Dreaming can be more than a simple state of the brain. We can experience waking dreams, daydreams, even dreams that appear to be shared or prophetic. Some people are lucid dreamers – a special skill that not everyone can master. Some people experience specific recurring dreams, while certain sicknesses can bring on night terrors. Sometimes we can even experience false awakenings, where we think we’ve woken up, but are still dreaming. Here we’ll explore some of these phenomena.
Daydreams: Daydreaming was once thought to be a lazy pursuit – I’m sure most of you have been reprimanded for daydreaming at one point or another. It is, however, a metabolically intense mental process, and can be very rewarding. In recent years, scientists have demonstrated that daydreaming is a fundamental feature of the human mind – so fundamental, in fact, that it’s often referred to as our “default” mode of thought. Daydreaming is a crucial tool for creative thought, and allows the brain to make new associations and connections. It can spawn new ideas or methods; the daydreaming mind is free to engage in abstract thought and imaginative ramblings, and as a result, we’re able to imagine things that don’t actually exist.
Nightmares and Night Terrors: Chances are everyone here has experienced a nightmare. A horrible dream, complete with emotional turmoil, which causes the dreamer to wake and stay awake, nightmares are fairly common occurrences. The main purpose of a nightmare is to wake the conscious mind – usually to change sleeping position. They can also be caused by stress or over-exhaustion. Surprisingly, children under the age of five do not experience nightmares at the same rate as older children, while children over five seem to have nightmares at a rate of once per week.
Night Terrors, however, are not as common. A typical night terror episode usually occurs in the first hour of sleep. The subject sits up in bed and screams and appears awake but is confused, disoriented, and unresponsive to stimuli. Although the person seems to be awake, they do not seem to be aware of any surrounding presence and usually do not talk. The person may thrash around in bed and does not respond to comforting by others. A person’s heart rate can escalate during the terror, along with sweating and harsh breathing
Lucid Dreams: Some people, referred to as Oneironauts or Lucid Dreamers, are able to control the setting and plot of their dreams. A lucid dream can begin in one of three ways. A dream-initiated lucid dream (DILD) starts as a normal dream, and the dreamer eventually concludes that he or she is dreaming, while a wake-initiated lucid dream (WILD) occurs when the dreamer goes from a normal waking state directly into a dream state with no apparent lapse in consciousness. A mnemonic-initiated lucid dream (MILD) can happen when the dreamer intentionally affirms to himself or herself that he or she will become lucid during the upcoming sleep. Reaching lucidity can sometimes occur due to dream-signs or spontaneously upon remembrance. These dreams can be fantastical, where anything is possible, and can often be very real – complete with touch, smell, and taste sensations.
Recurring Dreams: Recurring dreams are quite common and are often triggered by a certain life situation or a problem that keeps coming back again and again. These dreams may recur daily, once a week, or once a month. Whatever the frequency, there is little variation in the dream content itself. Such dreams may be highlighting a personal weakness, fear, or your inability to cope with something in your life – past or present.
False Awakenings: Have you ever thought you have woken up and gone about your daily morning routine: getting up, brushing your teeth, eating breakfast and going to work, only to wake up “again” and realize that what just happened is just a dream. That sensation is referred to as a false awakening. Some people can experience four or five false awakenings before they truly wake. This phenomena was the basis for the film Groundhog Day.