Home | Features | Editorial | Politically Incorrect

Politically Incorrect

Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font
Politically Incorrect

The shadow of man's wisdom

I dreamed I drove down to Southern California to introduce my new granddaughter to my family. As has been our habit on these trips, we stopped first at my sister’s house in San Luis Obispo. Early in the morning, discovering we were out of formula for Keira’s bottle, my sister and I together drove down a foggy, mountain road overlooking the ocean on our way to the store.

In that wonderful way that dreams sometimes have, I had no memory that my sister died almost five years ago. For that brief period, she was back with me again, exclaiming over how (beautiful, intelligent, healthy) Keira is and sharing in my life.

We can’t reliably predict the weather more than a couple days out. We don’t know a cure for the common cold. Gravity tells us that 90 percent of the universe must be “dark matter,” but we don’t have a clue what that is. And we know next to nothing about dreams; why we dream, when or how. Pretty amazing when the average person spends about a third of their life asleep, and twenty percent of that time is spent dreaming. Or is it? Because we can measure REM sleep, when it’s said we have our most vivid dreams, but we also dream when we’re not in REM sleep, and nobody is quite sure just how often we do it.

There is a growing body of evidence that dreaming is an important component of the memory process; for example, we know that when a person is actively learning new things, they dream more frequently. Like babies. I got to see this just the other day when Keira was staying with me. It was her nap time and she was a little fussy—she has so much fun when she’s awake that she doesn’t always appreciate going to sleep no matter how tired she is. So I laid her in bed and played with her ‘til she fell asleep. About ten minutes later, I heard her laughing in her sleep. Must have been a good dream.

 We also know that when dreaming is inhibited, our health suffers. In fact, an extended period of time when dreams are absent is the single, strongest predictive factor for clinical depression, and the suppression of melatonin production that occurs when dreaming is inhibited is now thought to be a critical factor in the development of cancer.

I dream a lot, as does everyone, and I tend to remember my dreams for at least a while after I wake up, at which point, apparently, my brain decides whether to keep the memory of my dream active or to store it somewhere not easily reached (probably in the same place it stores such information as ‘did I ever pay the electric bill?’ or ‘what is that really important thing I was supposed to do today?’) Remembering dreams is not as widespread an activity as having them.

Generally, I’m also aware that I’m dreaming when I dream, which is not common at all, though people can train themselves to do this. I’m not sure why I can do this—I certainly didn’t train myself—but I can recall even as a child appreciating the ability to wake myself up when a nightmare became just a little too intense. I remember doing this after reading Stephen King’s ‘salem’s Lot the first time, although as I was pretty sure a vampire was looking in my bedroom window even after I woke up (I was twelve at the time), my fear level didn’t actually dissipate.

I get a sense of deep satisfaction from my dreams, much the same as I get when I finish reading a good book. And just like I mourn the ending of a good book, there are times when I’ve enjoyed a dream so much that I’ve simply gone back to sleep because I didn’t want it to be over. Not that I always have the same dream when I go back to sleep, but I still remember the first time I did this, when I was around seven years old. The dream was about a panther, and when I went back to sleep, my dream began again with what appeared to be the opening to a movie saying “and now, for part two!” That was truly a cool dream.

Another cool dream was when I had surgery. They put the mask on my face, said count backwards from 100, and somewhere around 97 I had this wonderful dream about unicorns playing football. Though as that dream was drug-induced, it probably shouldn’t count.

It’s possible that my predilection for lucid dreaming is also somehow responsible for my lucidity when I’m just sleeping—in other words, I talk in my sleep. That’s called somniloquy, by the way, which is really a great word when you think about it. About five percent of adults do this, and over fifty percent of children, which may suggest something about my level of maturity.

While I can babble just like many do when I’m asleep, too often my sleep talking is all too lucid, a fact my children all learned early and took full advantage of. “I did ask you Mom and you said it okay,” was used so frequently in our household that I had to pass a rule that no questions could be asked of me once I went to bed—because the kids would insist that I was wide awake when we spoke, even though I obviously was not. Not that they honored that rule—in fact, I think every one of my kids, at one time or another, brought friends in to observe me sleeping and said, “hey, want to see something really funny? Ask Mom a question.” But they did all learn that answers given by me to questions asked when I was sleeping would not be considered any kind of defense under (Mom’s) law.

Although my sleep talking is interesting to some people, and my kids are rotten brats about it, my talking is not as interesting as Adam’s, and my kids are not as bratty as Adam’s wife, who has produced a daily blog about what her husband says in his sleep. In her defense, I must admit that Adam’s sleep talking is quite comical. (Examples: “Hey, who put my elbows on backwards?! That’s not f*ing funny!” and “Sure you can have my phone number. It’s like having a direct line to God. But better. Because I answer.” Beware, however, as that last example I listed is pretty much the only one without profanity.)

Even though sleep talking is considered to be a ‘sleep disorder,’ i.e., a less-than-healthy way to sleep, I often wonder if sleeping has been such an active process for me simply because I do it so well. I am a master when it comes to sleep, which tends to drive the people who know me crazy, as they don’t do it nearly as well.

When it’s bedtime, I lay down, and as soon as I get warm (this takes about five minutes) I go to sleep. And most of the time, I sleep until it’s time to wake up.

This seems pretty normal to me, but the approximately 10 to 15 percent of adults who suffer insomnia (and somehow, I seem to know most of them) find this infuriating. Insomnia becomes more common with age, by the way, and it’s estimated that almost half of “older adults” suffer from it. So this might be yet another indicator of my level of maturity.

About.com tells me that there’s a lot of health benefits to sleep; everything from reducing stress and inflammation to bolstering memory and lowering blood pressure. It’s also said, though, that people who sleep less than 7 hours a night (definitely not me!) tend to be overweight or obese.

Hmmm... so sleeping more might help me lose weight? I’m not sure I buy that, but let me sleep on it, and I’ll let you know.

“That which the dream shows is the shadow of such wisdom as exists in man, even if during his waking state he may know nothing about it....” Paracelsus

Subscribe to comments feed Comments (0 posted)

total: | displaying:

Post your comment

  • Bold
  • Italic
  • Underline
  • Quote

Please enter the code you see in the image:

  • Email to a friend Email to a friend
  • Print version Print version
  • Plain text Plain text

Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

dreams, sleep

Rate this article