SWM seeks dream.
February 23, 2009 11:16 AM   Subscribe

What is it like to dream?

You: Average, normal sleeper / dreamer. Have dreams occasionally, frequently, or even every time you sleep. Can remember what the experience of dreaming is like and relate it in a simple yet effective manner that will help me understand the experience. No drugs / other substances used to help the experience. Not practicing any of that strange "lucid" stuff. Just straight up, run of the mill dreams.

Me: Might have had dreams as a kid, but really can't remember. Had exactly 2 dreams that I can recall in my 20's. People tell me I dream more than that (and just don't remember it), but its still an experience that I simply can't conjure in my mind. As an aspiring writer, I wonder a lot what it is like and whether it might help my writing (I burn envious when I hear about those people who keep a pencil and pad by the bed). Interested in stories about your dreams, great or terrible, and what they most feel like when compared with a real-life experience that I could comprehend.

I just want to know what the experience is like. Is it like watching TV? Is it more real than that? Is it always about plausible stuff or do you frequently find that you are a dragon-fighting robot made of cheese? Do you just see things or do you actually hear / smell / feel them too? Do you remember them clearly or do they fade fast? Do you generally dream about the same stuff, or about anything at all?

I realize everyone is different and the question may be a little vague, but I'm just wondering what a "normal" experience of dreaming is actually like. I've read through all the dream questions I can find and almost all of them assume some ability too...assume I don't have that. TIA.
posted by allkindsoftime to Grab Bag (84 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered getting a friend to wake you at random times to see if it helps you remember / become more aware your dreams?

I frequently have no dream recall unless someone/something wakes me outside my normal waking schedule.
posted by FrotzOzmoo at 11:20 AM on February 23, 2009

Just a note, everyone dreams, it's a physiological necessity. There's speculation that the brain uses the time spent to sort out the days events/organize long term memories but no one is sure. Most higher mammals do dream.

Have you ever tried lucid dreaming? If not, you should try it out.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:23 AM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: For me, it's like being a passive viewer in my own body. Plus, I can't read anything. If I have a fever, sometimes I get this very annoying dream: I'm holding.... something. It's bigger than it feels like it is, or perhaps it's smaller than it feels like it is. Whatever it is, it seems to be some kind of short circuit with tactile and visual input. I wake up very frustrated from it as it's a circular dream (restarts over and over).
posted by Bernt Pancreas at 11:23 AM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: My girlfriend almost always dreams about running a hotel (it was a job she did for several years in her 20s). I pretty much always dream about finding new (non-existent) rooms in houses that are familiar to me in real life.

Memorable dreams tend to be a juxtaposition of elements of real life (current or remembered) and other surreal stuff. The weirder ones tend to remain in waking memory. I once had a dream about walking around a town I worked in; in the dream I was a giraffe. I stopped a policeman and asked him where I could get a decent haircut. He gave me directions to a barber shop, and I had to lower my neck to get through the door; as I entered the shop I became human again, without noticing the change.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:25 AM on February 23, 2009

For me it's inseparable from the moment of waking. When I wake up the dream is a memory in my conscious mind, often almost featureless until I use lucid words to name the forms or figures who appeared in the experience. "Oh that was a colander. And I could use it to pay for gas. cool." And sometimes they are like the memories of TV shows or movies I watched long ago, sometimes they are like the memories of things I did and said when feverish or wasted. As for what the experience is like while it is happening, I don't think anyone can tell you, since they have to entangle it with their waking mind's habits and filters once they wake up. If you really want to know, I'll try posting in this thread later when I'm asleep, as long as you promise not to to sue me if I go too fast.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:28 AM on February 23, 2009

Set your alarm for 3:00 in the morning.

Have a pad and paper ready.

Otherwise, its like a weird set of events happening to you, but you are kind of confused too.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:28 AM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My dreams are strings of half-images and half-impressions and half-feelings. I don't see or experience sounds or places or people; my dreams cut right to how I conceptualize them in my mind. I wouldn't think of a chair; I would think useful-sit-place-thing, or whatever else my actual mental "code" for chair is: wordless and imageless.

My dreams are very rarely narrated or populated by any thoughts at all; occasionally the part of my brain that recognizes things will recognize something, oh, it's my high school english class, but as soon as it does this the contrary part of my brain will say, no, you're wrong, it's something else. Both parts are right, and then the dream changes.

Very occasionally I'll have a dream where there is a story or a narrative; recently after finishing half-life 2 episode 2 again, I dreamed of the (as yet unreleased) episode 3, and after going through a half-life-esque cave sequence, I was on a highway and I had an hour to save the world, but after having ice cream at a roadside stand I thought of my host-sister from when I was an exchange student and went south, even though it was my job as Gordon Freeman to go north. To the south there was a city where my father battled a giant geoduck by a streetlight in some kind of pit, in a town that I visited as a kid.

Dreams like that are the minority though; usually it's just my recent feelings and worries put in a blender with everything else that's on my mind...

As for an analogy, think of the RAM of a computer. My fragile understanding of how that works is that all the recent documents and things you've looked at are stored there for quick retrieval, as well of the contents of whatever programs you're working with. Dreaming is like parts of your RAM firing at random, with some older files stuck in there for good measure.
posted by Rinku at 11:29 AM on February 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: While I'm in the dream, it feels absolutely real. I feel like I'm flying, or running, or whatever.

Sometimes the dreams are pretty much a play-by-play of what happened that day - at the end of a long, intense day of [doing thing], I will sometimes dream that I'm [doing thing]. That's sort of exhausting.

My dreams always have an internal logic. I had one where I was standing at the end of a long pier, with the water far, far below. I had to calculate when to jump based on how close the crest of the wave came to the pier, so that I wouldn't fall all the way down. None of this seemed strange; there was no sense of "What the hell? This is impossible!". I did feel scared, but I also "knew" that if I jumped at the right moment, it would all be okay.

During the whole givewell meTa mess last year, I did go to bed one night at the height of that craziness and I dreamt I was...sitting on the couch, with the laptop on my lap, reading the thread. Oy.
posted by rtha at 11:29 AM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Most of the time I'm not aware that I'm dreaming. It feels just like real life, only faintly more surreal--but in the dream, the surreality seems like a (terrifying) part of real life, and it doesn't register as weird until I've woken up. So I'll have a dream about going on a picnic with a friend, and when we start off, the sky is changing colors, and then as I eat my sandwich, my friend is consumed by ants. And in the dream, I'm scared and worried by this, but accept it as real.

Interestingly, I never remember non-scary dreams.
posted by MeghanC at 11:31 AM on February 23, 2009

I wouldn't say it "feels" real but it does "seem" real, in that you take what's happening in your dream to be reality.

For me personally it can change around a lot depending on what the situation is as far as how comfortable I am or if I need to get up for some reason. I often have 'waking up' or 'falling asleep' dreams which very in vividness and usually I'll notice that I'm asleep or dreaming, and once that happens then I can control what goes on.

I sometimes wake up from more 'normal' dreams which are very vivid and seem much more like reality, but since I don't realize I'm dreaming I can't really 'experiment' to see how vivid the senses of touch and smell and all that are. I only remember sights and sounds from my dreams, not any smells or tastes or anything like that. Maybe touch once in a while. My 'full blown' dreams mostly involve some crazy adventure, as opposed to mundane everyday things.
posted by delmoi at 11:31 AM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: It's like seeing all your wishes come true. You get that talking Teddy Bear you wanted when you were six, and it's STILL awesome. The person you always had a crush on admits he/she's deeply in love with you. Your favorite dog never got hit by a car; he's been trotting along happily beside you this whole time. It's a great feeling. That's when you realize you've somehow walked into an abandoned house, and something wants very badly to kill you and to do so violently. But you can't see it. You can't even get out of there because you're suddenly so tired you can't even keep your eyes open, but that doesn't change the fact that you're truly terrified. Your heart is pounding. You can barely breathe. You just want it to stop. You almost WANT whatever-it-is to get you so that it'll be over with. Suddenly, you realize Scruffy's not there. You look around in a panic and then find he's eating something in the corner, and his mouth is stained red. He looks up at you, and his eyes are huge and black. He opens his mouth, snarls and says...


Then you get up and get ready for work. That's how it is.
posted by katillathehun at 11:32 AM on February 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, this usually helps me remember my dreams:
As I'm drifting off to sleep, I say to myself, verbally or mentally, "I will remember my dreams" repeatedly. This also usually makes be aware I'm dreaming when I'm dreaming and thus able to do lucid dreaming.

Lucid dreaming has an hyper aware quality. It's as if you can feel all the invisible energy that you can't see and it augments your senses so that things are a bit brighter, smells are more clear and visually details are sharper, yet you're not caught up in them. The best description I've heard of it is that it's like the Eastern thought that we're sleeping when we're awake and have to change our perceptions and state of being in order to be actually, really awake.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:33 AM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: This is tricky, because I'm not really familiar with any standard vernacular for describing dreams.

For me, the "feeling of dreaming" is two-part:
1) During the dreams I remember having, I'm typically in some sort of mostly-realistic scenario, interacting with people and things as myself. I don't really feel like I'm dreaming during the dream, I feel like an actual part of an actual situation.
2) When i wake and realize I was dreaming, that's when I recognize whatever odd-ness existed in my dream scenario, and over a very short period of time I consider the images or snippets of dialogue I dreamed and kinda think, usually very positively, about how weird or cool it all was.

So for me, the "dreaminess" of dream is completely a post-hoc observation. When I'm dreaming, everything feels normal and "real-world" to my dreaming self.

Sometimes, when I have a deadline at work or I've recently played a goal-based video game a little too intently, I have dreams where I'm trying to accomplish something and I feel very stressed-out about it. Again, my dreaming self doesn't tend to recognize that I'm dreaming, but when I wake up I realize that in these dreams I'm stymied in very fantastical, dream-like ways, like I'm on a bus that simply drives around forever and never gets anywhere, or I'm piling things up but my pile never gets bigger, etc.

Every once in a blue moon, my dreaming self will completely realize that I'm dreaming, but I won't immediately wake up. When this happens, the closest analogue is day-dreaming... I can pretty much imagine whatever I want, but my sense of actually experiencing it is much stronger.

Hit me up with any follow-up questions. I'm not sure what else I should add.
posted by chudmonkey at 11:35 AM on February 23, 2009

People often say that they can't read anything in their dreams, but it's been a long time since I've had a dream with any text in it so I'm not sure. I vaguely recall having a dream where I was able to read something, and then I woke up and thought "Wow, I was able to read in my dream."

What's really hard, though, is trying to write. I think it has to do with the fact that you're not getting any feedback from your hands, I remember a dream where I was trying sign my name and I just kept on not being able to do it, and jerking my hand around the paper over and over again coming up with these crazy, drunken squiggles. Sometimes if I'm trying to do something (in a dream) that requires a lot of tactile motions, I'll notice that I'm in a dream and then just think 'okay, all this is done' and all the tasks I was trying to do will be finished. I remember once I was trying to get into my car and drive somewhere, and I was fumbling with the keys, seatbelt, etc. Finally I'm just like 'okay, done' and everything was good to go and the keys were in the ignition, the car was started, and the belt was on.
posted by delmoi at 11:36 AM on February 23, 2009

The few comments about reading in dreams reminded me of this ask.mefi question I posted a few years ago.
posted by jozxyqk at 11:40 AM on February 23, 2009

I find that when I am forced awake by an alarm, I rarely remember what or even if I dreamed. On mornings when I wake up naturally, I have a much more vivid recollection. Otherwise, my dreams are all over the place - plausible, impossible, related to recent events, out of left field, flat, immersive, etc.

For example, last night I was having some sort of dream about some sort of mastermind criminal, no doubt fueled in part by having the Oscars on in the background. Then at one point the dream just stopped. Then I could hear a conversation between me and someone else about how I couldn't think of any ideas of what happens next. The discussion goes on for a while until finally I have some sort of flash of idea and all of a sudden the dream starts up again, with all this great new direction I have (it was something to do with art/paintings).

So while I can say this was in part influenced by the Oscars, I think the "stuck" part of it has to do with some writer's issues I am dealing with right now. So, housekeeping stuff. On the other hand, I've never had the meta-narration thing go on before (that I recall).

When I was younger I had a dream influenced by "Land of the Lost". Eventually I noticed this was a recurring dream. Once I became aware of that, the dream always had a symbol in the corner (like a station ID bug) identifying it as a repeat. THEN, that symbol started showing up in other recurring dreams. So who knows what the hell worked.

The first time my daughter saw the videogame Katamari Damacy, she had a nightmare of a giant chicken going around and eating everything up.
posted by mikepop at 11:41 AM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: I have a dreamscape neighborhood where 90% of my dreams take place. There's my childhood home, a little ways down the street from the haunted house from a movie that always freaked me out. Turn a corner and suddenly we're in the woods. It's like being on a Hollywood studio lot, in that none of the sets make sense next to each other (and I don't always physically travel between them in a dream) but mostly they are familiar scenes to me, even though the dreams that take place there are usually new and unique. So I'll be having a dream, and some part of me will think "I know/remember this dream set" even as I'm experiencing a new dream in, for example, the haunted house.

