I flew in a dream again: What and how affects our dreams

DREAMS ARE A FRAGILE PRODUCT OF OUR PSYCHE , still very little studied. There are many mysteries and hypotheses around them. While some believe in the magic of dreams and read dream books, others simply wonder why sometimes dreams become exciting, like movies, and sometimes it seems that nothing was dreamed at all. Together with Tatyana Surnenkova, head of the Center for Somnology of the CDC MEDSI in Krasnaya Presnya, Tatyana Surnenkova, we tried to figure out who most often walks in a dream, whether it is possible to watch an interrupted sleep and what medications affect our dreams.  

What affects our dreams

According to Surnenkova , the content of dreams is influenced by previous events or the current state of a person. For example, if you are thirsty, stage of sleep with dreams can become longer, and dreams themselves – more vivid, it is likely that the content will be associated with water. In one of the studies, it was reported that sounds affect the content of dreams: when birds singing, people often dreamed of a forest, and when seagulls scream, they dreamed of a sunny day on the beach. The author of this experiment even invented an application designed to tune the brain to certain dreams – however, the application itself remains experimental.     

It is known that the amount of sleep affects the ability to remember negative episodes in life. In 2008, a study was published according to which neutral scenes were forgotten the same after twelve hours of wakefulness or the same number of night hours that included sleep. However, if the scene was unpleasant, then after the dream, the object itself was clearly remembered, which caused negative emotions, but the background situation was forgotten. The authors concluded that sleep helps to extract from adverse situations what is most important to remember for your own safety.  

Nightmares can be related to previous experiences – for example, they are quite common in PTSD. They can severely disrupt sleep quality, often leading to awakening, in which case it is worth seeing a doctor. International classifications of sleep and mental disorders include nightmares, so-called fear-related sleep disorders and nighttime panic attacks – and there are protocols for treating all of these unpleasant conditions.     

The medication taken can also affect the content of dreams . Some drug side effects lists include nightmares and unusual (eg, erotic) dreams. There is also an opinion that cheese and other dairy products can cause vivid dreams, and dishes with the addition of apple cider vinegar can cause very colorful and realistic dreams. However, there is no reliable data on this matter.    

Are there still prophetic dreams

Today, sleep remains one of the big secrets, and “prophetic” dreams are an interesting riddle for somnologists . The great scientist Sechenov described dreams as “unprecedented combinations of experienced impressions.” Billions of information flows that our brain processes during the year can add up to the most bizarre combinations – we may not notice some small thing while awake, and then see it in all its details in a dream. If what he saw in a dream comes true in reality, scientists still prefer to call it a coincidence, without falling into mysticism.

At the same time, dreams can still give some information about the state of their own body – according to Tatyana Surnenkova , in patients with high blood pressure, dreams are characterized by frequent scenes of hostility, and neuroses are accompanied by nightmares at the beginning of the night. During sleep, we are almost completely disconnected from external influences and the brain becomes more receptive to information coming from internal organs and various parts of the body. Therefore, certain pathological processes in the body can be reflected in dreams, but not in the format ” old iPhone dreams of a melancholic mood .” 

The tendency of people to believe that dreams mean something important is explained by the desire of a person to rationalize everything that happens. It is believed that the first dream book appeared about seven thousand years ago in Mesopotamia. They tried to decipher dreams in Ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome – and, according to some polls , most people still believe in their significance. If you start typing “why” into the search bar, the browser will offer popular queries – people are interested in what snakes, spiders, tampons or white Hummer dream about .      

Obsessive, collective and erotic dreams 

Many people dream of erotic dreams and can include amazing scenarios – including sex with someone you hate, or with someone from close relatives. Emotions upon waking can range from joy and unwillingness to wake up to disgust and even guilt. It is sometimes said that for people who perceive sex as something bad and suppress thoughts about it, such dreams can be replaced by symbolic ones – Freud wrote about phallic symbols like bananas and high-rise buildings. However, in general, scientists believe that erotic dreams only say that everything is in order with your libido. If you dream of some sexual practices that you are not ready and do not want to implement in real life, this does not say anything about you, and you can ignore such dreams .       

The majority (up to 70%) of people have recurring dreams and theoretically speak of some unresolved conflict – however, dreams about a failed exam are often dreamed by those who have long gone through their studies, so there is no final answer yet. Psychologists are inclined to believe that obsessive dreams reflect our fears – almost everyone is afraid of being late for a plane or forgetting their passport at home – and they recur during periods of stress.   

There is also the concept of typical dreams that many people dream : flying or “walking” through the air, falling, running from a pursuer, discovering new rooms and corridors in their own home. Many dreamed of how they were late for work or came there naked, how they could not find a toilet when it was necessary, or tried to escape from a natural disaster like a tsunami. There is no unequivocal explanation for this phenomenon – most likely, this is one of the mechanisms of our brain’s work with emotions (embarrassment, fear, panic).    

