Oh to sleep perchance to dream

Jump to Comments So the other night I had a nightmare, and it reminded me of the fact that I don’t think I really dream like other people.

Really, my dreams are rather more… boring than yours probably are.

Even the nightmares. They wake me up with some negative emotion just like anyone else, yeah, but they’re more like … night-mild-frustrations.

So this one the other night: I was in a shopping mall, or something of that nature, and I went into an Old Navy and another (imaginary) budget-segment store under the Gap aegis (see, boring) to find out that both of these stores had become women’s only. Talking to the clerk in the Old Navy, I noticed that most of the clothes were like a return to early 90s styles, but the good 90s stuff — or so I said to the clerk. Then I walked out into the mall hallway and toward the food court, which was also simultaneously the university’s main cafeteria. As I was walking toward the register there was some (imaginary) other adjunct from my office that was shouting at me that I had done something wrong, or was teaching something wrong, or something nonsensical and untrue. I had decided I was just going to walk off, when the British emerita professor that the adjuncts really share an office with showed up. She stopped me and said something like I needed to listen to the person because there’s always a nugget of truth in a complaint or something. And so I did, for a few moments, and then came up with what was (in the dream) a brilliant rebuttal of his argument.

I woke up, startled, shouting “No you shut up!”

See, told you it was boring.


  • The most interesting thing to me is that you woke up shouting. I’ve never done that as far as I can remember. No waking up screaming, talking, none of that. Eyes dart open and I bolt up if a nightmare, sure, but no talking or screaming.

    Apparently I also do not dream like most people. I learned from a friend up in Lafayette that apparently lucid dreams are something which (a) not everyone experiences and (b) even those who do experience them usually only experience once in a very rare while. For me, lucid dreams account for like 30% to 50% of my dreams. It’s always been this way and I thought it was this way for everyone: “some nights you get to control your dreams and some nights you don’t.” I never even knew that they were called “lucid dreams” until talking with this one friend. I always thought of them (or described them to others) as “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure dreams”, versus dreams where you don’t get a say. What really through him for a loop, though, was when I told him that sometimes I might be in a can’t-choose-your-adventure dream that has negative outcomes and, if the outcomes are so severe or have stacked too numerously, occasionally I *then* seem to gain the ability to say, “You know what? No. Screw this. We’re hitting the Rewind button and we’re getting a do-over.” And I do. This usually happens with things like making an ass of myself in front of somebody, getting mortally wounded, etc.

    I think there are lots of different kinds of dreams and dreamers but it’s hard to communicate these ideas because what we’re each referencing as the classic dream experience when we decide to talk dreams isn’t necessarily the same thing. It’s sort of like the color perception dilemma Hauptmann introduced us to in high school: the idea that we may all agree on something’s being red but, despite this agreement, we may each be seeing a different color, some very similar though still different and some completely different, and there’s really no way to know. Taking the guy’s eyeball out won’t do it if it’s a cortical difference; mapping the guy’s brain -might- do it but that’s probably centuries away from where we stand today. I think it’s the same with dreams. For instance …

    In high school, Mrs. Burkhardt once told a boy Jon in my class, quite emphatically, that he does indeed dream. This was because the student Jon had remarked aloud that he has never once had a single dream in his entire life and thus he has no idea what people are talking about when they discuss dreams and he can only vaguely relate by equating dreaming to imagining things (e.g. day-dreaming). She claimed pretty strongly that he was too dreaming but he just didn’t know it because he must have been an individual for whom 100% of his dreams were the kinds that you forget the moment you wake up. At the time, this raised a concern which I personally dealt with later in life during medical school: “wouldn’t you still know, though, that you had been dreaming even if you couldn’t remember the dream?” I had a peculiar sleep problem that started around 2007 and (following voluntary cessation of medical treatment) went away some time between then and 2010. One symptom I was experiencing with the sleep problem was that I was acutely aware that I was “dreaming less” than I normally did. When I reported this symptom to the sleep doctor, he had the same attitude as Mrs. Burkhardt: “no, you’re probably just not realizing your dreaming.” I could not convince him that, no, in fact I used to dream X many dreams a night and 7x many dreams a week but was now dreaming only a small fraction of these respective figures. The crazy thing was that when I started a treatment which seemed to largely address my sleep problem, THE DREAMS CAME BACK. And I don’t just mean I woke up with memories of dreams still fresh in my mind: I mean that I would start waking up on certain days, having NO recollection of what I had dreamed last night, and yet KNOWING that I HAD dreamt something. Again, not because of memory: but because of a gut feeling, a deep-seeded knowledge that it was true. Whether Jon and I are right and the Burkhardt-sleepdoctor camp is wrong or vice versa is something for science to answer in the future: but it raises the important observation that there’s still much we have to learn about dreaming and (if the Jon-Ryan camp was right) that there are even such things as having no dreams, something of a “null” or “empty set” dream amongst dreams. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Oh no! ๐Ÿ™ All the double-returns seem to have vanished from the above reply. Sorry for its cluttered look. I think you can tell where the paragraph breaks were meant to be.