Don't know if it's like that for anyone else, though. I find it comforting.
posted by np312 at 11:44 AM on February 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I rarely remember my dreams, but when I do, they are almost never cohesive in any kind of useful or even interesting way. They are usually something like, "I was in my old high school, but it was also somehow a supermarket. Sean Penn from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and I were running from a bunch of vampires, and I was trying to open this door that was locked or stuck or something, until I opened it and then it was the door of my old Saab. I think the vampires were still there, but not chasing me anymore for some reason, but Sean Penn was gone." I get the impression that there is some kind of sense to them within the dream, but I've forgotten so much by the time I wake up, they are now totally nonsensical. Also, I almost NEVER have people I know in my dreams -- my wife and daughter have appeared maybe once or twice in the years I have known them. My dreams are also fascinatingly hard to retain in memory, even once I wake up. If I want to remember a dream, I must tell it to my wife immediately upon waking, and even then the details fade within hours and the entire concept is usually gone by the end of the day.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:44 AM on February 23, 2009

Every once in a blue moon, my dreaming self will completely realize that I'm dreaming, but I won't immediately wake up. When this happens, the closest analogue is day-dreaming... I can pretty much imagine whatever I want, but my sense of actually experiencing it is much stronger.

Mmm, yeah, this. I should mention that as a young teen I had awful recurring nightmares about being chased by vampires (hence their appearance in my comment above). I was told about the concept of Lucid Dreaming, and I would almost meditatively tell myself, as I was falling asleep, that I could control my own dreams. After several weeks, I did become lucid in one of these nightmares. I reminded myself that vampires could not cross running water, and I simply ran over a bridge. The nightmares ended immediately and have come back only once or twice in my life since then.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:51 AM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I find my dreams are all about my subconscious either mulling the previous days events or showing me things that my conscious is not taking notice of.

Examples: When I was married the first time, I would often have dreams that my mouth was completely full of a chewing gum like substance with tiny pieces of glass in it. I would spend the entire dream trying to get this stuff out of my mouth by pulling chunks of it out with my fingers. Another recurrent dream I had was that there were swarms of tornadoes in the area around my house (we don't have them where I live at all.) and I was scared and trying to protect my kids by finding a safe place and shielding them with my body.

Years later, I can easily look back and say that the dreams about the stuff in my mouth were more about not being able to talk or express myself because there was something dangerous (glass in the dream, confronting my husband in reality) in my mouth. The tornado dreams were clearly about being worried about the figurative destruction of my home and fear for and desire to shield my children.

Both these dreams stopped completely when I got divorced.

I've also had a series of prescient dreams throughout my life, mostly about numbers. I'll dream the number of a hotel room the day before I go check into a hotel, for instance. A really weird one I had was a couple years after I got divorced. I was bored one night and feeling sorry for myself and I told myself to "dream of the man I would spend my life with." When I woke up I realized that I had a dream about a friend of mine that lived on the other side of the country moving to where I lived for a new job. THEN, I remembered what I had told myself to dream about. It was bizarre. About a month later, that friend got a new job and moved to my city. We started dating shortly after the move and got married about a year and a half ago. Spooky, no?

All that fun stuff aside, I think the best visual representation of what dreams are like (at least for me) was a scene near the end of the movie, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" where the two main characters are talking to eachother in a beach house as the beach house is kind of disintegrating all around them. The conversation and the atmosphere is the closest I've seen anywhere.
posted by Edubya at 11:55 AM on February 23, 2009

I am frequently fighting dragons, ninjas, spies or whatnot - my typical stress dream is a fully-plotted action movie. (Note: If you die in a dream, you do not die in real life. Also, getting shot in the belly with a shotgun hurts like a sonufabitch.) Usually I "come in" halfway through a plot, but I "know" what happened and what I'm supposed to do.

Not all my dreams are that linear, but the ones I tend to remember are. Some of them are much simpler - like, recently I dreamed I was in a bar making out with an acquaintance's wife, enjoying myself but also worrying about what would happen when he found out, and how it would affect my career. And then I woke up.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:55 AM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: I am in a similar situation; Except for periods of time when I was under a lot of stress, the most I remember of dreams is a feeling on waking up of 'well, that was weird...'; I usually don't remember anything at all.

When I had a streak of stress-induced dreams, I distinctly remember noticing that my dreams were entirely audio-visual. I could see and hear, but there was never any sense of touch, smell or temperature. I never realized this inside the dream though, which I guess is one of the stepping stones into Lucid Dreaming. Mostly, I get the impression of watching a movie, or a cinematic from a video game, rather than a feeling of being there. I had one dream where Watersliding had become an Olympic sport (in the same vein as bobsled or luge), and my whole experience was as if I was watching it on TV; there were 'on-screen' graphics and everything, except the 'screen' was my entire field of vision. Other dreams had me walking around and talking to people.
I don't remember ever being conscious inside a dream; all my dreams are remembered after the fact. It also has taken effort to remember the dreams, there were ones that I forgot almost immediately, because I got distracted on waking up, and couldn't write them down/think them over.

There is one common thread to almost all the dreams that I remember: there is a River in the setting, sometimes as backdrop, sometimes as an active part of the setting. I remember that its somehow the same River, but it always looks different.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 11:58 AM on February 23, 2009

I would describe dreams as being made up of a hodge podge of individual feelings, sensations and ideas. For example, "the feeling of being in school", "a sensation of falling" or "the idea that I am a magician".

Each part of the dream feels as real as that sensation would feel (or I imagine it would feel) in real life, but the dream as a whole is probably missing lots of details, or might be completely illogical.

It's like the sensations that make up the dream are only "there" when I actually experience them. There's nothing extraneous. Sort of like looking through a telescope, but that tunnel-vision feeling applied to every sense.

So I've had dreams that range from being as vague as knowing I'm being chased, and I'm in the forest, through to lucid dreams that have lots of details and a developed, logical narrative. ("Logical" in that the world seems to work to consistent rules, even if they might not be realistic.)

Do you tend to sleep very well? I think as others have said, people usually only remember dreams when they wake up in the middle of them. So I might remember a lot of dreams, but I don't sleep very well.
posted by lucidium at 12:03 PM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: This will probably be an interesting thread. Here are some poorly edited quick impressions:

-I am not always aware that I am dreaming as I experience it. Most of the time, it feels a lot like real life, but when I wake up and reminisce about it, I realize that there was a lot less sensory information about the surroundings then there is in real life. It's as if some aspects of the environment are abstracted and unified and you can not pick on single details, you see a wall, but cannot distinguish bricks. You can see a book, but you cannot read any text in it.

-There are distortions in time and language. Some sentences that make perfect, transcendental sense in a dream are either imperfectly remembered with approximative words, or its grammar and syntax are incoherent when pondered in the morning.

-In a dream, you can sometimes shift time and places imperceptibly, you just walk a few steps and you are in a different place at a different without realizing the shift you just went through in what felt like seconds.

-Most of my dreaming is about mundane, banal experiences, but it is when I dream of strange, surreal or particularly intense subjects that I may realize I am dreaming as it is happening. When it happens, I usually wake up within seconds. It's very difficult to stay in the dream when I am flying for example, as it triggers some sort of reflex in my brain: "...oh cool, I'm flying! Hey wait a minute, I must be dreaming! Oh noes, I'm about to wake up! Argh, I want to stay here and fly for a while..."

-I used to dream a lot about going to the theater and watching a movie, but I was always aware I was in a theater and I was reacting to the movie in the dream. There was also stuff going in the audience apart from the film. You are involved in the dream, there is no separation or impersonal space between you and the dream like there is between you and the TV. I sometimes experience very impersonal dreams (once some mathematical patterns of colors unfolding in space), but they are extremely hard to remember as anything but an impression. Rarely, I dream about being someone slightly different than who I am, sometimes I will be a woman for example, but mostly I am just a variation of myself in my dreams. I sometimes observe events without being involved with them, but I am in the same space as the events.

-I mostly only see things in a dream. I don't remember any smell ever. Perhaps some faint sense of touch sometimes, but very light. I do remember a few sex dreams, and there was a sensual element to them, but mostly fuzzy. Noises have a weird quality in dreams, they sound about the same, but they can be so much more vivid for some reason.

Interestingly, some real-life noises can be incorporated in your dreams if they are not too loud to wake you up. After my alarm radio wakes up in the morning, I sometimes fall back asleep and the speech of the radio host suggests new dreams. The radio host becomes an animated character in the dream and some interaction happens from there on.

It may be a good sign for you if you do not dream much. One recent theory I've came accross recently is that dreams are meant to fulfill unresolved worrying or emotional issues caused in real-life. My most intense dreams have very often been experienced in times of great stress in real life.

I have more to say, but I'll take some time to collect my thoughts and articulate them appropriately. If any of my comments intrigue you, feel free to contact me.
posted by jchgf at 12:04 PM on February 23, 2009

I seem to have my most intense/realistic dreams in the hours before I wake up (which is typical, from what I've read). My dreams are so realistic that I'm often disappointed when I wake up. For example, for some reason I have a recurring dream in which I get all sorts of interesting and different packages in that day's mail. I always seem to wake up just after I've hauled in the boxes from the porch and begin to open them (so I never find out what's inside). I sleep with the TV on all night, so quite often my subconscious picks up on that and I'll dream that I'm making out with [name of TV character deleted to prevent embarrassment]. Again, it's so realistic that when I awake I'm momentarily disappointed to find Mr. Adams beside me and not TV guy.

So anyway, to answer your question, in my case my dreams aren't like watching TV or a movie, they are very vivid and participatory - I awake confused because I actually feel like I've been doing whatever I'd just dreamed.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:10 PM on February 23, 2009

My dreams vary widely. My favorites are ones with animals - particularly cats/kittens. When around them in dreams I am filled with the most extraordinary feeling of warmth and joy - incomparable, really, to anything I feel in real life.

If you want to remember dreams, tell yourself you will remember them before falling asleep. Then keep a dream journal by your bed where you write down anything you can remember immediately upon waking. This helps dream recall immensely.

I don't see what's so strange about lucid dreaming. You're there dreaming, right? So the only difference is that you think, "Huh, I'm dreaming."
posted by 3FLryan at 12:11 PM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: I just want to know what the experience is like. Is it like watching TV? Is it more real than that? Is it always about plausible stuff or do you frequently find that you are a dragon-fighting robot made of cheese? Do you just see things or do you actually hear / smell / feel them too? Do you remember them clearly or do they fade fast? Do you generally dream about the same stuff, or about anything at all?

For me, it's a little like what I imagine playing a virtual reality video game is like. I can clearly and vividly see what's around me, and talk to people, and experience things, but physical movement is sluggish and ineffective. Much like delmoi relayed above, there are three actions in particular that I find I can't execute in a dream: anything requiring dexterity, anything requiring a quick foot movement, and raising my voice.

Example: if I'm trying to get someone's attention in a dream (say we're standing in a busy street scene), and I "call" to them, I find I can't raise my voice enough for them to hear me. (Because, well, I'm sleeping)

In trying to execute whatever action isn't working, I often wake myself up, slightly. Then, like delmoi, I have the slight cognition "Oh, this is a dream, I'll just stop trying to do Thing X."

My dreams are always plausible (or mostly plausible) stories involving me. The person that is pineapple is seeing and living the story, first-person. If I've had a dream where I was seeing myself from above or outside my body, I don't remember it. If I've had a dream where other people were the characters or actors and I wasn't present or involved, I don't remember it.

I remember my dreams almost every morning when I wake. I don't keep a pad and pen by the bed because I am too lazy, but I certainly could, and often wish I'd kept a dream journal over the years.

As I've grown older, I've realized that I have one particular experience related to dreaming that is rare, or at least I've never heard anyone else ever mention it before: there is something that imprints on me in the moment of waking from a dream. Then, my memory of the dream fades over the course of the morning (as dreams are wont to do). By noon the subject of the dream and even the fact that it happened is gone.

But then, as soon as I lay back down in bed that night, I get a flicker and refresh of the previous night's dream. I frequently turn to my husband at bedtime and say something like, "Oh, I just remembered that I dreamed last night that you and I went to Las Vegas and we ran into your college roommate and he told us he was the father of the California octuplets and we were all, 'Tsk tsk.'"

But for this to happen, I have to be in bed, prone, covers pulled up. It's something about being back in the position that I was when I first had the awareness, maybe.

I do not experience smell or taste in my dreams, not that I remember.

On a couple of occasions, I have had dreams where I was put in some situation that was so vivid and terrible that it changed some fundamental view I'd held previously.

Example: In 2001, I dreamed that I was being wrongly imprisoned and sentenced to death; my futile outrage at the injustice that my government could possibly find it okay to take the life of a human being was so distinct that I woke up and completely reversed my opinion that capital punishment is okay in certain scenarios. It's like a switch was flipped in my brain.

What is so marvelous to me is that I hadn't just recently seen a movie about the death penalty, or read a book or a news story, or anything of the like, that would explain this change of heart. I went to sleep with the exact same data regarding capital punishment, a topic that I'd certainly pondered intellectually at great length before that night -- but something in my dreaming mind was able to give me an emotional perspective that made my feelings on the subject shift forever.

