Thursday, 6 August 2015

Day Residue & Dream Residue

Day residue is a concept which featured in Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical theory of dreaming, outlined in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900)

To read my previous articles on Freudian dream interpretation, please click here and here.

Freud initially argued that the interpretation of almost every dream was based on the idea of 'wish fulfilment' and the content of dreams is influenced by 'day residue' - the events of the previous day ('the dream day'). These events may be trivial - ordinary everyday events or trains of thought which stimulate preconscious associations to various themes and issues, leading to the arousal of repressed, subconscious wishes and desires.

In young children, dreams appear to be straightforward wish fulfilments aroused by the 'dream day', but in adults, the situation is more complex, as the symbolism of the dream is significantly distorted. The 'manifest content' of the dream is a heavily censored (by the ego as a form of 'defence') and symbolised derivative of latent dream-thoughts which exist in the subconscious mind of the dreamer. This distortion and censoring conceals the true meaning and nature of the dream, making it unrecognisable. These resistances prevent the repressed wishes of the subconscious from entering the conscious, and it is only through dreams which they find their expression, albeit under a 'veil of disguise'. 

According to Freud, the elements of dream-work include the following processes:
  • Condensation – Two or more latent thoughts are combined/spliced into one manifest dream character/scene/situation
  • Displacement – Instead of the directing the emotional response – i.e. fear/desire onto towards the intended person/object, it is transferred onto meaningless/unrelated persons/objects
  • Symbolism – Complex or vague concepts are converted into a symbolic dream image. The concept may be converted semantically (similar sounding words) or less intrusive/intimidating visual images. Freud viewed most dream symbols as having a latent sexual meaning – elongated, erect, inflated objects were thought to symbolise the male penis, whilst concave or vessel-like objects represented the female. Castration was also another theme used by Freud – represented by symbols such as amputation, hair/tooth loss etc.
  • Secondary revision – this is the stage during which Freud stated that the dream would lose ‘the appearance of absurdity or incoherence’ – by reconciling contradictions and attempting to re-organise the dream into a pattern consistent with the subject’s experience of life.

Freud believed that dreams are compromises which ensure that sleep is not interrupted - if presented in their true form, the subconscious wishes would be too arousing or disturbing to the dreamer and would wake him up. Freud also described 'screen memories' - memories which function to hide - and derivatively express - other subconscious mental material. Freud described 3 kinds of 'screen memory':
  • A childhood memory 'screens' or conceals another childhood event which is contemporary to it
  • A later memory which represents a 'screened' childhood event
  • A childhood memory represents a later event

Freud termed the latter type, a 'retrogressive screen memory'. Academics often suggest that day residue and screen memories are linked - they are closely related elements of the dreamer's past and present experiences which are displaced from his more central instinctual concerns.

The 'first dream' of Freud's psychoanalytical theory of dream interpretation - which inspired his sub-theory of wish fulfilment was that of 'Irma's Injection' (click on the red link to be taken to my article on this dream). Freud used the dream as a template to show how he used the manifest content of the dream to trigger associations (thoughts, memories, emotions etc) to decode the latent content. He used this dream to explain how day residue operates in relation to his theory of wish fulfilment. Freud stated:

You entirely disregard the apparent connections between the elements in the manifest dream and collect the ideas that occur to you in connection with each separate element of the dream by free association according to the psychoanalytic rule of procedure. From this material you arrive at the latent dream-thoughts, just as you arrived at the patient's hidden complexes from his associations to his symptoms and memories... The true meaning of the dream, which has now replaced the manifest content, is always clearly intelligible. 
[Freud, Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1909), Lecture Three]

Dreams are therefore full of 'day residue' which are the leftover thoughts and feelings from the 'dream day', and conversely, we often experience 'dream residue' when we wake up. Dream residue is the leftover thoughts and emotions from our dreams, even if we fail to remember exactly what we experienced. Dream residue often feels like a 'dream hangover'. 

Esoteric thinkers often refer to this as 'astral repercussion', but this idea falls within the more spiritualist theories of dreaming and has no place in my own dream practices. 

The 'Vigilance Theory' of dreaming, forwarded by Antti Revonsuo, states that in dreams, the brain rehearses patterns of challenge and opportunity, preparing the dreamer to act and think more effectively when certain real-life situations arise in the future. This is a biologically and psychologically important function, regardless of whether we remember our dreams or not. 

