Sunday, 11 August 2019

Categories of Dreaming

There are 5 standard categories of dream, all of which can be successfully used as a gateway or trigger for lucid dream induction. I have also included a brief description of microdreams, as these are a separate category of dream which have been identified in modern dream research.

The term daydream was popularised by Psychologist Jerome L Singer whose research into this phenomenon forms the basis for subsequent understanding and investigation. 

Daydreams occur when we are ostensibly awake, but in a form of hypnotic, trance-like state where subconscious thoughts are able to float the surface of our consciousness. A daydream is therefore a state which is semi-awake and not fully in-tune with waking reality. Studies indicate that the average person spends 70 - 120 minutes of their waking day daydreaming. 

In a daydream, the daydreamer's thoughts are detached from external reality and focused on the personal and internal. It is a stream of consciousness which is mildly dissociated from reality.

Daydreaming is disruptive to external waking tasks as the mind wanders and thoughts fly freely. Mooneyham and Schooler identify 5 possible purposes of daydreaming:
  • Future thinking - autobiographical thinking which serves to speculate upon and anticipate future events
  • Creative thinking 
  • Attentional cycling - where the dreamer is confronted with multiple tasks, problems or goals, attentional cycling  provides an opportunity for the daydreamer to switch between streams of thought and information, to optimise their behavioural responses
  • Dishabituation - in attention-demanding learning situations, dishabituation enables the daydreamer to drift away from the intensity of the learning experience so that they can return to it refreshed and refocused
  • Boredom relief
Regular daydreamers may find they are more predisposed to success in lucid dream incubation. The daydream begins with a compelling and engaging memory, thought or fantasy and the daydreamer becomes immersed in the imagery of their mind's eye. As the creative brain is most active in a daydream state, the daydreamer becomes less aware of their physical reality. Daydreams may involve negative or positive experiences - past trauma may surface or future goals may be visualised. Therefore daydreaming can be seen as a way of accepting the past and rehearsing the future. 

Daydreaming can be beneficial for lucid dream induction as it relies on visualisation. Using visualisation techniques as you fall asleep may help you induce a lucid dream.

One form of dream which is often left undiscussed when explaining the different categories of dreaming is the recently identified phenomenon of 'microdreams'. These are short fragments of dream which last for only seconds, and occur as we are falling asleep. They can be characterised as fleeting bizarre thoughts, which often involve a subtle sense of movement and the sensation of the body shifting or sinking into space (this is likely to be the feeling of the muscles relaxing as the dreamer falls asleep). Microdreams are often extremely difficult to comprehend and describe. They are drawn from recent and distant memory, and can involve a 'chain reaction', as different imagery is drawn from the memory sources and real life sensory stimuli (such as sound), and are combined and associated together via 'multisensory integration'. Microdreams would be classed as a type of non-lucid dream.

Normal, Non-Lucid Dreams
This is the default dreaming state - where the dreamer accepts the dream as reality and is not consciously aware they are dreaming. Dreams occur during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of the sleep cycle and are essential to our psychological well-being. Even if the dreamer does not recall their dreams, it is likely that they are experiencing dreams during every sleep cycle. During an 8 hour sleep cycle, the average amount of time spent in normal, non-lucid dreams is approximately 100 minutes, with longer, more vivid and memorable dreams occuring at the end of the sleep cycle during the last period of REM sleep right before waking.

Normal, non-lucid dreams are creations of the subconscious and enable us to have insight into our subconscious mind. They are constructed from our waking memories, thoughts, experiences and sensations - and our deepest subconscious or conscious wishes, desires, anxieties and fears. However, the dream may not be a straightforward, literal representation of these things - the language of the subconscious is often encoded, symbolic and conceptual in nature. The processes of dreamwork can distort, transform or condense the dream material in bizarre ways so that the 'message' of the dream requires interpretation. 

Normal, non-lucid dreams can be used as a gateway to lucid dream induction via the DILD (Dream-Initiated Lucid Dream) technique. Sometimes we may become spontaneously lucid while in a normal, non-lucid dream because something (i.e. a dreamsign) triggers us to question whether we are dreaming. A reality check can provide us with a somewhat reliable conclusion, enabling us to become consciously aware we are dreaming.

Lucid Dreams
A lucid dream is where the dreamer is consciously aware that they are dreaming. The dreamer may be able to control or manipulate the lucid dream intentionally. There are a number of levels of lucidity on the lucid spectrum - see: The Lucid Spectrum.

False Awakenings
A false awakening can be an uncanny, unsettling or terrifying experience. It is a vivid and realistic dream in which the dreamer dreams that they have woken up and are experiencing waking reality. However, the dreamer remains asleep, initially unaware that the 'reality' they have woken up to is really the trickery of their dreaming mind. 

A false awakening occurs when the sleeping mind is stuck halfway between wakefulness and a dream. When we falsely awaken, we typically wake up in a realistic, seemingly ordinary version of our bedroom, or wherever we happened to fall asleep. However, if we pay careful attention to the minute details of our immediate environment, we may notice subtle (or sometimes, dramatic) distortions or oddities, which can act as dreamsigns and trigger a reality check and thereafter, lucidity. It is possible to experience multiple false awakenings in quick succession.

Some false awakenings may be accompanied by the sensation of sleep paralysis (the muscle atonia which occurs during REM sleep, to prevent us from physically acting out our dreams) and the presence of nightmarish entities ('Old Hag Syndrome') which can be a nightmarish experience. 

Typically, nightmares are normal, non-lucid dreams, where the dreamer is not consciously aware they are dreaming, which adds to the terrifying nature of the nightmare.

Nightmares are characterised by events which trigger feelings of fear, terror, anxiety, helplessness or despair. If the sensory system is triggered by the nightmare, it is possible to feel intense physical sensations, such as pain. Nightmares (especially recurrent nightmares) may be the result of past trauma, but can also be caused by ill-health, mental health conditions or substances, such as drugs and alcohol.

Some dream research suggests that nightmares serve an evolutionary purpose, in preparing for fight or flight and protection from predators or enemies. Studies show that children experience nightmares more frequently than adults - likely due to their vulnerability. 

Nightmares - as opposed to merely 'bad dreams' - tend to wake up us due to the level of arousal we experience. It is possible to wake yourself up from a nightmare by commanding yourself to 'wake up!'

Nightmares provide an excellent means of inducing a lucid dream. If you are able to shock yourself into conscious awareness (or the nightmare provides you with dreamsigns), instead of focusing on ending the nightmare, simply remind yourself that this is a dream and has no consequence on your waking reality. As soon as you have stabilised and clarified the lucid nightmare, you can choose to change the dream scene/narrative with dream control and visualisation techniques, or you could choose to confront your nightmare and attempt too overcome it. Lucid nightmares have been proven to have therapeutic benefits, by encouraging subjects to confront and triumph over their nightmares and by extension, the representation of their deep-rooted fears and anxieties. A dreamer might opt to enter into a dialogue with the source of their fear or anxiety, and find healing benefits in a meaningful exchange.

This article has not discussed phenomena such as Astral Projection or Out-of-Body Experiences. These will be covered in separate article(s) in future. 

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