Sometimes we are lucky enough to remember seeing a dream with a verbal description, or a set of images. Occasionally we can even consciously control the dream and continue it when we are awake. Other times we kind of remember the dream, and may even induce the theme of the dream. More reading here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
When the biblical Joseph interpreted Pharoah’s dreams, dream interpretation was already a very old art. However possibly as late as 1990s it was addressed as an art form, maybe magic or surreal art but not really a science. Then researchers created a data bank of people describing their dreams. With the development of large language models, we can now make complex observations regarding dreamers and dreams.
I quote: Having established the difference between dreams and speech in other contexts, the dream researchers then went on to determine whether they could distinguish among types of dreams. Nightmares, as you might expect, had the most references to anxiety, anger, sadness, death, and family members. The involvement of family members relates to the common nightmare motif of an invasion of intimate personal space, which often involves family members as aggressors or victims. Lucid dreaming, in contrast, involved the most use of cognitive references in language and few words about visual perception. Dreamer’s attention on his or her own awareness may come at the expense of attention to visual apprehension of the environment.
Nice to know, but what does it really mean for us?
Lucid dreaming with polyphasic sleep
In some of my courses, I teach polyphasic sleep with lucid dreaming. This means that once during the day we may take a siesta nap, but once during the night we will do the opposite. Before slipping into the dream we make a strong conscious commitment to remember the dream, control it, and wake up once the dream is over. Once we wake up we continue the dream or record it down. Maybe search for some answer or drink some tea, and then go back to sleep with no further commitment, until waking up in the morning.
This routine is initially trained using alarm clocks and diaries but becomes quite natural after a couple of months. What we gain is less sleep overall, and one phase of lucid dreaming which is fully in our control. We can set up the subject of the dream, control the flow of the dream, and maybe remember and analyze the dreams. I personally can remember only several minutes of the dream, so when something important happens I start to spin in the dream to wake up immediately with fresh memories of the latest events.
The toll of awareness
Being aware in the sleep has its toll. The dreams become less immersive, less emotional, and are more like daydreaming during a particularly boring lecture. When my dreams are not under my control, I usually do not remember them. If I remember them, they tend to be significantly more complex. I remember when I was a kid in my sleep I went into some underground library through a secret door, and for the next couple of years, I was obsessed with finding that door. My dream was more real for me than the actual town I lived in.
Once we lose awareness and control of the dream, we release a lot of the brain power to deal with the dreams themselves. When I wake up, I often remember nothing. Other times I remember stories or images or both, or something so complex that I cannot describe it visually or verbally, like a glimpse of a multidimensional moving mandala. Some dreams are nice and personal, other dreams are abstract and haunting. There are occasional nightmares: my personal nightmares are incredibly and disturbingly violent. So it is natural to want some dreams wild for the full experience, and other dreams more tame and practical, under control. The strange thing here is the experience: it is not just my personal revelation, but a statistically sound phenomenon.
Some people report that they cannot visualize things. They cannot visualize the face of a loved one or a great experience without an image or a video. Such people are uncommon, probably less than 2%, and some of them often visualize something very specific like the living room of their home. True and full aphantasia either does not exist or is incredibly rare.
Not remembering dreams, or remembering pitch black before waking is actually quite normal. I think this happens to most of us, even with some specific training. As long as some of our dreams are visual, even if such dreams are rare and we remember very little of them, we do not have aphantasia.
Scientists compare dreams. The categories used for comparison with examples of each included “linguistic processes” (tone, words/sentence, dictionary words, personal pronouns, common verbs), “psychological processes” (positive and negative emotions, female and male references, sexuality, eating), “time orientation” (past, present, future), “personal concerns” (work, leisure, home, money, religion, death), and punctuation.
As long as some of our dreams involve some of these categories, we do not have aphantasia when we dream.
Getting enough sleep is crucial for the heart
Sleep deprivation is correlated with an increasing risk of heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, and dementia. In one research, “Night People” died at a rate 10% higher than others, including morning people. The results were consistent after controlling for the most important mortality-influencing variables.
There are various ways to describe not getting enough sleep. One study used an objective heart health test called EHA. Those who slept 5 hours or less per night had an average heart age 1.4 years older than those sleeping 7 hours per night (EHA = 5.1 vs. 3.7, respectively). Getting 8 hours of sleep per night was associated with an EHA of 4.5, which was the same as among those getting 6 hours per night.