Dream residue is responsible for the phenomenon of 'dream deja-vu' - although we often fail to comprehend this is taking place and may interpret it as being some form of extra-sensory perception or psychic ability. In fact, it is likely that we have experienced something similar to a waking event in an earlier dream.

Day residue is often overlooked or ignored - dreamers may notice scenes or associations to their waking lives and consider them to be a less interesting aspect of dreaming than more fantastical dream content or themes. Many dreamers who are interested in analysing and interpreting their own dreams discard the day residue elements of their dreams because they seem unimportant, uninteresting and easy to recognise as relating to waking life events. Instead, focus is placed on the more bizarre or obscure elements of the dream. 

In fact, Freud would argue that almost all of our dreams are composed almost entirely of day residue - if we define day residue as being the accumulation of our waking experiences and memories. It is debated as to whether you can ever dream anything completely original which has not been influenced by a waking memory or event. Day residue is endlessly interesting - especially the way our dreams weave together sensory snapshots of our waking lives into new, complex and highly symbolic patterns and plots. 

Domhoff (2000) suggests that many dreams contain no dream residue at all - but it could be countered that the day residue may be present, but not properly identified by the dreamer (due to it being altered in the dream presentation). It may also be that there is a longer temporal duration between the waking events and the incorporation of the memory fragments into the dream (see below).

Hartmann (2010) also disputes the prevalence of day residue in dream content. He argues that dreams are always a new, unique creation, not a replay of the day's waking events. Each dream contains a new set of connections. He states that the dream will change the day residue and embroider it into a new plot with new associations. This does not rule out the presence of day residue however; it just means that instead of replaying waking events, the dreamer re-imagines them in a new storyline which means they might not be easily identifiable on reflection. However, it has been found that dreams very rarely contain an exact repeat of a waking memory ('episodic memory') in which a real-life event is re-enacted in detail. Episodic memories are thought to occur in less than 2% of dreams.

Freud also believed that all 'dream speech' is a reflection of memories of speech which have actually been heard/read by the dreamer in their waking life, although scholars such as Meier (1993) have argued against this, stating that many dreams contain entirely unique and new constructions of dream speech which are directly related to the content or theme of the dream, not a reproduction of speech from memory. 

Patrick McNamara refers to 'the dream lag effect' which is where the dreamer experiences residue from a week or so ago, as opposed to the preceding 'dream day'. He suggests that this occurs because sometimes it may take up to a week for certain material to be encoded into the long-term memory. Some of the imagery/material (of the memory) which is being consolidated then appears in the dream - the dream is the process of memory consolidation. The dream lag effect was originally suggested by Nielsen & Powell (1989) and the effect was subsequently replicated in later studies (Nielsen et al, 2004; Blagrove et al, 2010).

Some research - cited in Nielsen & Powell (1992) - suggest that the temporal delay between the event of the 'dream day' and the appearance of the memory as day residue within the dream is at least 24 hours. The evidence comes from anecdotal studies of dreaming and the day residue effect. I can accurately state - and provide ample evidence from my own dream journal - that this is not true for me. I often experience incredibly obvious day residue relating to events which happened only hours before the dream. This has also been confirmed by Hartmann (2010).

A number of single and multiple participant studies into dreaming and day residue have supported the hypothesis that dreamers are twice as likely to experience dreams which incorporate day residue from 1 day before the dream (65 - 70% of recorded dreams) than day residue from 2 days before the dream (30 - 35% of recorded dreams). These studies tend to prove Freudian theory to be largely correct, although not every dream contains day residue as defined by events from the 'dream day' (i.e. the preceding day only), but sometimes, material from longer ago (i.e. this is the dream lag effect in operation). A study by JA Henley-Einion & MT Blagrove (2014) found that there is a high incorporation of events from the 'dream day' on the first night then a decrease for the subsequent 2 - 4 nights which is followed by a resurgence in incorporation of events 5 - 7 days after they took place (the dream lag effect).

This basically means that dreams seem to favour material from the previous day, or material from 5 - 7 days preceding the dream.