That was when I realized that our brains are incredibly powerful and mysterious, and that there is much more going on during REM sleep than just recharging and pleasant little movies.

I seem to have my most intense/realistic dreams in the hours before I wake up (which is typical, from what I've read).

My understanding of this is that we actually have the same kinds of dreams all night long -- it's just that we only can remember the ones that were happening in the last 10-15 minutes before we awaken. I read this in a book about neurology and cognition.

Interestingly, some real-life noises can be incorporated in your dreams if they are not too loud to wake you up. After my alarm radio wakes up in the morning, I sometimes fall back asleep and the speech of the radio host suggests new dreams.

Me too. This happened so often when I was in high school that I learned that the only way I could wake up to an alarm clock was by setting it to the loud annoying beeping.
posted by pineapple at 12:20 PM on February 23, 2009

I'm always inside my body, but it is more like a big robot (think power rangers) which I can look out of to see what is going on around me and which I can control.

I am usually anxious when I dream, because I cannot see what might be behind me. Looking out my eyes is so limiting - and I don't have the benefit of waking sensory experiences like hearing the ambient noise nearby or feeling the change in air pressure when someone comes up behind you.


As for you, I'd make sure not to neglect the experience of GOING to sleep. When I lie down and I am really ready to sleep, my mind instantly flickers back to what it was doing just before I woke up. So I get flashes of whatever dream was going on then. Often, I wont have remembered the dream at all until I get ready to sleep again and then it pops up. Try spending a little more time clearing your mind before you sleep. Or more accurately, try to FEEL asleep without actually BEING asleep. That may sound strange, but I think your brain will know what to do.
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:26 PM on February 23, 2009

My average dream is like:
"whoa, wha-? did my front tooth just fall out?"
*looks at tooth balanced on index finger*
"shoot, i must look weird now, i should go look in the mirror"
*rolls over, notices sheets and pillows*
"ah good, I'm dreaming"
*looks at tooth on index finger again*
"but how am I ever going to get it back in my mouth? man, I should have brushed more!"
"wait, wha-? we're going golfing now? will they even let me in without a-- oh look, my tooth is back! that's good at least. but i don't have any golf clubs. oh, i do? these things here? but they're all twisted and fused! how am i going to......"

It's nine-tenths "WTF" to one-tenth "hey, cool!"
posted by salvia at 12:27 PM on February 23, 2009

Sometimes my dreams are normal, everyday occurances but most of the time they are surreal adventures into very, very wacky places. I almost always know that I'm dreaming and will just ride out the wierd and enjoy it.

For example I have a recurring dream about bears. In most cases, the bear is my friend and we are hanging out. I've convinced the bear to go someplace with me, be it a bar or casino and the bear gets carded. Of course, the bear is only six...but that's way old enough in bear years. Then either, I argue with the management to get them to let the bear in, or I argue with the bear about how I really thought he'd be able to get in this time. Almost every single time, there is a moment in the dream where I think, "Why the frak am I hanging out with a bear?" but it gets passed over in the moment as my bear buddy and I try to find something else to do.

And this isn't like a cartoon bear, or a teddy bear. He's a real black bear, sometimes I can even smell him when I wake up.

I do, from time to time, under a great deal of stress have dreams that are symptomatic of sleep paralysis. Those are the few dreams that I have that I can't tell are dreams. I'll be convinced I am awake and that someone (usually a friend or someone else very close to me) is trying to hold me down or hurt me in some way. I wake from those dreams so disoriented and upset that many times I can't distinguish the real from the unreal. It's been so bad in the past that I accused an ex-boyfriend of doing something to me that never actually happened.
posted by teleri025 at 12:28 PM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My dreams are strange and interesting and don't always make sense or remain consistent. Sometimes my dream takes the form of a movie or play or poem or TV show or video game, and I am simultaneously in it and watching it. I have had dreams with rolling credits before.

Often the people, places, and things in my dreams are based on reality but get kind of mixed up: I often have dreams in which two different places I've lived are blended together, or I am speaking to someone who is a composite of several people I've known or a "generic friend," or someone is one person in one part of the dream and then becomes another person, but within the dream their identity remains consistent.

Sometimes physical sensations are vivid in my dreams, like the swooping feeling of flying or a hand on my shoulder, but not always. I am not very aware of my corporeality in my dreams, either. In waking life I am often self-conscious of my weight, my appearance, and how I take up space, but in dreams I don't take notice of my body at all (unless it's one of those naked-in-public dreams). I think sometimes in my dreams the part of "me" is played by an actor. For some reason I think I have a ponytail in my dreams, though I don't know for sure.

But I am present in all of my dreams, in some capacity. They take the form of my doing something, or something happening to me, rather than something I'm watching on a screen.

Sight and sound are the senses that are most vivid in my dreams, but sometimes I can smell and taste. I used to severely restrict my caloric intake (disordered eating), and I would have dreams of eating all sorts of foods, and the taste and feeling of fullness were so real that I would panic upon waking. Many of my dreams, in fact, feel very real to me after I wake.

I have recurring dream themes and settings - too many to mention here - and sometimes if I dream about the same problem enough times I will start resolving it while still dreaming.

One of the things I really enjoy is catching myself as I cross the threshold from waking to sleeping, as my thoughts drift off and stop making sense and start becoming dreamlike. I do this fairly often. I'll just let my mind wander, and my thoughts will kind of retain the form of my waking thoughts, but they'll be just weird and illogical. Then all of a sudden, I'll snap awake and think "wait, I was just thinking about putting a mango-flavored iron in the rollercoaster??" I don't know how I started doing that, but it might be something you could try.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:31 PM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if you want to remember your dreams, you can get good at it. It's not easy initially for most people, so don't think that it's just you if you're having trouble. Having a pad of paper nearby is only a tool. The trick is to get in the habit of realizing that you want to remember your dreams right as you shift from sleep to awake, so you can (figuratively) keep the door open a crack before it slams shut, and then in a half-awake state, look backward into dreamland with your conscious mind. As you slowly wake up, you get better at writing and thinking clearly, but worse at remembering, so you end up with a lot of illegible scrawl with words and verbs that don't make sense, and then clearer writing with more question marks as details get forgotten.

The times I've really embarked on doing this, I ended up deciding I didn't want to remember. It felt like I was keeping that door open almost by jamming a metal bar between the door and its frame, and I started to feel like I was always awake. I realized I wanted that separation between night mind and day mind.
posted by salvia at 12:37 PM on February 23, 2009

My dreams feel no different than real life to me, when I'm having them anyway. I usually know I'm dreaming, but a few times I have had dreams where I've thought, "This is just like something that would happen in a dream, but it's real," or "I wish I were dreaming." This tends to happen only in very bad dreams.

When I know I'm dreaming, I can do whatever I want in the dream except control other people. I think that's what makes them feel real. So, for example, if I have a dream with police tape around a crime scene and the killer is on the loose, if I know I'm dreaming I'll think, "Cool! I can go see the crime scene without any real risk." Sometimes I might be able to do that. But I've had it happen where no matter what I did, the police officers would catch me and wouldn't let me by. If they stuff me in a car and send me somewhere else, I can't do much about that. People at airports may not let me on airplanes if I decide I want to go, and so on. The best I can do is try to talk people out of things, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Otherwise I have to get lucky. So yeah, it's a lot like life even when I'm acting more boldly.

One thing I've noticed is that if I have a dream where I need to defend myself, shooting or stabbing people never works, even if I know I'm dreaming. The bullets won't ever reach them -- they move too slowly -- and I can't seem to get my muscles to move correctly to do much more than give people shallow cuts. If someone comes after me in a dream, I pretty much wake up right when I know I'm helpless.

Since you talked about writing in particular... I'm not saying this to make you envious, but my dreams are a huge source of inspiration. If I fall asleep thinking about something, I'm almost guaranteed to dream about it. This has gotten me unstuck in a lot of situations.

For example, I was thinking about a character who has to kill someone but doesn't want to. I was thinking writing that would be difficult since I've never killed someone. I was having trouble getting into the mindset emotionally; I'd think, "Okay, pretend you did. You're going to the grocery store. How do you feel?" Normally stuff like that works, but this time it was coming up dry. That night I had a dream that I was some guy and I'd killed someone. I don't know why I had done it, but it wasn't like the character exactly -- the character had a good reason, but in this dream it was just some sick compulsion that I finally went through with. I left the body in a wooded area by a creek. And for some other reason, I had cut off their hand, wrapped it in a plastic bag, and carried it in a backpack with me. When I woke up, I felt the hand was symbolic more than anything -- it was the part that really drove home all the emotions for me. I felt sick constantly. Whenever someone looked at me, I worried that the hand had slipped out, or they smelled it, and they'd known what I had done. When I saw policemen I got nervous and couldn't breathe. I'd worry that they'd be able to tell by looking at me that something was wrong, and that they'd search me. I had to get on a bus in the dream and I felt sick and anxious the entire time, because I had the backpack with me. I kept going back to where I'd left the body to make sure no one had found it, but every time I did I worried someone was following me, or it would have just been found and I'd look suspicious, etc. In other words, I was in constant fear of someone finding out what I had done; it was like something I carried with me everywhere. I imagine there are different ways to feel about such a thing depending on the person, but I got at least one realistic way to feel from that dream, and it was good enough.

Another time I had to have a character nearly freeze to death. I've grown up in Texas and hardly ever seen snow, so I had barely anything to draw on. Then I had a dream where I froze to death, and the last several minutes before I froze seemed to come in slow motion so I could register all the feelings. I've had dreams where I had to use telekinesis when I was wondering what such a thing would feel like. "Instructional" sort of dreams like that have happened to me literally dozens of times. The protagonist of one story came to me entirely in a dream.

I don't believe, however, that these dreams would have come if I had not put some research into all the things I was having trouble with. For example, I read some stuff about hypothermia before the freezing dream, and while I understood the description on paper, I couldn't yet feel it. It's been my experience that my dreams will take whatever I've understood intellectually and convert them to emotions and sensations for me. It's taken about two years for me to really get a handle on this and use it effectively. It doesn't aways work that I'll dream about what I want to, but it works most of the time. And when it doesn't, whatever else I dream about it usually helpful or at least entertaining.

(In writing this, I've realized my dreams are often violent or morbid. That's interesting.)

Another thing: before I got much into writing constantly and concerning myself with plot and characterization and symbolism, my dreams were usually somewhat nonsensical. Ever since I started writing more and concerning myself with those things, my dreams make almost perfect sense. People do not do random, out of character things. Even if weird things are going on, they have an internal logic to them. And strange little symbolic things will pop up, like the hand. Those delight the hell out of me when I wake up.

Whenever I have a particularly rich dream I will go write it out, to remember it. They're like little pockets of emotion that I can access more readily than before I had the dream. Remembering it is like lancing the pocket and and having the emotion just rush out over me.

A few months ago I found a dream I had saved on my harddrive from ten years ago -- before all the interest in writing technical issues, but the perfect example of my dreams being a place to store emotions. I was 14 when I had it. At the time I was having a... not exactly a fight, with a friend I was in love with. (Or in "love" with, if you prefer.) People get older, friendships dissolve... that sort of thing. It was very difficult for me to deal with, though, as it was my first real best friend. Anyway, I'd had this dream that had stuck with me at the time so I wrote it down. I remember not understanding at the time what it was supposed to mean, but it seems so obvious to me now.

The dream was short and simple. I was sitting in my apartment and the world started unraveling; the air was thinner, and light seemed to be getting whiter. I knew what was happening and ran outside. It occurred to me that my parents would be looking for me, but I just wanted to see this friend. I thought I had minutes, at most. The friend lived across town so I knew I couldn't run there in time. I froze for a second and started running anyway, because I was at least going to try. Gravity seemed to be dissolving; I felt like a balloon trying to run. I knew there were only seconds left.

I turned to the nearest apartment door and opened it, and somehow, that friend was there. It felt like a gift the universe had given me before it burned out. The friend saw me, and I felt triumphant and relieved because we didn't have time to talk about anything and the air was too thin for words anyway. They were floating towards the ceiling, I reached out and touched their foot, they were gone, and then so was I.

I didn't understand that triumphant, relieved feeling then, but I understand it now. I hadn't wanted to tell this friend I was in love with them. I felt that way in the dream because the friend had to have understood, then: the world was ending and of all the places I could have gone, I had shown up at their door. I didn't have to explain, didn't have to deal with any possible rejection. It was just out in the open, and then over. The way I felt back then, that seemed like an ideal scenario, as weird as it sounds. And it also felt like it would take something like that, like the end of the world, for me to even hint at how I felt.

I get choked up even remembering that dream. So much of how I felt back then was typical adolescent melodrama, but I like having a little place I can go to remember it. There's good things about being a teenager that get sanded down into something -- thankfully -- more reasonable by the time you're an adult. I wouldn't want to still live and make decisions like a teenager, but I'm glad the emotions are within reach whenever I want to relive them. I don't think I would have that without that dream.