Arguably, with an effective polyphasic sleep schedule, 5 hours of sleep are as effective as 7 hours of “normal” uninterrupted sleep. If you feel that you need to sleep 9 hours per day, possibly you experience a sensory overload, for example, learning a new language in a new cultural context. Longer sleep is normal when we have a lot of memorable experiences.
Some sleeping disorders can be detected directly by heart rate analysis using EEG. Computers do not rely on rapid eye motion. They evaluate K-complexes (EEG waveforms that occur during stage 2 of NREM sleep) and sleep spindles (bursts of brain activity from the thalamus that occur during light sleep), as they’re trained on new data.
Sleep and memory
Our memory is usually affected by the 3rd stage on NREM sleep and the REM sleep. During the slow wave sleep our memories in a way travel between the brain areas, creating long-term memories. In the rapid eye motion stage we experience vivid dreams, effectively simulating environments that test our memory allocation and enable “debugging” of our memories and responses.
The first stage of the sleep takes only a few minutes of slowing down. Each of the 3 sleep stages takes about 20 min. A 20-minute mid-day siesta sleep of a polyphasic schedule does not generate long-term memories but allows the body and the heart to rest.
For normal memorization and emotional processing of expereinces, we need 3-5 full cycles of sleep. People who sleep for 20 minutes every 6 hours can be incredibly productive for a couple of weeks, but they do not really learn and remember during that time. Eventually, it is advised to switch back to full sleep cycles. This is something often practiced by Nicolas Tesla.
Many people have various sleep issues. Some disturbing issues include sleep apnea, night wetting, and sleep-walking. Yet, even if we do not experience any of those, we might have nightmares or we may have a very sensitive sleep, or jetlag.
Nearly 50 percent of adults over 60 experience insomnia, according to research. Older adults often have:
- Trouble falling asleep.
- Difficulty staying asleep.
- A tendency to wake up early.
- Unrefreshing sleep.
The usual subject is melatonin. As we are exposed to the sun, it changes the levels of melatonin, affecting our sleep schedule. Old age, or polar weather, or long-distance travel may affect the production of melatonin. In this case it is advised to take pills of melatonin itself or vitamin D.
Magnesium is also vital for good sleep. If you live in a country like Israel, where there is enhanced consumption of desalinated water, you may experience lack of magnesium and may need the relevant pills.
Other sleeping pill food supplements are more exotic: Magnolia bark reduces stress and thus facilitates sleep, L-theanine often found in tea enables weaker relaxation, 5-HTP reduces appetite and improves serotonin processing. Before trying something stronger like Valerian, it makes sense to ensure that sleep issues are not metabolic and not stress-related.
Before and after sleep
The routine before and after sleep is almost as important as sleep itself. Before sleep it is recommended to reduce stress, for example drinking tea and filling a gratitude diary. Some practitioners recommend immediately before sleep performing a “full body scan” visualization, visualizing every part of the body from head to toe filling with some vital relaxing energy, possibly expressed as warmth and relaxation. Then before lucid dreaming, there is a short commitment to remember the dream and control it.
Many people, unfortunately often including me, before sleep spend extra time with blue lights like computer screens. This is not recommended. Many devices have night mode with weaker illumination. If you need to work, try using this mode.
After we wake up, it is recommended to write down the dreams we remember in some sort of diary. This boosts further memorization and control of the dreams. Then it is recommended to do some stretches, possibly combined with a morning meditation routine. Next, we are likely to watch some daily news and drink coffee. And that’s about the full routine.
When practicing polyphasic sleep, the full routine is often distributed between the sleep stages. This is a blessing, as the full routine can be quite tedious.
Artificially induced dreams
For one cycle of the dream, we can use an induced dream theme. This is quite popular, so there are lists of popular dream scenarios. This basically means that instead of lucid dream commitment, we start our dream with a fixed dream scenario that we want to enjoy. This appears like asking the same question multiple times.
As an alternative, one can use a programmable device. Light-emitting masks worn over the eyes can send a signal to people that they are asleep, thus potentially triggering a specific dream theme. Aural beats played during sleep can influence the electrical wave patterns of the brain, amplifying some of those patterns and diminishing others. Personally, I never used sleep tech, as I enjoy sleeping in total freedom. I acknowledge that people are different.
A perfectionist may practice a schedule of polyphasic sleep with one nap, one lucid dream cycle with waking up and diary maintenance, one artificially induced dream, and one or two natural and uncontrolled sleep phases. For most of us, this goal is not immediate, and we simply need to get our seven hours of healthy sleep per night. Around the age of 50, it is normal to use food supplements for a good night’s sleep.