Nielson & Powell et al (2004) also found that the dream lag effect was more prominent in dreamers who viewed their dreams as an opportunity for gaining insight and self-understanding - in the study it was discovered that such dreams often involved the resolution of a waking problem - typically linked to personal or emotional aspects of relationships - which had been troubling the dreamer. It was hypothesised that the delay between the waking event and the dream incorporation which occurs in the dream lag effect may be the mind's way of working through interpersonal difficulties and the 'reformulation' of negative memories into more positive ones. A study by Cartwright et al (1998) showed that dreams may be involved in emotional memory processing. 

Michel Jouvet (1979) claims that 2 qualitatively different memory process are involved: day residue is linked to the short-term memory functions, while the dream lag effect is linked to the long-term memory. He states that day residue contains no information about the physical features of the waking environment, while dream lag material is able to reproduce spatial dimensions of the waking environment. 

Tarnow (2003) also links dreams with the processes of the long-term memory. He suggests that dreams are excitational responses to waking perceptions and thoughts which are only apparent when the dreamer is asleep. Tarnow supports and re-interprets Freud's theory, suggesting that the dream-work described by Freud is the pre-dream 'storage transformation' of these thoughts and perceptions into the long-term memory.

A very recent study by E van Rijn et al (2015) found that the dream lag effect only occurs in dreams which take place during the REM sleep stage. 

Dreams can occur in every stage of the sleep cycle, but tend to be more fragmented when experienced in the later stages of sleep. These fragmented dreams tend to be a mishmash of prior experiences and disconnected memories which are pasted together in random ways. During NREM sleep, dreams are shorter, but more cohesive and structurally organised, relating to waking events. REM sleep is characterised by longer, more vivid, but bizarre and disjointed dreams - also incorporating waking memories and material (day residue), but in more complex ways, especially when experienced in the later REM stages of the sleep cycle. 

Considering exactly where these memory fragments are coming from and how they are connected to one another may provide an explanation for the distinction between early and late-night dreams. 

The various elements of an episode (i.e. a waking life event) are thought to be stored in the neocortex, but they are not necessarily linked together to form a complete representation of the event/memory. Each piece of sensory information involved in the waking event is represented by a different area of the neocortex and even though they combine together to make up a complete memory, the various neocortical areas may not be directly interlinked. 

Instead, the hippocampus keeps track of such connections and forms the appropriate linkages, at least during the time in which the memory is relatively fresh. However, communication between the neocortex and hippocampus is disrupted during sleep and as a result, this process is also disrupted. During REM sleep, both the hippocampus and those parts of the neocortex which are involved in a current dream are strongly active, but they don’t appear to be in communication with one another. 

Instead, responses in the neocortex occur independently, without hippocampal input, so they must relate to memory fragments rather than linked multi-sensory representations. Essentially, when memories which have been stored in the neocortex are accessed or activated during REM, they remain fragmentary instead of drawing in other aspects of the same memory to form a complete episodic replay. 

These fragments are not linked together in the way they might be if you though of the same event/memory while you were awake (or indeed in NREM sleep). For instance, cortical representations of both someone who was present during the waking event and the location of the event (from the 'dream day') may be triggered, but these will not necessarily be linked together, and they may not be linked to the actual theme of the waking event at all. Instead, seemingly unrelated characters and events may be activated in conjunction with the memory of this event. 

One possible factor is the stress hormone cortisol, which increases steadily across the night. High cortisol concentrations can block communication between the hippocampus and neocortex, and since concentrations are much higher early in the morning, this could provide a physiological reason for the disjointed properties of late-night (i.e. early morning) dreams occurring at the end of the sleep cycle.

I now always attempt to identify and explain my day residue in my dream journal. I use the term 'day residue' to cover both events from the preceding 'dream day' and also material from longer (i.e. the dream lag effect). This is for ease of reference and to simplify the process. To me, seeing my day residue appear in my dreams is exciting and insightful - since I have been practicing this method of recording and analysing my dreams, I have refrained from thinking of the seemingly innocuous occurrences of day residue as being 'banal' or insignificant and have tried to use the information to shed some light into why certain waking events have been incorporated into my dream, their subconscious associations and how they relate to my mental activity. I would urge everyone interested in dreaming and dream interpretation to do the same!

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