Dreams FAQ

1. General

1.1. Does everybody dream? How can I learn to recall my dreams better?
A: [by L.Levitan] Everybody dreams. All humans (indeed, all mammals) have REM sleep. Most dreams occur in REM sleep. This has been demonstrated by awakening people from different stages of sleep and asking if they were dreaming. In 85 percent of awakenings from REM sleep, people report having been dreaming. Dreams are rarely reported following awakening from other types of sleep (collectively called non-REM sleep). REM sleep alternates with non-REM sleep in 90 minute cycles throughout the night. In a typical 8 hour night, you will spend about an hour and a half total time in REM sleep, broken up into four or five "REM periods" ranging in length from 5 to 45 minutes. Most dreams are forgotten. Some people never recall dreams while others recall five or more each night. You can improve your ability to recall dreams. Good dream recall is necessary for learning lucid dreaming. There are two basic things to do to get started with developing dream recall. Begin a dream journal, in which you write everything you remember of your dreams, even the slightest fragments. You will remember the most if you record dreams right after you awaken from them. Before falling asleep each night, remind yourself that you want to awaken from, remember and record your dreams.

1.2. How do external stimuli affect my dreams?
Sensual "input" while sleeping is incorporated into dreams. Most notably, while sleeping, you hear as well as while waking - the ears are never turned off. This leads to the consequence that what you hear while sleeping, you'll hear in your dreams. The sound is always coming from "somewhere". Common experiences of this kind are a telephone ringing or music from the radio. The same holds for the other senses - just the eyes are exempt. Note that it is not important how loud some noise is to get noticed while sleeping - even an otherwise unnoticed sound, like a mouse running over your floor, can wake you up if it is uncommon or otherwise alarming to you - on the other hand, you can get accustomed to high levels of noise, like construction work nearby. (What definitely will wake you up is someone knocking at your window if you live at the 10th floor ;-)

It is an interesting experience that you can hear exactly what is going on, but will forget it on waking up along with forgetting the rest of your dream. This includes things such as news broadcast heard on the radio - after waking up, you have forgotten it. It is like you have dreamed the news broadcast as well - but distinguishing this fact is a good clue to lucid dreaming and the way lucidity inducing devices work.

1.3. How do my dreams interact with my waking life?
[Thoughts still to be collected -ot]

2. Lucid dreaming
[Section by L.Levitan]

2.1. What is lucid dreaming?
A. The term "lucid dreaming" refers to dreaming while knowing that you are dreaming. The "lucid" part refers to the clarity of consciousness rather than the vividness of the dream. It generally happens when you realize during the course of a dream that you are dreaming, perhaps because something weird occurs. Most people who remember their dreams have experienced this at some time, often waking up immediately after the realization. However, it is possible to continue in the dream while remaining fully aware that you are dreaming.

2.2. If you are lucid, can you control the dream?
A. Usually lucidity brings with it some degree of control over the course of the dream. How much control is possible varies from dream to dream and from dreamer to dreamer. Practice can apparently contribute to the ability to exert control over dream events. At the least, lucid dreamers can choose how they wish to respond to the events of the dream. For example, you can decide to face up to a frightening dream figure, knowing it cannot harm you, rather than to try to avoid the danger as you naturally would if you did not know it was a dream. Even this amount of control can transform the dream experience from one in which you are the helpless victim of frequently terrifying, frustrating, or maddening experiences to one in which you can dismiss for a while the cares and concerns of waking life. On the other hand, some people are able to achieve a level of mastery in their lucid dreaming where they can create any world, live any fantasy, and experience anything they can imagine!

2.3. Does lucid dreaming interfere with the function of "normal" dreaming?
A. According to one way of thinking, lucid dreaming _is_ normal dreaming. The brain and body are in the same physiological state during lucid dreaming as they are in during most ordinary non- lucid dreaming, that is, REM sleep. Dreaming is a result of the brain being active, at the same time as the sense organs of the body are turned off to the outside world. In this condition, typically during REM sleep, the mind creates experiences out of currently active thoughts, concerns, memories and fantasies. Knowing you are dreaming simply allows you to direct the dream along constructive or positive lines, like you direct your thoughts when you are awake. Furthermore, lucid dreams can be even more informative about yourself than non-lucid dreams, because you can observe the development of the dream out of your feelings and tendencies, while being aware that you are dreaming and that the dream is coming from you. The notion that dreams are unconscious processes that should remain so is false. Your waking consciousness is always present in your dreams. If it were not, you would not be able to remember dreams, because you can only remember an event you have consciously experienced. The added "consciousness" of lucid dreaming is nothing more than the awareness of being in the dream state.

