I love dreams and I love dreaming.
Aside from a period during my childhood when I suffered a recurring nightmare for 7 years (which I now realise was caused by carrying the measles bug around with me until such time as it manifested properly – but that’s another story) I don’t as a rule have bad dreams. Ambivalent and ambiguous, yes, but rarely bad.
Which apparently is unusual.
Last night’s episode of Horizon probed the nature of dreams – why we dream, how we dream, the meaning of dreams. It was fascinating stuff. According to research 75% of people’s dreams are negative. The theory is that while we sleep our survival instinct kicks in and attempts to mentor us in the art of coping with bad shit. Hence we have bad dreams as a sort of trial run for real life – a virtual reality shit sandwich if you like that puts us through our paces while we catch some Z’s.
It’s an interesting theory and plainly I’m either already fully prepared or my mind has just decided to give up trying to prepare me for anything.
My dreams are just weird rather than overtly negative, the symbols as yet too obscure even for me to analyse usefully.
I do know that I dream of flying quite regularly – something Karen is quite jealous of as it is something she never dreams of (a fact I find deeply unusual). In my dreams I have flown across oceans – usually to America for some reason – and several times I have even left the gravitational pull of the earth and visited other planets. I’m not sure what this means.
Alien invasion is also a recurring theme but is never shocking or threatening. The skies are usually full of alien ships and I’m swept along with the spectacle but never feel particularly scared.
Most of the time I dream of my childhood home – the place I lived in for a good 30 years (and more) of my life. It was sold a few years ago and plainly I’ve had trouble letting go of it. Usually when i dream of it I know I shouldn’t be there and am nervous of the new rightful owners returning... and yet I can’t stay away from it.
Bizarrely (or perhaps normally) I find that there is a definite, fixed geography about my dream world. Various locations in Leamington Spa are contained within my head and seem to hold their shape and detail in between my somnambulistic visitations. Occasionally I’m even aware of having visited them in dreams before and even more occasionally reach that wonderful state where I know that I’m dreaming. The much sought after “lucid state”.
I’m afraid I don’t use it to solve real world problems, write novels or do anything at all useful with it... I just tend to fly around and enjoy myself. I’m evidently something of a hedonist in my sleep.
What I do find strange is that I rarely dream about people that I see regularly. Karen, the kids... I don’t think I’ve ever dreamt of them while people that I hardly see at all feature quite a lot. I also often dream of dead people (“mom, I see dead people!”) – though usually relatives. Most of the time I seem to have forgotten that they’re dead but very occasionally I am aware of the truth of things in my dream and know that they shouldn’t really be there.
Anyway, there was no real conclusion about any of this dream research for all it got the scientists very excited. Basically we all dream (apart from stroke sufferers who suffer damage to the part of the brain that controls dreaming) but nobody really knows why. And we dream not just in R.E.M. sleep but also in non R.E.M. sleep too. To quote one bod the only difference between the activity of our brain during awake time and sleep time is that during awake time we interact with the reality around us. Other than that there is little difference between the two in terms of brain activity.
Curiously, while our brains remain active during the moments we dream our bodies become effectively paralysed. Our muscles completely relax and we are unable to move. Plainly this is a safety feature provided by dear old Mother Nature herself to stop us acting out our dreams and breaking our necks whilst we sleep. The most memorable part of the programme for me was footage of a cat whose brain had been operated on to prevent this sleep paralysis. The result was a cat, fast asleep, stalking an invisible dream mouse across a work surface...
Remove that part of my brain and, who knows, you may see me flying past your bedroom window one night.
I promise not to peek.