Of dreams and nightmaresWed, 20th Apr '11, 11:35 pm::
I've always had a love-hate relationship with sleep. While I never have a problem falling asleep and seldom wake up in the middle of the night for any reason, I rarely shut my eyes and just wake up 6-8 hours later. Between the time I fall asleep and wake up are hours and hours of dreams and nightmares that keep me engaged each night. I'm planning on staying up late tonight to "reset" my dream/nightmare cycle. I can recollect most of my dreams every morning if I want but usually avoid doing so.
Many of my dreams have recurring themes. One common dream I have is finding entirely new rooms and sections of my own house or my parent's house. A recurring nightmare I have is realizing I have a final exam today for a class I have somehow signed up for but never attended or studied for. My dreams are often surreal and geography agnostic - I could be in SeaWorld, Orlando and walk up to the street vendor in Kolkata for a quick snack. My nightmares are a cross between 24 and Everybody Loves Raymond - a ticking time-bomb of social awkwardness.
I have always had dreams and have failed to explain the cause despite my meticulous attempts to analyze my diet, exercise-level, moods, entertainment, stress, or health. I love finding patterns but I can't seem to find any with respect to my sleep cycles and dreams. What I do know for certain is that if I sleep less, I can't seem to recall my nightmares. This makes me a little tired physically but mentally I feel a lot more refreshed than if I sleep 7-8 hours and have 3 hours of nightmares. So every few days, I stay up late to try and reset the cycle so I can get more dreams and fewer nightmares. If I sleep more than 7 hours, I am guaranteed to have a bunch of nightmares that will affect my mood for the rest of the day.
In order to prevent or minimize the negative effect from nightmares, I used to control my dreams, but I stopped doing that because it was extremely exhausting and no different from being awake for many hours every night watching foreign films without subtitles. I've tried "planning" as I fall asleep - planning everything from my next day's todo list to life goals and dreams. I've tried meditating and clearing my mind as I fall asleep. None of these have any effect on the onslaught of dreams and nightmares each night. While one might say these nightmares are a result of suppressed emotions, repressed memories, or personal anxiety, I would disagree with that because (a) I live a pretty drama-free life with barely any social or interpersonal conflicts (b) I've had both vivid dreams and nightmares since I was a carefree kid, and (c) my dreams often segue to nightmares and vice versa so it's not a well-defined condition like after-effects of PTSD.
As a result of these dreams and nightmares, I like to stay up late and sleep fewer hours. But all is not lost. There are fun things I can do as I fall asleep. I can transition into a wake-initiated lucid dream as I slowly fall asleep and make myself hear any music or sounds I want. It's like the world's largest iPod library in my own head. I just think of a song and I can hear the entire orchestra with all the small, distinct notes playing clearly in surround sound. Or I can think of a voice and converse with anyone I want, just like in real life. Sometimes, I can even make myself "see" anything I want with my eyes closed. I only do these things as I'm slowly falling asleep. If I'm already asleep and realize that I am in a dream-state, I choose not to control it because it is exhausting like I mentioned in the previous paragraph.
When I'm not actively dreaming but still lazy enough to not get out of bed, I do a lot of problem solving in my sleep and love it. Often I will get stuck on a computer project during the day and find the most optimal solution during my sleep. I don't think I "dream" the solution but rather think of many different solutions in a relaxed state, devoting a larger part of my active concentration to solving the problem instead of sensing environment, taste, sounds, or sights. I would love to be able to get into this state more often, though not at the cost of peaceful sleep.
Sometimes when I've had just the right amount of wine, I go to bed and wake up feeling refreshed 8 hours later without any dreams. I'm sure I still dream but as long as I don't remember dreaming when I wake up, I'm happy. I just hate feeling tired every morning because I was writing, directing, and acting in a live-action movie in my head for the past few hours. Here's hoping for a dream-free night!