One last thing: dreams have been helpful to me psychologically, I think, because they allow me to say things to people that are better left unsaid in real life. Since I know I'm dreaming but it still feels realistic, I can really go off on someone. I actually feel much better when I wake up and I don't feel the urge to confront them anymore -- to the extent that a second dream about them isn't necessary, either. This has been especially helpful for people I can't confront anyway, like people I don't know anymore or people who have died.
posted by Nattie at 12:43 PM on February 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I dream every night and almost always remember my dreams. For me dreams have two stages, one when I'm fully asleep and one when I'm only half asleep.

When I'm fully asleep them I'm in the dream as much as I'm in real life - it's completely real. I'd say 90% of the time I'm me, in my dreams, although on rare occasions I have had dreams where I was a man or once, memorably, a blueberry pie. My dreams are highly narrative, and often involve saving the world (I read a lot of sci fi). They're also highly sensual - I can remember even now what it felt like to levitate and swim through the air in my high school hallways, the slick yellow plastic of the slide outside the king's castle, the texture of the robot dog made of puzzle pieces as I put it together. I also find that things I've spent a lot of attention on during the day end up in my dreams, especially computer games (yes, I dreamed about Chain Factor).

Then at some point during a normal long sleep I start to wake up a little and the feel of the dream changes. The outside world starts to come into the dream and everything becomes a little less representational. I might dream about pillows, and when I wake up fully I'll be able to recount the early dream stages just like a narrative ("and then I went to the castle and there was a fish on the floor") but the later dream stages are just impressions ("I was dreaming about pillows" - but not "I was dreaming about a pillow hitting me in the face and it was blue").

The other thing I've found, and this is a little TMI, is that if I have to pee, before I wake up I tend to dream about searching for a bathroom. And often I dream I've found one but it's gross or the stalls don't have doors or it's flooded or... and in the dream I'm getting more and more desperate and more and more frustrated, and then I wake up suddenly and go "oh, yeah" and get out of bed.
posted by marginaliana at 12:43 PM on February 23, 2009

Is it like watching TV? Is it more real than that?
More real. It is like things are happening to me for real, and I am taking action in response, in something roughly like the normal everyday way. It feels first-person, not third-person.

Is it always about plausible stuff or do you frequently find that you are a dragon-fighting robot made of cheese?
It always *feels* plausible. It often contains elements that are actually impossible, but they feel as if they have an internal logic while I'm experiencing them. Examples of common impossible things in my dreams that feel perfectly possible while dreaming:
- I am flying (very common, and includes realistic physics eg of how to turn or gain/lose altitude)
- I and others have special powers (standard magic/superhero type powers), or there are special laws of nature at work (eg certain kinds of magic work, humans can change their density at will, etc)
- I have some job/backstory like working for a secret organization with arcane goals
- another person in the dream is a combination of two people I know ("there was this guy, and it was you, but it was also my brother, except really tall")

Also, when weird sequences of events happen (I'm angry at someone in the dream, then I am suddenly allies with them), there's a kind of retrospective sense-making that fills in the gaps with some explanation. (oh, now I remember that we had a fight and worked things out)

Do you just see things or do you actually hear / smell / feel them too?
Not sure. I have definite kinesthetic sensations eg in flying dreams. I am aware of textures or smells or tastes as much as it matters for the story of the dream, but I don't know that I actually get specific sensations that convey the information. I think this might be true for seeing things too. I see things about as much as I do when I'm reading a novel -- which is not very much, not very specifically, but I "know what things look like" without necessarily forming a mental image.

Do you remember them clearly or do they fade fast?
I remember them only for a moment when I'm on the edge between sleep and waking. So if I get to doze in the morning, I can remember a dream for long enough to put its contents into words ("we were in China and working for rival armies, and we had to go find a magic cat"). This is the key to remembering - if I can put it into words, then I'm able to remember the words and some of the associated images/feelings as I wake up. If I lose the words, the images will fade too. The words are inevitably an over-simplification (the magic cat was also part immaterial non-cat, and it was only our goal because of more complex mythology behind it, etc) but they are accurate to some degree. As I wake up, the feeling of plausibility fades out, and so the verbal narrative of the dream often makes more logical sense than the real dream would have, simply because it's hard to express the illogical elements in words.

Also, if I'm able to doze and preserve that period of being sleepy but slightly wakey, I can control what happens in the dream to some extent. Sometimes dream actions feel fated - first person, but not quite voluntary. I know there's danger in that room, but I'm drawn to go in anyway. When I'm dozing I can sometimes break out of that and say, no, I'm leaving this building because it's dangerous.

Do you generally dream about the same stuff, or about anything at all?
There are a few themes that recur (eg flying, human relationships, running from a monster but being unable to run or scream), but it can feed off recent events. Eg, hearing about a scary situation during waking hours often leads to having a scary dream with a related theme (eg fire). Rarely, a dream will begin as a replay of a recent real-life situation (eg an incident at work) and will usually go a lot worse than the real-life one, or quickly veer off into fantasy (vikings invade my office and we must make a daring escape).
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:48 PM on February 23, 2009

I have a few different 'sets' where my dreams commonly occur: the town where I grew up, always at night, -- I'm usually riding my bike there -- the home I lived in until I was fifteen, and, weirdly, in airports or on airplanes, usually when something is going wrong. There's no sense of panic associated when I have those dreams.

I'm always myself, at my current age. I don't dream about being a child or a robot or an astronaut. Sometimes, in the riding my bike dreams, my bike floats up off the ground. I like those.

I occasionally have a lucid dream, but only when I'm napping. I get frustrated during lucid dreaming because I can recognize that I'm asleep but when I try to make myself do cool stuff it never works!
posted by sugarfish at 12:57 PM on February 23, 2009

Sometimes I know it's a dream, and even tell other people/things in the dream that this is the case. Othertimes I'm not really aware. I can pretty much always wake myself when things get hectic.

I have several "neighboroods" that dreams sometimes take place in. Some are vaguely unsettling (and can quickly ramp up to very unsettling), some are pleasant. I rarely have dreams about completely mundane things; the only time that happened was when I was a teenager and sleeping all the time. I'd confuse things that happened in dreams with real life and vice versa. I often have dreams with people and animals I know. I've had some dreams visiting dead pets or friends from which I've woken up crying.

I recently had a dream in which I was walking/driving around a nice neighborhood on the edge of the Lake*. I was enjoying looking at all the Victorian and Edwardian architecture, but at the same time this horrible smell began growing stronger and stronger. I was thinking, man, I don't care how nice this neighborhood is, I would never live here with this awful stench. I woke up to the realization that my boyfriend, while sleeping, had let off the world's biggest and stinkiest fart. So big and stinky, it had woken me up.

* Lake Merritt, but a different, dream world Lake Merritt.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:07 PM on February 23, 2009

Plus, I can't read anything.
there was a lot less sensory information about the surroundings then there is in real life. It's as if some aspects of the environment are abstracted and unified and you can not pick on single details, you see a wall, but cannot distinguish bricks. You can see a book, but you cannot read any text in it.

I know others who say that in dreams, anything computationally complex (eg representing text, math problems, etc) is "blurred out" for them. Eg a good card player who finds that in dreams, the numberings on the playing cards are blurry or unreadable because (he guesses) his mind can't simulate the random draws and keep track of what's already been played. Or a dream about being a brilliant mathematician who has a new proof of something - you might be very confident that your proof is correct but you can't quite make out the writing on the board.

I find that I can dream-narrate in the voice of whatever book I'm reading. Eg reading a Stephen King book, comes to the end of the book and I go to bed, I will continue the story with the same characters in fake King narrative style. (I *think* I do a good job of simulating each writer's voice, but of course, it's all behind the veil of dream-plausibility, so who knows.)

Is it narrative?

My dreams are usually like charm bracelets - one little episode happens, then move on to the next one, and so on. Not an overarching plot. But often I can only remember the final few episodes at the time when I'm waking up, since the moment for putting them into words is short. I'm aware that there were, say, 8 episodes that happened, but all I can get into words is the very end of the sequence. (This is similar to the quote from above, "It's like being on a Hollywood studio lot, in that none of the sets make sense next to each other (and I don't always physically travel between them in a dream).")

Eg, begin with me and friends ice skating, then we have to go the dog pound for some reason, then it's a different group of people and we have some dogs who tell us that it's time for voting so we need to go to the voting hall, and we remember about the details of the candidates in the election and the political stakes for the town, but before we can go vote there is a fire and we have to escape, and then we're on the run with a different group, maybe because one of the candidates is after us, [etc]. And each of these episodes would have details and some dialogue.

Often if you ask someone to describe a dream and they manage to put together a bunch of these episodes, it's excruciatingly boring because, although it made sense in the dream, it doesn't make sense once you're awake so it's just a random sequence.

repeating things from real life that you've done too much

Definitely. Eg I had a summer where I played Tetris for hours a day - and would have long dreams that were just Tetris. Had the same thing with Katamari Damacy to a lesser extent. Anything that has an alternate plausible physics seems to have this effect on me.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:18 PM on February 23, 2009

It's interesting to read about the range of dreams here.

I'd say about fifty percent of my remembered dreams are fairly realistic and about human relationships. Often, they're about some kind of social drama where the emotions are running very high between myself and someone who, in waking life, I may or may not be in conflict with. I often have dreams where I'm stunningly angry at someone, screaming at them or being screamed at (this is not who I am at all in waking life, so this might be my body's way of discharging repressed emotions). Emotions feel incredibly sharp in dreams, and shortly after waking.

A good portion of the remainder of my dreams I'd call, in one way or another, "sci-fi dreams." They tend to have a surreal quality. Weird things happen. I give birth to oranges or am visited by aliens who look like construction workers with holes down the front of their bodies. I'm often not myself but some other person interacting in an alien landscape. Sometimes this is clearly a setting from a book or movie or, most often, television show (I've dreamed about what happens in the next season of LOST and Mad Men in the past few weeks). Character relationships might be different, but usually they're fairly grounded in the mythology of the show. I've had these television dreams since childhood--but I've always been someone to get really obsessive about TV shows, so maybe it's not surprising.

In all cases, the logic is slippery, but I accept it easily. I am in my grandparent's house, but a railroad runs through the front yard. I'm driving in a car with no windshield or hood, exposed to the air. I always dream in color but don't have many dreams that feature recollections of other senses. I have sex dreams occasionally, but never orgasm in them. I dream about people who have died, but usually I'm aware that they're some sort of resurrected dead thing, and therefore creepy. I've never been able to dream lucidly beyond being able to tell myself to wake up, but this often doesn't work--I've only ever tried this during nightmares, and I often "wake up" into another dream.

While they're happening, they feel real. Immediately after waking they often feel real. As time passes, they start feeling like a vague memory. Do you have memories of things from your childhood that you're not sure if they've really happened or not? Dreams have that quality.

I love dreaming and sleeping. I've found lots of material for my writing in dreams, and I'd encourage you to try to wake yourself in the middle of your sleep cycle to see if you can encourage it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:23 PM on February 23, 2009

My dreams, as I remember them vary. There are those that feel very real. Where I'm totally in the moment and it’s as if I'm living and actually experiencing what's happening. There's no subconscious separation, if that makes sense. Then there are other dreams where it’s almost like watching a movie. I can see what's happening, I'm involved in the action but I don't have any control over what happens or the direction the action takes. The final type of dream I have is where I'm dreaming and I know I'm dreaming. The best way to describe it is like an outer body experience. What happens is as some point as I'm dreaming; I will realize that I'm in a dream. At that point, I'm able to control my actions and I can actively try to change the dream.
posted by aquariangirl06 at 1:26 PM on February 23, 2009

I agree with whoever mentioned the 2 types of dreams.
My deep sleep dreams are a lot of very fragmented images, my brain forces itself to draw some sort of connection to the images and then I get something more linear which allows me to describe my dream to someone. Without my brain trying real hard these dreams are completely random images.

My half-asleep dreams are very linear and generally have a lot to do with things that are going on in real life.
This morning my dream consisted of me going to work, finding 2 new employees which I had to train because I was quitting. With the half asleep dreams I can wake up, go back to sleep, and continue the story. Which I did about 4 times this morning (thanks to the snooze).
This could be more along the lines of lucid dreaming but I'll get a flash of something that I could possibly throw into the dream... going with my dream this morning let's say I thought of the possibility of a fire drill... I would actually go through the motions of the fire drill. I'll see people walking out of the building and see the lights flashing and know that the alarm is going off. And then I'll return to where I left off in my dream (training the 2 new employees), insert some sort of connector (maybe the CEO pulling the fire alarm), and then insert the knowledge of the fire alarm portion of the dream I had (I won't actually re-dream the scenario, but I'll know what had happened), and then continue the dream where the fire drill left off.

Both types of dreams are always viewed through my own eyes. Although, it's more like a camera attached to my head. I don't get as wide a peripheral view as I do in the real world. It's like watching TV with the camera that's trying to act as the character's view point.
The edges are always fuzzy though.
I also don't see many faces but most of the time I'll know who the person in my dream is. Most of the time their heads will be in the fuzzy border.