2.4. Why would you want to have lucid dreams?
A. The laws of physics and society are repealed in dreams. The only limits are the reaches of your imagination. Much of the potential of dreams is wasted because people do not recognize that they are dreaming. When we are not lucid in a dream, we think and behave as if we are in waking reality. This can lead to pointless frustration, confusion and wasted energy, and in the worst case, terrifying nightmares. It is useless to try as we do to accomplish the tasks of waking life in dreams. Our misguided efforts to do so result in anxiety dreams of malfunctioning machinery, missed deadlines, forgotten exams, losing the way, and so on. Anxiety dreams and nightmares can be overcome through lucid dreaming, because if you know you are dreaming you have nothing to fear. Dream images cannot hurt you. Lucid dreams, in addition to helping you lead your dreams in satisfying directions, enjoy fantastic adventures, and overcome nightmares, can be valuable tools for success in your waking life. Lucid dreamers can deliberately employ the natural creative potential of dreams for problem solving and artistic inspiration. Athletes, performers, or anyone who gives presentations can prepare, practice and polish their performances while they sleep. This is only a taste of the variety of ways people have used lucid dreaming to expand their lives.

2.5. How do you have lucid dreams?
A. There are several methods of inducing lucid dreams. The first step, regardless of method, is to develop your dream recall until you can remember at least one dream per night. Then, if you have a lucid dream you will remember it. You will also become very familiar with your dreams, making it easier learn to recognize them while they are happening. If you recall your dreams you can begin immediately with two simple techniques for stimulating lucid dreams. Lucid dreamers make a habit of "reality testing." This means investigating the environment to decide whether you are dreaming or awake. Ask yourself many times a day, "Could I be dreaming?" Then, test the stability of your current reality by reading some words, looking away and looking back while trying to will them to change. The instability of dreams is the easiest clue to use for distinguishing waking from dreaming. If the words change, you are dreaming. Taking naps is a way to greatly increase your chances of having lucid dreams. You have to sleep long enough in the nap to enter REM sleep. If you take the nap in the morning (after getting up earlier than usual), you are likely to enter REM sleep within a half-hour to an hour after you fall asleep. If you nap for 90 minutes to 2 hours you will have plenty of dreams and a higher probability of becoming lucid than in dreams you have during a normal night's sleep. Focus on your intention to recognize that you are dreaming as you fall asleep within the nap.

External cues to help people attain lucidity in dreams have been the focus of Dr. Stephen LaBerge's research and the Lucidity Institute's development efforts for several years. Using the results of laboratory studies, they have designed a portable device, called the DreamLight, for this purpose. It monitors sleep and when it detects REM sleep gives a cue -- a flashing light -- that enters the dream to remind the dreamer to become lucid. The light comes from a soft mask worn during sleep that also contains the sensing apparatus for determining when the sleeper is in REM sleep. A small custom computer connected to the mask by a cord decides when the wearer is in REM and when to flash the lights.

2.6. Is there a way to prevent yourself from awakening right after becoming lucid?
A. At first, beginners may have difficulty remaining in the dream after they attain lucidity. This obstacle may prevent many people from realizing the value of lucid dreaming, because they have not experienced more than the flash of knowing they are dreaming, followed by immediate awakening. Two simple techniques can help you overcome this problem. The first is to remain calm in the dream. Becoming lucid is exciting, but expressing the excitement can awaken you. Suppress your feeling somewhat and turn your attention to the dream. If the dream shows signs of ending, such as the disappearance, loss of clarity or depth of the imagery, "spinning" can help bring the dream back. As soon as the dream starts to "fade," before you feel your real body in bed, spin your dream body like a top. That is, twirl around like a child trying to get dizzy (you probably will not get dizzy during dream spinning because your physical body is not spinning around). Remind yourself, "The next scene will be a dream." When you stop spinning, if it is not obvious that you are dreaming, do a reality test. Even if you think you are awake, you may be surprised to find that you are still dreaming!

3. Dream interpretation and symbols

3.1. What does this {symbol} mean?
[I'll do this section as soon as I find time -ot]

3.2. Can you interpret this dream for me?
Dreams are made up of the dreamer's thoughts. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to interpret dreams if you don't know the dreamer, since to recognize the meaning of dreams (if there is one) you need to know the "background". So dream interpretations given on the Net are (IMHO) of questionable value, either they deal with "reasonably obvious" meanings or they rely on symbols (cf. 3.1). I recommend to take these with a grain of salt and not expect too much. [Anyone disagrees on this point? It's controversial, I'd like input from the other side.] Of course, if you want to post your dreams, dont't let this discourage you. Sharing dream experiences with others and getting response is a nice thing anyway.