What is sleepwalking

Sleepwalking is a violation of the slow phase of sleep, in which sleeping people can walk or perform some actions in their sleep. This is a fairly common phenomenon, especially at a young age, but its frequency decreases with age: it occurs in 5% of children and 1.5% of adults. Sleepwalking can be caused by certain medications or stress, but heredity also plays a role .       

As a rule, sleepwalking is not “long-lasting” and often disappears by the age of ten, so in most cases it is not treated . However, doctors warn that some diseases (for example, epilepsy) can provoke physical activity during sleep, so it is better not to ignore such episodes – it may be better to see a doctor and be examined. In addition, the danger of sleepwalking lies in potential injuries, so it makes sense to pay attention to additional safety measures at home.  

If a person starts walking in a dream at about the same time, a good option would be to wake him up about fifteen minutes before that, and after a few minutes of being awake, let him fall asleep. It is believed that waking a person right during an episode of sleepwalking is dangerous – supposedly he can attack in response. There really were such cases, and it is recommended , if possible, just to help him return to his room and put him to bed, or wake him up with a loud cry. If the person is already in a dangerous situation – on the edge of the roof or on the top of the crane , – the awakening may lead to loss of balance. Better to do your best to move the person to safety – and, of course, try to just avoid such situations.    

Another interesting and sometimes frightening phenomenon is sleep paralysis , when a person cannot move or speak immediately after waking up or before falling asleep. This happens when the REM sleep phase does not occur at the right time while you are still awake. If sleep paralysis occurs frequently, the situation can be improved – we will tell you more about this in one of the upcoming publications.  

Is it possible to induce
lucid dreaming

At the moment, doctors have not yet found the technique that would allow them to return to the “overlooked” sleep. In addition, doctors regard the desire to return to yesterday’s dream as a departure from reality and assume that the appearance of such an opportunity would lead to the abuse of dreams and a loss of interest in life. Perhaps this opinion is unfounded, because watching TV shows and reading books is also in some way a departure from reality, but it is even encouraged, because a person needs to rest. 

Some “tuning” of dreams is still possible: in one of the studies, patients during anesthesia saw exactly those pictures that they had previously imagined on the basis of prompts. However, such dreams are called truly lucid dreams, during which a person realizes that he is sleeping. There is also a certain scheme of “calling” such dreams, and on the query “how to induce a lucid dream” the search engine gives out 246 thousand links. It is suggested, for example, to plan what exactly you will do in a dream, or ” test reality .” This means that you need to ask yourself several times every day whether you are now in reality or asleep – after a while this question will be repeated in a dream.     

True, doctors are still skeptical about lucid sleep. “So far there are no control methods that would be confirmed by devices or sensors,” explains Tatyana Surnenkova , “and all guesses remain at the level of hypotheses. It is only known that sometimes attempts to practice lucid dreaming have a negative impact on mental health. ” Experiments with sleep are more likely to result in sleep deprivation, with all its consequences, such as impaired concentration. And, of course, you should not experiment with substances that “expand consciousness”: they do not guarantee lucid dreams, but they cause significant harm.   

Is sleep learning effective? 

About fifty years ago, scientists suggested that the brain is highly receptive to learning during sleep. A hypothesis was put forward: if you read completely new material to a sleeping person, you can expect it to be played when the sleeping person wakes up. Sleep learning was called hypnopedia, and the scientists who studied it agreed that information can indeed be memorized in a dream. Otherwise, the results of their studies were contradictory: some said that memory works best before waking up and after falling asleep, others – that it is most active only during REM sleep, but no definitive conclusions could be drawn.  

German somnologists conducted an experiment in which students were shown pairs of cards on a screen, accompanying visual information with olfactory information: the participants inhaled the scent of a rose. After a while, the participants in the experiment fell asleep, and half of them in their sleep were stimulated with the same scent. It turned out that it was this group that better remembered the location of the cards – that is, the memory in a dream was influenced by a stimulus that was used simultaneously with the data for memorization during wakefulness. Be that as it may, somnologists agree that it is really possible to remember information better in a dream – but only on the condition of compulsory study during the day. While we sleep, old knowledge is well absorbed, not new.  

Some people say they don’t dream at all – but they don’t actually remember them. One of the possible explanations is that people who remember dreams, in general, wake up more often at night – and waking up literally right after a dream does not allow them to have time to forget it. In addition , some people ignore their dreams, while others pay attention to them, as if “transferring” from short-term memory to long-term and not letting them forget.   

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