I never see myself doing ... little things. Like walking. I'll be in front of my computer and in the next instant I'll be in the bathroom... my brain will draw the connection and make up the missing story... kind of an, "He obviously got up, walked out of his office, and into the bathroom." As I'm dreaming my brain is constantly trying to make sense of it all.

The only sense I use in my dream is sight. If I pick up an ice cube in my dream I won't actually feel it as cold but my brain will draw some logic out of it and tell me that it must be cold.

Let's say I have a dream where I'm walking down a hallway and I hear a lady singing.
I'll be in the hallway... but I won't necessarily be walking. Maybe at one instance I'm in front of a door and I see a picture down the hall... and the next instant I'll be in front of the picture... then my brain will say I walked.
I also won't actually hear the lady singing. My main focus will be myself in the hallway, but, I'll get flashes of a side profile of a woman's mouth making singing motions and maybe a flash of a music box or a piano... and my brain will decide that she's singing.

Bernt Pancreas mentioned the fever dreams and size issues. I experience the same thing. Something about it is really intense... I can't make my brain think/feel when I want to. Whenever I get those dreams I really hold onto them 'cause they're really trippy.
Sometimes it will be in the form of a dark room... and I can't judge how big or small the room is. There are many conflicting cues as to the size of it.
I've had dreams where tiny little fairies are carrying enormous boulders. I can imagine them doing it right now but when I have a fever and I'm dreaming about it I almost can't handle the idea. It's really interesting and intense.
posted by simplethings at 1:27 PM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: I've kept dream diaries on and off since early childhood, some of the entries may help clear things up for you.

For example, I had a dream in 2002 where I wasn't aware it was a dream, but it wasn't 'just like being there' either...
"I was fighting a man with a big butcher's knife. (Presumably because Halloween H20 had been on TV.) I had a knife too; mine was a breadknife. I was really going for it, because I knew I couldn't die. (I didn't know it was a dream, but I "knew" it was a movie and that I was the hero, so I couldn't die.)

I was having difficulty fighting, because my view wasn't of what was directly in front of me, but of the movie itself after it had been filmed and edited. The director had shot my fight scene using our shadows, to be arty. The only way I could tell which shadow was mine, was to twist my knife until I could see if the blade on the shadow was serrated.
There's another one where I try to nail what it feels like in the disjointed moment between dreaming and waking. It's undated, but based on my handwriting I'd say I was somewhere between seven and ten years old...
"[Childhood best friend] and her mum are moving into the house next door but one. She says "Isn't it great now we only live two doors away!" It goes black and I feel whooshy like I am on the green slide and then I wake up."
The green slide is referring to a waterflume at my local swimming pool. It was narrow enough that you had to lie flat with your legs together and your arms folded across your chest. When you were riding it, it was all speed and darkness and muffled noises and disorientation. Then you'd burst out into bright light again, realise you weren't dead after all and become uncomfortably aware that your swimsuit had migrated into your buttcrack.

I'll often look stuff up in dream interpretation books, but it doesn't always work. Sometimes the symbolism is obvious, like this one from 1998...
"I dreamed Ally McBeal (aka TV's most insecure woman) and me were driving cars around really fast and desperately trying not to crash into each other. THANK YOU SUBCONSCIOUS! I AM WELL AWARE THAT I GET MY EXAM RESULTS TOMORROW!"
Sometimes they're not, like this one from the following day...
"I dreamed about bee larvae. I have absolutely no idea what this means."
There are some things I can't do in dreams. I can't eat. Many of my dreams end with a mouthwatering plate of food, but when I try to eat some I wake up. This makes me grumpy, because while I can now get up and fetch food tht actually exists if I'm hungry, I'll be left with an overpowering urge to eat whatever was on offer in the dream. (This is frequently roast potatos for some reason. Insert your own 'tators' pun here, folks!) So I'll try and fall asleep again quickly to recapture the dream in the hopes that this time I will find a way to eat dream potatos!

The feeling of trying to recapture a dream after hitting the snooze button is a bit like... um... okay, it's like you were marching in a parade when somebody dragged you through the crowd and into a building beside the parade route. This is like being woken up. Now, if you can return to the parade quickly enough, you can carry on marching like you never left. If you're in the building for longer or get distracted you might have real trouble finding your place in the parade again. If you're in there for a very long time, you may leave the building to find the parade is all over or even that a completely different parade has now started.

Dreams have mostly been good to me. Thanks to dreams I've experienced all kinds of superpowers: flight, invisibility and telekinesis show up regularly. Dreams have given me the chance to get a last hug from deceased loved ones and to make out with hot celebrities. My memory of these experiences is sometimes shaky afterwards, similar to how I remember things from early childhood. At the time, though, it's almost always as if it's really happening to me at that minute and it's awesome.

Of course the flipside of awesome dreams feeling real is that the not-awesome dreams feel real too. I got beheaded once. (Except not quite, because I can't die in dreams any more than I can eat roast potatos.) This happened with no lead in or backstory that I can recall, I was just suddenly being strapped into a guillotine upside down.

I was left there for what felt like hours looking up at the blade, totally consumed with this absolutely gut wrenching terror and I couldn't even BREATHE because there was this humongous BLADE suspended over my NECK and I didn't think it was possible to be any more TERRIFIED, but suddenly there was this "whick" noise and the BLADE began to DROP and OH GOD! OH GOD! OHGODOHGODOHGOD! I... WHAT? WHERE? BEDROOM. DREAM? HOLY FUCK BRAIN, WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO ME? Then I burst into tears.

So maybe you're lucky not to dream? I mean, this was years ago, it was something that never actually happened and I can still taste the adrenaline in the back of my mouth just from remembering it. Seriously, I would give up every superpower I have ever had, if it meant never having been guillotined.
posted by the latin mouse at 1:27 PM on February 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

"whoa, wha-? did my front tooth just fall out?"

Ugh, salvia, you just reminded me that I had a dream last night where a tooth fell out.

That's often the case, too--I'll forget about a dream until something during the day triggers the memory.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:29 PM on February 23, 2009

I have lucid dreams almost every single night. Almost indistinguishable from reality, even the weird ones. So much so that I typically just assume I'm still dreaming for about 20 min or so after I wake up until I'm sure I'm really awake. This may sound fun, but I assure you it is not. Routine. Routine. Bathroom. Tea. Check email, Metafilter. Things dont start exploding, must be I'm awake. Thankfully I dont retain memory of my dreams much past waking, except perhaps small flashes. Which is good because most of my dreams are downright unpleasant, if not actual nightmares. I also seem to have some conscious control over the dream, or at least I dream that I have control - jury's out on that one.

There's a definate visual and tactile component, but dont recall any significant olfactory or auditory memories.
posted by elendil71 at 1:36 PM on February 23, 2009

My dreams seem real to me, like I am actually in whatever situation I am dreaming about. Even if it's something completely weird (like rounding up my cats in a grocery store, and then being chased by a snake through the deli department) - I don't question the weird stuff while dreaming. Oh, and I dream in color. Apparently some people dream in black and white (so I've read).
posted by All.star at 1:53 PM on February 23, 2009

I practiced lucid dreaming for a few weeks, keeping a journal of what I could remember. At first it was difficult to recall more than broad strokes, but as I kept it up, my memory of the dreams became more and more real. Most of my dreams involve elements drawn from my waking life, and I am almost always myself. I just happen to have my journal here, so I will transcribe a few entries.
2 March 2006: Dreamt that I had been dropped on a distant planet near a dense forest. Inside the forest was an immense, cleared, abandoned compound, surrounded by a wooden plank fence, eight feet tall. Naomi [my dog] was with me, and we were driving around in an old Dodge van.
6 March 2006: Last night, I dreamt that Olivia Tremor Control was playing an outdoor show, performing a song that went, "Nothing can go wrong / when you're a bad tyrant," while I practiced drawing cartoons.
8 March 2006: Last night I dreamt that a man, apparently a former mayor of Chicago, was trying to assassinate me, along with all other members of MetaFilter. Dressed all in black, he pursued me through a large, crowded bus depot. At some point, it seemed, he agreed to kill only the older members of the site.
13 March 2006: Dreamt of a foray into a Latino family's basement, where they were growing vegetables hydroponically. I think I was seeking something psychoactive, and I also had memories of the house with prior occupants. They let me sample a strange fruit that reminded me of durian and nearly made me vomit.
Last night I had a string of horrible, frightening dreams, including one where a tooth fell out and another where my home was being demolished.
posted by ijoshua at 1:58 PM on February 23, 2009

Ok, I am the only person I have ever met who is like this, but here we go:

My dreams are like real life. I have a sign above my bed that says "Awake" so when I wake up, I know what is real.

I can see, taste, feel, and do what I could normally do in my waking life. I can do advanced math, but apparently, I cannot dial a phone. I can't fly, and I am not invincible.

There's good and bad that comes with this.

The good is the days where I dream I am on vacation in Aruba. It is fantastic, and I wake up refreshed.

Then there's the bad side of it - like watching your family die and not knowing that it isn't real. Especially your children.

The ones in which I die are bad as well. I can feel my organs shut down, and I hate that feeling.

I can remember every dream, whether I want to or not. Every little detail. When I was younger, I had trouble telling the difference between real life and my dream lives. I have since gotten better, but it took a lot of work, emotionally.

I also sleep walk, which has been more than interesting for my fiance.

And honestly, I would give almost anything to not dream every night.
posted by TheArpenter at 2:13 PM on February 23, 2009

I have crazy dreams almost every night, though actual scary scary nightmares only happen when I'm sick. The last time I was sick I had a dream that culminated with a feral cat latching onto my pinky like a snapping turtle (man, did it hurt!), and apparently my screams in my dreams translated into creepy panicked moans in real life because I sleep with my mouth shut and that's the only sound that got out. When I'm feverish the dreams are more hallucinatory (and frustrating) -- once I was convinced I was laying in a kitchen drawer with various shapes of Pyrex bakeware, and in order to move positions I had to first rearrange the different shapes so I had room.

I never realize that I'm dreaming, and so the dreams are very, very real. I can't control my dreams while I'm sleeping, and only when I wake up do I realize how ridiculous they are. I can remember them very easily until I actually get out of bed, and then often at night I have a flashback when my head hits the pillow.

I'd love to have a permanent dream interpretation service on call. I have some recurring themes in my dreams, like finding that I'm working at a previous job and anxious because I have to give my 2-weeks notice all over again and can't find my boss to do so. I also have some hilarious yet frustrating dreams where my brother's doing something stupid and won't listen to me when I ask him to stop (last time he was riding a deer in my parents' backyard and using it to antagonize mountain goats!). Other than that though, my dreams are hard to interpret.

When I was an exchange student I was told that I could tell if I was "fluent" when I started dreaming in the new language. I was so frustrated when I realized that I couldn't figure out what language people were speaking in my dreams! Years later, sometimes I notice, but at the time I decided I was fluent when my host mom woke me up after I slept through my alarm and freaked out accordingly in her language.
posted by Maarika at 2:24 PM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dreams from my childhood are my most vivid and memorable. Some are feel very real, some are hazy like shapes and lights shifting behind your eyelids. I've even had dreams funny enough to make me laugh and wake my wife, and in those dreams I'm watching a conversation or situation, not unlike being a bystander, but up close.

I've had recurring dreams as a kid that I will call nightmares because I dreaded them. Once I close my eyes I remember getting the sensation of falling through my bed. I felt like I was in control of my actions, but I was not. I felt like if I could scream "WAKE ME UP WAKE ME UP" my parents would be able to hear me across the house, through the TV, and feel the walls shake but they never came.

After I landed I would always find myself in a dead-end alley lit only by the light of the moon. The thin metal walkways and fire escapes made the alley feel even more narrow, and looking up four stories I could make out 1/2 of the full moon obscured by the building on my left. In the dark and cold I make out the lines of metal trash cans overflowing in their bins and graffiti on the walls. Then the cats, so many cats, all meowing. They were atop the bins and jumping along the metal railings of the fire escapes. I was very disconcerted.

I wasn't scared of where I was or that I was alone, but more so of what was to come. As I was physically standing there I would strain to make myself wake before it came. If I tensed my body enough and concentrated enough, I would be able to wake up and avoid what always comes. It never works, it always comes. I would keep straining, try as it may, not to turn around, but to keep staring towards the dead-end. I didn't want to see what it looked like, but I heard the footsteps. I could fell the footsteps as they drew in closure. The footsteps were heavy, like a Frankenstein chasing me into the alley because it knew there was no way out. In my dream, I would repeat to myself

wake up
wake up
wake up

and then I do. My heart would be beating and I could feel the rush of blood through my veins, but it's ok, all ok. What felt like 5 minutes of sleep was actually 3 hours. I was scared, tense, then confused, relaxed. Calmer, I closed my eyes to prepare to fall through my bed perhaps again.

Aftrer a while, I realized that the footsteps I dreaded for so long was actually the beating of my heart telegraphed into my dream. More tense I was, the louder the footsteps. Eventually I was able to take that knowledge into my dream. It's only my heart, and there's no one coming, I didn't have to be afraid. It was then I took the time to explore the alley and play with the cats who a few weeks later disappeared along with the alley.