3.3. Is this {dream scene} common?
A. Yes. :-) Specifically, if people ask the newsgroups about a certain dream experience, in the overwhelming majority of cases others answer that they know this from their dreams. Sometimes the reaction comes up, "And I've thought I was the only one to dream this weird thing!" "Weird" is the most inappropriate word when dealing with dreams, anyway. Dreams are not to be measured by real life standards, they have their own.

It can be assumed that much, if not most, dream imagery follows common patterns in all people. Most important, we should not forget that dreams are based on actual experiences and imaginations, some of which are just widespread. We all think about how nice it would be to fly, for example. On the other hand, people who report flying dreams use a number of different flying techniques in their dreams, from breaststrokes like in swimming to simply lifting off, Superman-style. It is imagination that sets the limits.

An oft-cited example is that of teeth falling out. The common "symbolistic" interpretation associates this with fear of loss of something, perhaps someone, valuable. The next common explanation is rememberance of losing teeth during childhood, which could have been a somewhat traumatic experience. But it can also be easily linked to a sleeping position where some external pressure or muscle contractions cause your teeth to grind against each other, or toothaches caused by illnesses (cf. section 1.2.)

3.4. Can people dream of their own death?
A. Yes. This has been reported many times. The reports vary widely in what actual experiences are made when dreaming of dying; there seems to be no common pattern. Most probably the prevalent influence is again the thoughts of the individual about death. It can not be figured out whether dream-death experiences which match patterns given in actual near-death experiences are just based on reading about near-death experiences. Also, for instances of talking to deceased people, God or other "supernatural" entities after dreamed death, it can not be figured out whether they are "real" or just based on peoples' religious belief (see also the FAQ for alt.atheism). A widespread old wives tale is that when you dream of your own death, you will soon die. Given the usual understanding of "soon" (and considering question 6.1), experience has proven this false.

A sharp line has to be drawn between dreams of death and actual near-death experiences. The latter occur in people with blood circulation failure just before they actually die, and sometimes are reported when medical art brings these people back to life. What constitutes the real source of these experiences is still not known for sure. Dreams of death have no connection to this, they are like all dreams just imagination.

3.5. Misconceptions
We occasionally hear sayings about "you can't do/see XXX in dreams". Where XXX is seeing colors, seeing lights, seeing your face in a mirror, or perhaps a large number of variants on this theme. Experience clearly proves this tales of unknown origin wrong. (It may well be that people who actually believe in these misconceptions do have the mentioned "handicaps" in their dreams. What they believe about dreams comes true. It's very hard to tell the cause from the result in such cases...)

4. Sleep paralysis, night terrors, nightmares

4.1. What causes sleep paralysis?
A. Conventional wisdom: REM atonia is a normal function of the body. The muscles that move the body are "turned off" during REM sleep, which prevents you from acting out dreamed actions in reality. Non-REM sleep paralysis after waking up ("old hag") is caused by a failure to re-activate the muscles immediately. Normally this condition lasts only a few seconds, but sometimes it can go for a minute, which causes a very scary feeling. You are damn sure you're awake now but you can't move. This is extremely unpleasant but at least not dangerous.

4.2. What causes nightmares?
[Thoughts still to be collected. -ot]

4.3. How can I relieve myself of these?
A. It's really hard to give an answer, since so much depends on yourself. Moreover, it's always risky to give or follow advice on what could be a serious problem from far away, and it's ultimately you who has to decide whether it is just a nuisance you want to get rid of, or if you really suffer from depressions or health problems and it is necessary to consult professional help.

The common "light" nightmares of permanently missing exams, falling or being chased can often be overcome with learning lucid dreaming (see section 2). Basically, if you learn to deal with them, they are not a problem anymore. Or, from a slightly different point of view, you're facing the problems that cause your dreams and thus overcoming them.

4.4. What is a myoclonic jerk?
This term denotes a common experience with sudden contractions of the big body muscles while falling asleep. This mostly causes a feeling of stumbling, falling or similar and subsequently waking up again. The exact cause is not known, it probably is some disturbance in the brain's functions in the first stage of sleep. [Any exact scientific reference out there?] Surely it is common, and does not cause serious problems unless it stops you from sleeping (but then you have general sleeping problems as well).

5. Out-of-body experiences

5.1. What are out-of-body experiences?
A. [This is a section of Jouni Smed' alt.out-of-body FAQ]

Out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs) are those curious, and usually brief, experiences in which person seems to himself to leave his body and to observe the world from a point of view other than that which he would have were he still 'in' his body. In some cases the experients claim that they 'saw' and 'heard' things (objects which were really there, events and conversations which really took place) which could not have seen or heard from the actual positions of their bodies.

