Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Hypothesis About Dreams

I read an interesting article in The Sun about dreams; unfortunately the less interesting first half is all that's online. In any case, I was annoyed that I remember so few of my dreams, since apparently they are the ticket to psychological health; more dreams might also mean less money spent on movies.

My genuinely hallucinatory sequences -- the sort of things stereotypically associated with deep sleep -- happen in daydreams, or when I've just started to go to sleep, the periods during which I still have some level of control over what happens, and for whatever reason am no longer thinking about sex. So why do I remember nothing happening when my mind is left to its own devices? Am I completely lacking in imagination? To avoid reaching this conclusion, I've come up with a hypothesis to explain my sad dream life, as well as those of most people I know.

From reading old books, I have a real sense that, a century ago and farther back, people dreamed more - or rather, they remembered more; and that these memories had greater density and were therefore taken more seriously as a part of everyday life. So why do so many people today say they rarely remember dreams? Here's my theory: alarm clocks. The few dreams I do remember almost always come when I'm about to come out of sleep: when the sun is starting to shine on my face, when my bladder is just starting to make demands in the middle of the night; that is, at the stage when the conscious mind is just starting to rouse, and with it our capacity to remember what is going on. The slow wake is essential to remembering dreams.

And what completely destroys the slow wake? Yes, the alarm clock! Nothing is more destructive to the in-between stage between sleep and consciousness than the braying of the alarm; it immediately displaces whatever might have been going on in your head with its insistent reality of beeps or songs or people talking.

So why don't people always dream on weekends, you ask? Well, it's quite possible to internalize an alarm clock, and live by the habits it instills; even without the alarm going off, your conscious brain may lose the facility of gradually waking and sneaking up on those vaporous dream transmissions. Another possible explanation: more comfortable beds. I remember dreaming a great deal when camping, because the rocks poking into my back kept me continually floating in the in-between state, but I was tired enough from hiking to stay asleep instead of just tossing.

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