Oh, the flying dreams are awesome.
posted by spoons at 2:24 PM on February 23, 2009

I can always tell when I'm too stressed out at work because I begin to dream almost exclusively about work. My dreams are very realistic, so much so that I often wake up believing that I need to add tasks people asked me to do in my dreams to my to-do list.
posted by decathecting at 2:45 PM on February 23, 2009

I used to dream in black and white. Color kicked in when I was about thirteen. Sound followed after that.

Everything in the dream is plausible at the time - if it ever suddenly appears implausible I wake up. I can't use light switches though.

Sometimes I dream I am flying, then I wake up - realize I can't - so I get up and go to work. Then on the way, I discover I really *can* fly. Then I wake up for real.

I think.

It's hard to tell the difference. That's how real it is.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 2:51 PM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: It's not unlike a very long improv exercise, in which random words, thoughts, and emotions float around your head and are periodically inserted into your scene. If you're Metroid Baby, for example, you get mango, iron, rollercoaster, and you find a way to make it work (with the inevitably bizarre/hilarious results).

For me, it might go: yard, puppy, sad, angry person, tow truck, pizza. In that case, I'll dream that I'm in the yard and I see a puppy, and then I realize that something is tragically wrong with the puppy, then I'm talking to a pissed off person on the phone (who seems to need a tow truck) and then I eat some pizza.

Because they often don't follow a logical progression (and because you wake up remembering only the end) you usually have to remember them backwards. "We were eating pizza while we waited for the tow truck... why were we waiting for a tow truck? oh, because that angry guy called needing a ride... oh, and I remember that when I answered the phone I was in the kitchen helping the injured puppy that we found in the back yard" The transitions are weird and often abrupt, which is why dream stories are always so fucked up: "Well, we were dealing with this injured puppy, and then we had to get a tow truck."

Anyway, it's really just a bunch of random shit all mashed together, which your brain adds explanations for on a "need to know" basis. Your dream inserts the what and you try to come up with a plausible why. You generally accept it as real, but you can sometimes influence the constraints of your dream world: Why can't I run down these stairs any faster? Oh, right, I have to slide down the railing. Why do I always forget that? That becomes part of your dream world and you begin to get an understanding of its special rules, while still not being fully aware that it's not reality.

Recurring dreams and nightmares are a whole other ball of wax; they are recognizably familiar to me when I am in them and involve generally the same physical and emotional elements. They have a single strong theme and not much extra. It's like, "You've just realized that the guy in line at the supermarket wants to kill you. GO!" and that's your whole world for the next five minutes. There are no irons, mango-flavored or otherwise.

As for remembering, if I wake up with the hint of a dream I want to hold onto, I stay in the same position I was in when I woke up, stay relaxed, and walk it backwards; if I have a nightmare, I immediately roll over and it sort of disintegrates in my memory. It also helps to avoid listening to music or the radio right after you get up.

One small point: It's not uncommon to hear people make fun of a situation in which a girlfriend wakes up and says to the boyfriend, "You were a jerk to me in my dream last night." They say "What does she want from me? It's not like I actually did anything wrong!" Having had dreams in which really bad shit happens, I can say that when you wake up, you still feel like shit. You know intellectually that it was just a dream, but you've still been through an emotional wringer. So please, if someone tells you that something bad happened in their dream (regardless of whose fault it was), understand that although it may not have been real, it certainly felt real and they could probably use a hug and a bit of sympathy to help them shake it off.
posted by stefanie at 3:03 PM on February 23, 2009

People often say that they can't read anything in their dreams

Very occasionally I am able to dream lucidly (where I can control what happens). There was a street sign or something that said something clearly, but when I actually looked at it, it turned into a bunch of meaningless symbols.
posted by Lucinda at 3:11 PM on February 23, 2009

Some other comments here reminded me... I am constantly dreaming that my teeth are falling out. This is common among people who grind their teeth in their sleep, I found out.

I have had pet birds my entire life. Since I was a little girl, I have had a recurring dream about whatever pet birds I have at the time: they somehow fly away, and I find a huge flock of birds that looks just like them and I'm torn up inside because I can't figure out which one of them is mine. I keep thinking about how they rely on me for food and it's dangerous for them to be outside because they didn't grow up in the wild. I always think, okay, the one that's mine will fly to me or try to interact with me somehow, but every time I get to the flock a whole bunch of them do those things. I pick one out that I think is mine, but then I worry it's all coincidence, and I'll be leaving mine behind and letting them down.

Because I've had those dreams so many times, as I've gotten older I've paid a neurotic amount of attention to tiny little details about my birds. I know what I can do to make my cockatiel sing certain songs, and I know he has a single white feather that's out of place in a patch of what should be all grey feathers. I know a bunch of things my African Grey will say, and things that he will always respond to. I know the identifying numbers on their leg bands.

So now, when I have the dream, I look for those things, but something goes wrong. None of them have leg bands, so maybe my birds lost theirs. Or a bunch of the flock knows my cockatiel's song, because he sang it to them and they picked it up. Ditto for my African Grey. Sigh.
posted by Nattie at 3:22 PM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: I have a set of maybe ten recurring dream locations [big houses, the place I grew up, places I've visited] and some themes [weird bathrooms, being underwater, tornadoes] and people [a few people from high school and college that I rarely think about otherwise. I can see, touch, hear and smell and less rarely taste. I often have vision/balance issues in my dreams and sometimes they're first person and sometimes they're third person [like I can see myself and I'm not in anyone's head]. I sometimes email my dreams to people. Here's one from a week ago that I sent to my boyfriend.

Dreams often SEEM very significant to the person having them, but once you write them down and read them later when you're fully awake and have moved on, they often seem much less important. This one was like that.

I was at a conference of some sort and C was giving a talk. He had
his notes wrotten down on a piece of paper and they were on the floor
where he was talking and he was asking me if other people could
tell/see the notes from the audience and I said I didn't think so. I
went to sit in the way back of the room. His talk was interesting, he
was sort of describing a magic trick that a woman was doing, she was
in this sort of round thing that you hold on to at the top with your
hands and the bottom with your feet and rolling around and C was
sort of explaining what she was doing ot the audience...

And then we were back at your place, you and me, and you had this long
string of biggish puzzle pieces that were all strung together and I
was washing them in the sink for you and you were talking to J and
at some point I was like "hey these are yours, YOU wash them" and I
went to lie down in your room because I was sleeeeepppppy. You were
telling J about the conference and how you met this woman who did
this really cool magic and how she was a *licensed* magician and how
you told her you'd just learned this new trick and she was all sort of
like "I know" And I was partly sleeping on your bed which was in a
dark warm room up off the floor a bunch and full of pillows so I was
sort of nestled in there and this little daschund jumped up on the bed
and started licking my face and I was trying to move it around so that
I could sleep while it was doing its licking thing and I was half
listening for M to run in and jump on the bed.

And then you came in and nestled in behind me and were snuggling me, there was a
party going on outside and you were saying that there was a woman
there who was a friend of R's who was dying to meet someone and
R had told you that she (this woman) was at the party randomly
yelling "vroom!" which meant, I guess that she wanted to meet people
and R was telling her guy friends to go talk to her. You and I were
cuddling some more and we were then getting up because we had to go to
the hardware store [?] and I had a talk to give and was asking you
when we had to do next. You said something like we had to "varouk the
deek" or something that was nonsense to me and I was asking "what,
what do you mean?" and you were explaining it to me like they were
just normal words of english that for some reason I didn't know and
you were sitting in a chair talking to me and I was rubbing your hair
and at some point we got up to go out.
posted by jessamyn at 3:52 PM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: I love to dream. I don't remember concrete details from my dreams very often, but when I do they usually feel as real as waking life.

The dreams I remember most vividly, sad to say, usually involve some element of terror. For example, my dream from this morning is mostly gone. But one part still stands stark in mind. I dislike heights. A lot. In my dream, I was trying to leave a high ledge via a covered stairwell. The ledge was very, very high up, and I could see to the ground below. I tried to walk to the stairs, but they kept pulling away. It was tunnel vision to the extreme. I could feel a very vivid sense of vertigo. I was slightly panicky, as I knew that I couldn't reach the stairs if I couldn't quell my fear. But with every step, my vision blurred and the stairs drew further back. The physical sensations were unmistakable. I've had other dreams where falling gave me a sense of gravity, of pressure being pushed against my body. Others still left me with the nauseating feel of a fast-falling elevator.

Of course, my dreams aren't always frightening. My most memorable dream was one from long ago in which I lived in some different reality and spent an entire lifetime going through a normal, daily routine. What was unique about this dream was how I felt when I woke up: my sense of time, usually accurate to the minute, was completely thrown. As I woke up and got ready for high school, I felt as if I had lived all those years that I had spent in my dream world. It was a most peculiar sensation. I've never felt that same sense of spent time.

When I dream, I am sometimes able to "continue" a dream upon awakening by simply concentrating on a thread of plot and closing my eyes. Occasionally, I fall back asleep and the dream continues from where it left off. I really like this ability, as my dreams are usually filled with a sense of narrative.

Like np312, I've dreamt in "dream settings" before: when I dream I'm at a shopping mall, I always end up in the same mall. The mall isn't real; at least, it's one I've never been to. I figure that my brain's cobbled together its idea of the perfect mall. The mall really is marvelous: it's huge, with trams and odds-bobs shops crowded along both in the in- and outside. Of course, with the dinosaurs and death battles and parking lot muggings that gone on around it, I'd be wary of visiting it in real life.

Real life intrudes on dreams, as well. Once, I was talking with someone and every so often, they'd make a guttural "KH! KH! KH!" noise in the middle of a sentence. The guttural noises were seamlessly integrated with the normal speech: "Oh, so I was walking down the KH! KH! KH! street and--"

When I woke up, I realized that my alarm clock had fritzed and was KH!-ing at me.
posted by ElectricBlue at 3:59 PM on February 23, 2009

The biggest feature about my dreams is that there's a place but it's nothing like it's true to life counterpart. For instance, in a dream, say I'm in "Prague" and I knew very well in my dream this is "Prague", but when I wake up I realize fully well that it's nothing like Prague. In fact, it my have been in a submarine. That's irrelevant.

Thus, when I share I dream it's always tricky to explain the setting. "OK, I'm in math class - but not really, because for some reason we're on the subway." The math class aspect is really not pertinent to the dream at all, but my brain make it a clear point.

Last night I was on a "train" while my girlfriend chastised me for forgetting the definition of the word "maligned."
posted by yeti at 4:06 PM on February 23, 2009

For me dreams more often than not involve waking up somewhere in my house terrified out of my mind, then going back to bed knowing it's probably going to happen again in another hour. Last night was alright, I only woke up while sitting on the end of the bed, terrified. The worst one was where I woke up standing in front of my closet, with my foot stuck through the wall - wasn't terrified that time, was killing the motherfuckers instead, but, I mean jesus, the wall had a big hole in it.

So, just saying, things could be worse than not dreaming.
posted by The Monkey at 4:17 PM on February 23, 2009

I have very vivid dreams. Have had them all my life. Some are so vivid I've mistaken them for honest memories. It's a little like watching a movie (very little sense information other than sight and sound some touch comes through, but when it does it's ..memorable) and experiencing things (you're DOING them ..or someone else is, but you're also watching it happens).

The movie metaphor works, my dreams have cuts and angles, but it's also like "remembering" something you did. Sound in particular, for me it's like I'm remembering something said rather than actually hearing it.

That feeling of it being a memory with new things happening and being both inside and outside the action gets very strange when you start to lucidly dream. Say the dream is getting scary or worrisome, I'll start questioning the basic assumptions of the dream (Why am I even ON this boat? How did I get here?) and there comes this powerful feeling of unreality and a very strange, sudden "shifting" of the dream reality, usually into a new setting or situation. I figure it's a ploy to keep me from waking up since I usually stop questioning realities that are innocuous, but it's the most *odd* feeling I've ever had, and I've only had it in dreams.
posted by The Whelk at 4:25 PM on February 23, 2009

also, everything is in 3rd person and may or may not include me at all.
posted by The Whelk at 4:26 PM on February 23, 2009

Dreams may be pharmacologically influenced, as well as by what you read or watch. The first year or so that I was taking an antidepressant, and when I was also reading a lot of New Wave SF, I had very coherent dreams (though depressing -- many seemed out of Philip K. Dick, which I was reading). I was also a college student and had time to wake up properly and remember. Now I remember almost nothing of my dreams because I have to wake up at 6:30 and haul ass in order to get to work.

I do, however, dream that I've woken up in the morning, done my usual morning routine (getting dressed, combing my hair, brushing teeth, etc.) and it's a pain to actually wake up and realize that I haven't yet done any of these things.
posted by bad grammar at 4:29 PM on February 23, 2009

Oh! and the biggest feeling of a dream-state is total, utter acceptance. Of COURSE you're staying in a gigantic hotel made of glass in the desert. OF COURSE all the trees just became people. OF COURSE I just walked from my kitchen into Tokyo . You don't think any of the strange events of time-shifting is worth comment at all. You just go with it without thinking. When you start to notice the reality doesn't quite line-up is when the really weird-ass stuff starts.
posted by The Whelk at 4:29 PM on February 23, 2009

Every once in a while, I'll have a dream which will cause me to remember some long forgotten dream I had as a little kid. Usually the events of the dream are different, but the settings is the same. For me, dreams are very spacial, and tied to place memory.