OBEs are surprisingly common; different surveys have yielded some what different results, but all in all one would not be too far wrong if one said that somewhere between one person in ten and one person in twenty is likely to have had such an experience at least once. Furthermore it seems that OBEs can occur to anyone in almost any circumstances. They are most frequent during sleep, during unconsciousness following anaesthesia or a bang on the head, and during stress. Not all OBEs occur spontaneously. Some people have, by various techniques, cultivated the faculty of inducing them more or less as desired, and number have written detailed accounts of their experiences. These accounts do not always in all respects square with accounts given by persons who have undergone spontaneous OBEs.

OBEs, especially spontaneous ones, are often very vivid, and resemble everyday, waking experiences rather than dreams, and they may make a considerable impression on those who undergo them. Such persons may find it hard to believe that they did not in fact leave their bodies, and may draw the conclusion that we possess a separable soul, perhaps linked to a second body, which will survive in a state of full consciousness, perhaps even of enhanced consciousness, after death. Death would be, as it were, an OBE in which one did not succeed in getting back into one's body.

Such conclusions present themselves even more forcefully to the minds of those who have undergone the variety of OBE known as a 'near-death experience' or NDE. It is not uncommon for persons who have been to the brink of death and returned -- following, say, a heart stoppage or serious injuries from an accident -- to report an experience (commonly of a great vividness and impressiveness) as of leaving their bodies, and traveling (often in a duplicate body) to the border of a new and wonderful realm. Reports suggest that the conscious self's awareness outside the body is not only unimpaired but enhanced: events which occurred during the period of unconsciousness are described in accurate detail and confirmed by those present.

5.2. How do I find out more about out-of-body experiences?
A. There is a newsgroup dedicated to out-of-body experiences, alt.out-of-body. jounsmed@polaris.utu.fi (Jouni Smed) maintains an extensive FAQ file.

6. Paranormal issues

6.1. Do dreams predict the future?
A. This, like many other things commonly referred to as "paranormal", is to be considered unknown. There is much evidence against it, it would contradict the laws of nature as seen by most scientists today. (Any information getting from future to past would have to break the speed of light, which is impossible. More on this can be found in the sci.physics FAQ postings.) However, many people insist on having experienced "deja-vu" like situations where they came into a setting they already had dreamed of. Could they prove it? Probably not (cf. section 6.3) but this fact alone doesn't prove the experiences invalid. (Proving a subjective experience *wrong* is impossible.)

Now, how come the many deja-vus? A common explanation is a small misfunction of the brain. Some piece of information, like the look of a particular place where you haven't been before, gets from short-term into long-term memory via a sort of "shortcut" rather than the usual rememberance mechanism. (How this exactly works is currently not known in detail.) Then, when matching short-term against long-term memory, you think that you have the piece in long-term memory from somewhere in the past while it has entered long-term memory just recently.

This could explain some of the instances, but the possibility of the mind "travelling in time" (or place, cf. section 5.1) can not be dismissed - many people claim they have done it and can do it again.

6.2. Can people share dreams?
A. Again, an unanswered question. Many people believe that such a possibility exists, but the lack of a sufficient scientific explanation is obvious. The often claimed experiences of this kind, like in the above case, mostly are not thoroughly enough documented and examined. It is rather plausible that people "meet in dreams" just by dreaming *roughly* of similar things, and fuzzy memory does the rest when they tell each other. (Write down your dreams!)

But again, whether actual telepathic interaction is possible remains unanswered for now, and some people are doing research about it under lab conditions. [There has been an institute for this at Freiburg University in Germany; I've been told that it doesn't operate any more, but perhaps I can collect some of their research, sometimes...]

One trivial case of interaction in dreams is people who sleep in the same room talking to each other in their sleep. Yes, that does happen.

6.3. How can I tell actual paranormal experiences from self-delusion?
A. If you plan to prove actual paranormal experiences, most important is that you are honest towards yourself. All efforts to match dreams against real occurences are moot if they are reported after the fact, since then it can't be proven any more that you actually dreamed this, and are vulnerable to the argument that the recall of the dream is just a self-delusion. So the most important thing is to write down all of your dreams immediately. Make sure that no obvious external sources of information have had influence on your dreams (i.e. don't sleep with the radio on if you want to match dreams against news items.) Don't interpret too much into your dreams in the moment you write them down, log only what you really remember. When matching the dream log against other things use only the log, not anything you think you would remember from that particular dream. Remember that recall of a dream gets worse with the time, not better. If you want to document shared dream experiences, all people involved should follow these strict standards. (Cf. question 7.3.) Refer to the sci.skeptic FAQ for obvious traps you should not get caught in.

Dreams & Dreaming, The Unconscious Speaking to Us Energy Patterns & OBE facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail