it’s not actually happening and you’re safe.
I can continue dreams – Have you had that moment when you’re enjoying the dream, but you wake up and wish you could go back to it? I can. I can be awake for probably 2-3 minutes, including getting out of bed to go to the bathroom, as long as I don’t fully wake up, and return to the dream and it ends up being 85% the same.
I’ve purged grudges – I don’t have a lot of strong emotions in dreams, but when I do, they aren’t often positive, but they are cathartic. Do you know how you often wish you would have had a snappy comeback, or told somebody off, or quit a job, or whatever in the moment, but you just didn’t have the words? There are a lot of people in my life I’ve had anger for who I have reconnected with during a dream and I’ve let them have it. This might seem negative, but when I wake up, it’s like the part of my mind that was holding on to that has let it go.
I rarely sleep deeply – I know when I sleep deep because I’m not able to control the dreams or I have no dreams at all. The norm, however, is that every little sound, jostling in bed by my wife, or unrelated thought that dances into my head can cause me to be woken. When I’m in a manic cycle of my bipolar, it’s even worse.
I often can’t tell when I’m awake – You know how you sometimes have trouble falling asleep, but eventually you do and then when you look at the clock and it’s hours later, you just assume you slept? Like the rest of you, I can’t tell when I fall asleep, but it often takes me a long time to recognize I’m awake, unless someone else is waking me up. Since I’m able to always have a running dialogue with myself in my head, there’s a fine line between dreaming/sleeping and talking to myself/being awake. My wife has said that I can speak in full sentences, usually making sense, yet it’s clear I’m still mostly asleep.
I sometimes can’t tell what memories are real – Since my dreams are so realistic and I have so much control, I have memories of them, and I often can’t remember if something actually happened to me or if it was a dream. I think this is partly due to the fact that for so much of my life, I’ve had a detachment issue in that I’m not fully mentally present when a lot of things are happening during my waking hours. This leaves me with very hazy memories. So, if I have a flash in my head of something like ducks sitting on a picnic table, I don’t know if I’ve actually witnessed it in real life or it’s something that is in my head from a dream. I’ve travelled a lot in my life, and many of my dreams are about travel. There are things like restaurants, people I’ve met and other experiences that I remember…but am not sure ever happened.
I fall asleep, and dream, for a couple seconds at a time – It’s never behind the wheel of a car or anything like that, and I’m not sure it’s full sleep and maybe it’s not sleep at all, but for just a couple of seconds, I’ll nod off and the dreams start. It makes me wonder if there is a line from totally detached daydream and actual sleep. Usually, these quick-hit dreams have something to do with what’s going on around me. Most of the time it’s just me being up late sitting in a chair watching TV, but it’s happened in waiting rooms and other places I’ve been tired and able to daydream. Having a two-second dream about the environment you think you’re awake in can be very jarring because you’re not sure what’s reality and what isn’t. This is happening more and more lately, and coupled with the other downsides, I’m starting to think I need to see a sleep specialist because an increasing lack of being able to tell what’s real and what’s not sounds fucking crazy and in the moment, when it happens and I’m not in bed, it’s a little scary.
Learning the rules – I have never done any research about dreams, despite having taken part in two studies and I firmly believe that dream interpretation is about as precise as astrology. People believe in all kinds of things they can’t see, so whatever, I guess. Anyway, I recognize that everything comes from inside your mind in dreams, so here are just a few rules I’ve noticed that govern the world of my dreams that may not be the same for everyone:
- You can’t control light. Try turning a light on or off in a dream. It’s impossible. Screw a lightbulb in a socket. It will never go on.
- Those aren’t words. While I can read a sign, or a headline, if I’m able to quickly look at words off to the side in a dream, I notice they’re not really words. It’s like scrambled characters or blurred letters. I’m guessing the brain can’t provide that level of detail.
- You must keep moving. I can’t just sit still in a dream. I’m either always going from one place to another or if I’m sitting still, I’m involved in some other activity with my hands. Any time I’ve tried to just stand still the dream comes to a halt and dissolves into nothingness.
Sleeping in a dream – This is really messed up because it will throw me off completely. There are times when I’m in a dream and I “wake up.” I don’t often recognize that I’m still in a dream, which for someone who almost always does, really is disconcerting. It isn’t until I wake up for real that I usually recognize I’ve had the dream-within-a-dream situation.
Alcoholic dreams – While they are fewer and farther in between than when I first stopped drinking six years ago, I still have dreams about drinking. I can’t tell that I’m dreaming – ever – in these dreams. They are all the same. I see a pint of beer, I say no, then all of a sudden, I’m thrust forward in time and I see several empty pints. And I always wonder how I messed up and drank them without registering I don’t drink anymore. They’re ludicrous and I have no idea why I can’t control them at all. And the most frustrating thing is I don’t actually get to drink in them.
Closing credits – I can’t control this part of things, but I’ve only ever heard of one other person having this happen. You know how they say dreams don’t end? Mine sometimes do. And I know this because there are closing credits. Like I mentioned above, I can’t read them all, and it’s just small white words moving up on a black background, but that means the end of the dream.
I don’t know if all of this connects together. I don’t know if it connects to my bipolar disorder, detachment issues or battles with addiction. I don’t know if lucid dreaming has anything to do with nodding off and immediately dreaming. Ultimately, I consider my relationship with sleep to be more of a curse than a blessing because sometimes, sleeping is more exhausting than being awake for me.
I don’t remember what show it was on, but recently I saw a story about a guy who took part in a college study in the 50s or 60s and he was able to stay awake for 11 consecutive days, which for most people is physically impossible. When they examined this guy’s brain after this amazing feat of longevity, they found he was able to shut down pieces of his brain and give them the rest they needed while others stayed awake. By rotating the different parts of his brain that were resting, he never needed to fully fall asleep. That’s stuck with me as I wonder if I do that but haven’t yet learned how to control it.
As I reread this in editing, I recognize just how insane how most of this sounds. Kind of makes me want to skip my afternoon nap.