Emotions are important. The actual content of the dream narrative might be surreal or irrational, but they're emotionally realistic and consistent.

Also (and I've never spoken to anyone else who dreams like this) my dreams are completely silent. I never hear background noises. If someone speaks, I don't hear them--I just understand what was said. Anything communicated audibly is taken as read. My waking hearing is just fine.

If you start keeping paper and a pen by your bed, and write down anything (or nothing) you remember every morning, you will almost certainly start remembering some of your dreams. I rarely remember mine these days, but it does go in cycles. I'll go months without remembering a dream, then have vividly recalled dreams every night for weeks. Stress and high emotion in waking life also seems to correlate with a higher probability of vivid dreams.
posted by paulg at 4:44 PM on February 23, 2009

It's interesting to read that others have the recurring "sets" in their dreams. I, too, have a mall that is always the same in my dreams although it is not a place I've ever been. It's where I always end up trying to buy clothes in those dreams where I have nothing to wear. I also have my own personal version of Disney World, and I could draw you a map of it since I see it so often.

I can read and write in my dreams, and often dream that I am typing online. I have a recurring element in my dreams where I am online searching for this awesome forum I used to frequent. (in the dream, that is, it isn't a real forum.) All I can remember is that it was run by a guy named Mike. I also frequently dream that images have been returned to MeFi. No, really, I do.

The only time I have lucid dreams is when they're sexually explicit ones, and I generally wake up having an orgasm. (I am female)
posted by Biblio at 4:55 PM on February 23, 2009

I love my dreams, when I can remember them. The most frustrating part, however, is when dreams seem to stretch on for weeks - that is, not necessarily that I experience the passing of time in the dream, but that I can "remember" things that happened "months ago" in the dream, when in fact they never happened at all.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 5:09 PM on February 23, 2009

Are you overweight? If you are not getting REM sleep, check with your doctor to see if you have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea that prevents deep sleep.

I know you said no drugs, but if you really, really need to dream: Put on a Nicotine Patch before you go to sleep. Start with the lowest dosage. you WILL have crazy lucid memorable dreams. For me, this was the best part of quitting cigarettes and like you I hardly ever dream or remember them.
posted by pineappleclock at 5:15 PM on February 23, 2009

Read (or try to read) Finnegans Wake.

Also, there's something very, very dreamlike about the excellent fantasy novel Little, Big - trying to remember exactly what happens in that book a while after you're read it is like trying to remember a dream. To use a simile from the book, remembering it is like leafing through stills of a film, but you don't have all of them and it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, which is what remembering certain dreams is like for me. It's also a pretty great book.

Though that book in particular is like remembering a dream, trying to remember a dream, (and remember, that's what people are talking about here - looking back on dreams while awake, not real dreaming, which I think is something else), more generally one might say that remembering a dream is like trying to remember a picture book from kindergarten that made a strong impression on you. Stylized images and feelings and occasional hints of plot but not much else.
posted by Rinku at 5:22 PM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It’s funny to hear how many people dream about their teeth falling out. I dream this too, now and then. When I am stressed out, I grit my teeth very hard when I sleep (husband says I don’t grind them, though). Once I dreamt that I was holding a falling elevator up by catching its cable in my teeth; there were screaming people in the elevator, and I was leaning over the elevator shaft and hanging on to them with all my might – with my teeth. Weird.

My dreams often feel real, or closer to real than TV anyway. Sometimes they’re extraordinarily vivid and I have no idea that I’m dreaming, sometimes they’re choppy and hazy. I occasionally catch myself dreaming about doing mundane things like making coffee at work, or walking down my street. I have terrifying dreams, or dreams that seem “safe” but feel very uncomfortable. And other times I have fantastic, thrilling, and apparently momentous dreams that seem far less meaningful when I’m awake. The tone of my dreams can color my waking moments, too, so if I’ve had a night of uneasy dreams I’ll have to work to shake off the feeling the next day.

I have been other people in my dreams, and once in a while I’m even the opposite gender or much, much younger than I am now – but somehow I know I’m me, if that makes any sense. I have a couple of places that pop up again and again in my dreams. One of my least favorite dreams has me on some murky river with slimy, ominous creatures lurking beneath the surface and a dangerous looking thicket surrounding the water. In my head, it’s the Amazon, which is utterly ridiculous. I’m always just floating alone on a flimsy raft or little canoe, no paddles, adrift and worried, miles from civilization with creatures buzzing all around me, watching me in a predatory way.

My absolute best dream ever was this one I had about 12 years ago, when I was still in high school: so, in real life, I had a quirky but nice math teacher who was a serious animal rights advocate. In the dream, I am in his class learning math when suddenly an everyday species of spider appears on the linoleum floor and the girl next to me starts freaking out and trying to kill it with her shoe. My teacher calmly asks her not to harm the bug, and then he coaxes it onto a sheet of looseleaf so he can release it humanely outside. The moment the spider crawls onto the paper, it turns the most brilliant shade of fuchsia and began to shine this incredible, peaceful light around the room. I am watching, rapt, as the spider transforms into a gigantic pink toucan and perches on my teacher’s shoulder. The bird begins to speak in the kindest, most reassuring voice I’ve ever heard. Lucky for me, he’s taking questions, so I ask him, “What is the meaning of life?” and he tells me. His answer fills me with happiness and joy and wonder – like my heart might really burst – and I know that everything now and always will be good and right. I guess this sounds crazy, but the feeling I had in that dream is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life.

When I woke up, I could not remember what the toucan told me about the meaning of life, just how good whatever he said made me feel. It still haunts me – what on earth could he have said? But, as jessamyn mentions above, often dreams seem so loaded with meaning while you’re in them and when you wake up they just seem absurd. So after all, he probably didn’t say anything much at all!
posted by katie at 5:36 PM on February 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Dreaming, for me, is like being Alice in Wonderland. There is a structure to the dreamscape, but it’s not entirely familiar or predictable; and rules, but they are extremely flexible and constantly changing.

Some dreams can be quite pleasant, such as the euphoric dreams I’ve had of being able to soar above the landscape, giddy with a sense of freedom, or the sensual sex dreams that left me throbbing and unsatisfied when I awoke. I felt the pressure of my shadow-lovers’ lips and the heat of their skin vividly, but these were clearly fantasies that were all in my head.

Other dreams are for sorting out disturbing feelings or problems. I frequently dream about tornadoes when I’m on the outs with my father (an allusion to his destructive and threatening nature)—and one that brought me awake shouting and sweating featured me sliding naked down a razor blade, “torn apart” by my conflicting feelings of love and rage towards him.

Still other dreams can be prophetic, but that doesn’t become clear until later. Those dreams just leave me feeling confused when I awake, as they are snapshot glimpses into future situations involving people I haven’t met yet or places I’ve never been. I used to dismiss them as ridiculous nonsense, but give them more attention now. I also wonder: are they a warning that I’m on the wrong path, or a validation that I’m where I’m supposed to be?

One of the most noteworthy aspects of my dreams is the element of omniscience. I can be just myself in dreams (experiencing things firsthand) or I can be myself plus other people and/or even an impartial observer simultaneously. There’s a difference in tone to the dreams where I’m aware I’m dreaming and the ones where I’m not. In some, I merely notice what’s happening without judgment or emotion—even when it’s horrifying—while in others, I either wake up crying from the intensity of my feelings or the superficial imagery is so frightening and disturbing that it takes me days to revisit and analyze them symbolically. And then, they often seem funny.

Sometimes, external stimuli also plays a role. An extremely full bladder has led to several dreams of peeing with no relief (a hint from the brain that I need to get up), and ringing phones or alarm clocks have blended into the action so seamlessly that it takes real effort to resurface and come back to consciousness enough to recognize them as something “real.” Moving to a new home can be especially disorienting, as the “familiar” sounds of your upstairs neighbors jar you awake when you remember you no longer have anyone living above you, and a nudge by your dog on your leg can be heart-stopping when you remember it died last year. When I was 10, a roach chewing on my toe (I kid you not), generated a dream of someone pinching the heck out of my foot—until, that is, it bit me hard enough to wake me up and fling it off, screaming.
posted by Sal Monella at 6:31 PM on February 23, 2009

I dream a lot, though less so lately. I could go on about this for hours, but I'll try to limit my answer to a few things.

Sometimes I have random snippets of dreams where I'm doing something or other, generally at work or in class, but most often I have big epic dreams that feel like they last forever. There are complicated plot twists, huge casts of characters, sometimes they build on each other over several nights, and they almost never have absurdist components that leave me going "What just happened here?"

A lot of the time I'm not in my dreams. At the beginning of one the point of view sometimes flickers between me and a random character, but often I settle into a first-person story that's generally very action-based. Explosions, chases, mysteries, etc. Sometimes I'm still myself in my dreams, though they're always first-person; I never watch myself in my dreams (but that's how I remember them, which is slightly odd). Occasionally I dream I'm somebody I know, generally my boyfriend or one or two friends. Those are more than a little weird. I dream a lot about post-apocalyptic Mad Max-esque worlds, though occasionally I have dreams from other "genres" and sometimes it's just like the real world (enough that I can't remember if some of my older memories were dreams or actually happened).

Most of the time I can pinpoint to one aspect of a dream that I took from something immediately before I went to bed. For example, this mefi post gave me one of the worst nightmares I've had in awhile and I was reading it right up until I headed to bed. (I usually have an intense dream when I'm writing or doing something creative right before I go to bed.)

The one unifying factor of all my dreams is how intensely emotional they are. I can never appropriately tell one of my dreams to somebody else because I can't really explain the depth of emotion in the few minutes before they get bored. I can't tell anybody what it was like to be caught in a run-down bathroom with your dream-friends while a teenage gang tries to bang down the door so they can kill you all because I can't capture that terror in a conversation, and I can't tell anybody about the sci fi-type dream I had and the utter despair I felt as I watched the last spaceship out of the galaxy took off to go home and knowing that it was all my fault because of some mistake I'd made earlier in the dream. I've tried to write some down in hopes that that will do them justice, but by that point the emotion's dulled and I can't quite get it. It's so frustrating, especially as a writer, to have big things in your head and not be able to share it with anyone.

For me, dreams themselves are a lot like watching TV. I only see and hear things, and "scene cuts" are a lot like in movies. The full experience of a dream, though, is a lot like writing for me, especially the ones that I'm not in. The closest I can describe it is when you're writing a piece of fiction and you get so swept up in it you lose awareness of everything else and just focus on writing the scene and getting the words down on paper, and then when you lose your concentration (sometimes at the end of the piece, sometimes you just get jolted out in the middle) you kind of look up and have to clear the fog out of your brain before you can really function again. It's not like you were really thinking during that experience or aware of anything around you, but you were very focused on a specific task and felt all the emotion and action and whatever you wrote as if you were really there. I don't know if this is lucid dreaming or not, but my best dreams have a bit of double consciousness in them -- the me inside the dream and the me watching it. The me watching it has some semblance of control and can direct things a little bit without disturbing the bigger dream, like what should happen next or how someone should react or edit earlier parts of the dream to fit with later parts. It's not exactly like this, and I'm exaggerating a little bit to get at certain elements, but that's kind of what it's like for me.
posted by lilac girl at 6:34 PM on February 23, 2009

Holy cow, I thought I was the only one who did that.

In my case, the dream landscape was a mixture of real and imaginary places, but with a very specific, fixed topology that I still remember in some detail. (The big swamp was always right next to my childhood home, in which if you climbed too many stairs you'd wind up in the puzzle house, where various different traps led to particular rooms in my high school building, from which you could go upstream to the big tower / construction site, which if you climbed too high would always turn into either a dream about flying or a nightmare about falling, depending on which girders you used. And so on.)

For most of my teenage years, and well into my twenties, the vast majority of my dreams (at least the ones I can remember) took place in one or more locations within that landscape -- it was a really odd mixture of lucid dreaming (because I was generally aware of where the connections between the different settings were, and therefore had some control over the way the dreams would go) and not being aware that it was a dream (I didn't have complete control, couldn't tell myself "it's just a dream," and if I was going to have a nightmare I wouldn't be able to escape it: I'd end up in the underwater part of the swamp, which was not a happy place, or do some of the puzzle house traps incorrectly, or fall from the tower, wherever I was something could go wrong.)

At some point I stopped dreaming those locations; the whole landscape evaporated and I haven't been able to get back there since. I remember my dreams a lot less frequently than I did then, and the ones I do remember seem much more prosaic. I miss it.

Aside from that: I don't understand the "you can't read text in dreams" people: I've had several dreams which I was reading, out of a book. In the dream I would occasionally be interrupted, get up, go get a snack, whatever, then sit down and continue reading the dream. I've had other "second-hand" dreams of this type, which took place as dreamed movies in theaters (I see others here have had that experience too), video games, and dreamed dreams (but without the awareness that the container dream was itself a dream.) Like some others here I occasionally have dreams in which I, the viewer, am looking at I, the actor, from some other third-hand perspective. (There a lot of "I thought I was the only one!" moments in this thread for me.) I also have specific memories of dreamed colors, smells, physical sensations, and flavors, all of which I've heard people say never happen in dreams.

But to circle back to the original question: dreams don't feel like reality, but they do feel real.
posted by ook at 6:42 PM on February 23, 2009

Not going to lie, I didn't read past the first few posts, but figured I'd give my two cents.

For me, dreams are very real.. right until I wake up. Then, in hindsight, they're obviously ludicrous. Also, I've had dreams where I've thought they were real even a minute after I've woken up, then they deflate (I wish those "I won the lottery!" dreams were real :x)

Anyway, this post reminded me of another ask post where, apparently, certain vitamins can give you vivid dreams. Might be worth a shot since others have mentioned that everyone dreams.
posted by carpyful at 8:38 PM on February 23, 2009

This is an awesome thread.

I don't know things in dreams that I do know, and know very well, in real life. Like the function of a doorknob or my dog's name. I wake up and think, "Duh. Of course that was a radish. Why the hell didn't I know that?"

I usually dream about really stupid, mundane things -- buying junk food at the grocery store, for instance.

I can force myself to wake up out of nightmares, so on some level I must realize that it's just a dream, though I am generally completely convinced my dreams are real while I'm having them.

People and places can look completely different than they look in real life, yet I'll easily know it's them.

When I was a teenager/young adult, I never dreamed about people I knew. Everyone I met in my dream world was completely imaginary with no real-world counterpart. This has changed, and now my dreams usually include at least my husband.

I hardly ever remember dreams five minutes after waking up, though I've had a few over the years that were so vivid that they are still with me. Like the one I had when I was 25, where I had these scary-looking black worms growing out of my legs all over like leg hair, with price tags on the ends of them. Or the one I had when I was a little kid, where my bedroom had a bathroom off of it (it didn't in real life), and there was chicken noodle-o soup in the toilet, and another door from that bathroom led to a basement where an ice-skating exhibition was going on.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:51 PM on February 23, 2009

Oh yeah: I also had REALLY vivid, crazy dreams during the few months I took Prozac back in 1996. That was fun. If it weren't for all the other side-effects from the drug it would have been hard giving up those awesome dreams.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:56 PM on February 23, 2009

You can try to induce dreams by playing Tetris. One researcher (not sure if his research has held up over the past 10 years) was able to create an identical dream in two-thirds of his study subjects by having them play 3 hours of Tetris each day for 3 days. Definitely worth a try...
posted by msbrauer at 5:11 AM on February 24, 2009

Best answer: Incidentally, I had a dream about MetaFilter last night. No lie. I was on my parents' back porch and there was a meetup being held, except the MeTa threads were lemon slices I was arranging on my back porch, and then some guy in a long blond beard and a shirt with the MeFi logo and the state of North Carolina on it came by and was like "hey, is this the meetup? I'm (some username)" and I said, "oh hey, I'm, uh, Metroid Baby, and I'm not sure if you know me but there's some beer in the house." Then my dad came out all "hey what's going on here?" and I said "oh, I've got some friends over" and he said "oh, ok" and went back inside.

So a bunch of you guys were on my porch drinking beer with me, and it was raining, and I had a broken leg and was wearing a cast, and then someone made this really foul remark about rape, and I hobbled over to that person and yelled "That's the worst thing I've ever heard, it's so bad that I'm walking over here on my BROKEN LEG just to tell you FUCK YOU and I'm flagging you" and then they yelled back at me and then we all drove to a bar.

I blame this thread.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:37 AM on February 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

When I'm sleeping restlessly (usually because I'm sick), or wake up during the night, I have a difficult time separating dreams from real life

Once I dreamt I woke up, went downstairs, and my house had turned into a donut shop. Delightful! Then I woke up, went downstairs, and was momentairly very disapoitned.

Sometimes I can't remember if something banal that happened to me was a dream or not. I have a strong memory of skiing and experincing very clear deja vu. However, my mind also seems to doubt that this happened and think it was maybe a dream.

Very, very often I'll dream that I'm looking for something. I'm a light sleeper and will wake, suddenly very concerned that I must find something. It's bizarre - I'm not sure if I should call it sleepwalking, but I am awake and dreaming at the same time. My mind is very addled and fixed on something. In dreams you are almost always very certain of things. "Now we need to fly the plane so it doesn't wreck the cake!" you don't question this, you just know. It's like that: I need to (this part is never clear.) I get this same feeling but I am totally aware of walking around, talking, etc.

I'll have conversations with roommates, and become very agitated or concerned that what is so clear to me makes no sense to them. Eventually I'll become so confused that I decide to go back to sleep. The next morning I wake up, instantly remember what I did the night before but with the mental clarity to realize that I was still sort of dreaming.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:14 AM on February 24, 2009

I used to dream a LOT more when I was younger (8-20). But still do occasionally now - say once a week, maybe. My dreams tend to be experiential; I'm travelling somewhere, stressing out over a test or presentation, etc. And a good portion of these are, what I've heard called, "anxiety dreams"; being chased, unable to communicate something, stress over test.

These experiences are much like life. I see people and things how I normally do; no special vision. I hear things normally, and so on.

And, what The Whelk said. My dreams tend to meander very widely. Like, I start out walking to my high school for class (yes, I'm in my 40's, but of course I have that geometry class to get to), and then meet Teddy Roosevelt who tells me we've got to deliver the ice cream to the Washington monument. So we get in his zeppelin, and go. But then we have to set down because of all the monkeys who keep jumping on the tennis court he has on the roof. And so on... Unless it's a lucid dream. Which I very rarely have.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:02 AM on February 24, 2009

I have always had extremely wild, vivid dreams for as long as I can remember, and unlike most people I don't forget them moments after waking. I tell my family about my dreams at dinnertime and they're always amazed at how detailed my recollections are. There are dreams I had years ago that I still remember as clearly as if they were real events.

I've noticed that I've gone through several dream "phases" throughout my life so far.

As a child, recurring dreams were quite usual. I often visited the same places over and over again, and sometimes the same events would replay as if I was watching a tape. Other than that, they were very random with little logic or plot. Whenever I ran a fever, I wouldn't dream visually but emotionally - an overwhelming feeling of endless despair, hopelessness, and sorrow... as if some terrible catastrophe had befallen the world by my fault, and I had failed everyone that I had ever loved.

As a teenager, I began having terrifying nightmares that stopped when I moved out of my basement bedroom. They would start out as normal dreams, and then I'd see or experience certain things that would signal to me that the dream was about to go bad: I'd see mirrors, or see windows with the shades open at night and nothing but pitch dark beyond them, or I would try to flick on a lightswitch but the light wouldn't go on. If any of these things happened, I'd soon sense the presence of pure evil close by.

The last time I had one of these dreams, it was one nightmare within another. In the nightmare, I woke up from a nightmare and tried to turn on a light to comfort myself. The switch refused to work. Then I woke up for real, and went to turn on my bedside lamp - it refused to turn on. By now I was about to lose my marbles, but at least I was certain of being awake for real. I took a few deep breaths before working up the courage to jump out of bed and run to the lightswitch on the wall and... nothing. In full-fledged panic, I ran to the other side of the room that was further away from the door and hit the second lightswitch... again, nothing. I bolted for the door and turned on every single light in the basement. As soon as I caught my breath, I ran upstairs and told my mom that I'd had a horrible dream and could not sleep in that room ever again. My mom must have seen the sheer terror in my eyes because she didn't ask a single question - very out of character for my nosy, nagging mother. She just went about pulling out a spare mattress and sheets. I slept in the living room for a month while she helped me move all my things into the guestroom.

Now in my twenties, I often dream about the most beautiful places I've ever seen... I never visit the same place twice, and I wake up with grief that I'll never see such beauty again. The places are vastly different from one another, and even the time of day changes. They've ranged from rivers and creeks deep in a dark old forest, to a winding cliffside road high above the ocean on a sparkling sunny day, to a crystal clear night in a northern city, and so on. It's difficult to describe just how perfectly and purely beautiful these places are. When I'm in the midst of such a dream I never want to wake up. That though does scare me a little.

The most recent dream to have a big impact on me was about one of my professors. I thought he was cute and we had a certain chemistry together, but I never had any significant feelings for him. Then one night I dreamt that we were in bed together (not naked, not sexual). My face was buried in his neck, and he had his arms around me squeezing me tightly. I felt so happy and safe. I woke up head over heels in love with him, which was VERY BAD considering I was already in a serious long-distance relationship. Finally, I dreamed of my professor again, and we were hugging each other goodbye. I could feel his shoulder against my cheek, his arms around me, his bodyheat radiating through his shirt. It was so real. A few days later I was to fly halfway around the world to visit my boyfriend, and my feelings for both my boyfriend and my professor were completely mixed up. I seriously considered ending a very good relationship because of this dream. Thankfully after seeing my boyfriend, all these crazy feelings sorted themselves out and the crush on my professor is no longer.

Sorry about how long this is, but I am very passionate about dreaming. Thanks for posting this fantastic topic, and please do contact me if you want to know more!
posted by keep it under cover at 5:15 PM on February 24, 2009

First, since you are an aspiring writer I'd highly recommend "Book of Dreams and Dream Interpretations" by Douglas Hensley. Interesting reading that I could often relate to. It's also an excellent companion when watching Tony's dream sequences in "The Sopranos."

Some of the most detailed, disturbing, and vivid dreams I've had involve losing my front teeth. I am absolutely convinced it's not a dream when it's happening. Often, I can wiggle them and then with a more forceful tug they come out. I can stick my tongue in the gap and feel everything. I can see blood but usually I don't taste it. Pretty gross. When I wake up I have to press my fingers against them to remind me they are healthy and solidly in my head where I left them.

Flying is always a gas! I usually fly head first Superman style but with my arms at my side. The air is breezy, not hurricane force, and I usually don't have anything more important to do than just enjoy the ride. I used to fly T-38s in the Air Force so sometimes I dream about being in the cockpit. If that's the case, something usually goes wrong like I forget to strap in, I bank left or right and spill out of the cockpit (and apparently I forgot to close the canopy which makes no sense but dreams don't have to). Then I spend the rest of the time hanging on and struggling to get back in.

Running. Usually, it feels like I have feet made of lead and I'm running in molasses. There's the dreaded, intense feeling that I CAN'T. GET. AWAYYY! from whatever I'm running from.

Sexual Dreams. Always fun and sometimes strange like I'm face to face with my lover but I can't see her face.

Controllability. Rarely can I realize I'm dreaming and take control of my dream without waking up. If I can remain dreaming they become some of the most enjoyable I've had. I can sometimes willfully ignore the fact I'm dreaming and take control.

Usually they're just ridiculous. I recently dreamed I was eating a bag of partially melted chocolate covered peanuts. The sensation was like having a mix of tar and glue in my mouth and it made me laugh. I asked my wife in the morning if I was laughing in my sleep because it totally felt like it.

Also, I seem to have a sense of "super knowledge" when dreaming. I "know" when something is about to happen and can usually anticipate it.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 5:21 PM on February 24, 2009

Most of my dreams are the alternate reality kind, where it's about things that happened in waking life except one thing was different - I said yes instead of no, someone from another context turned up there, or I'm in a relationship with a friend, etc. Occasionally it's similar but about scenarios for something I know is coming up in the future - a meeting, a date, a deadline. Often when I wake up, I'm trying to get back into my dream to find out how it ends, after seeing the chain of consequences unfold but not quite to the end and wanting to see what might have been.

Because of the similarity to my waking life, I sometimes find it really hard to separate events or conversations in dreams from those in memory, and this is most often an issue in feeling like I know someone much better than I really do, because they turned up in a dream and we talked.

(I have some of the batshitinsane I-walk-into-my-bedroom-and-suddenly-I'm-in-the-sea kind other people have described.)

The kind I find most intriguing are the ones I have when I choke in my sleep (every week or three). In my dream, I'll be talking to someone, often in a pine kitchen I don't recognise, and I start coughing and can't stop and can't breathe. Like my very own cheesy sci-fi film, I wake up after hearing myself say, "I have to go outside."
posted by carbide at 6:09 AM on February 25, 2009

Another ridiculous dream last night.

Woodchucks. Lots of 'em streaming out of a hole under a stump in the woods. My friends and I (for some reason) had to grab the little vermin by the scruff and throw them back into the hole from whence they came. And we had to avoid their gigantic teeth (again with the teeth!). Seriously, they looked like saber-toothed woodchucks with incisors the size of and shaped like big wood chisels. They could chew through a tree with cartoonish speed. Sometimes when I'd grab one by the scruff he'd open his mouth and display his choppers like a rattlesnake with fangs out.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 6:59 AM on February 25, 2009

The Alice in Wonderland description is the closest to my experience. The setting or the people will change suddenly and without reason and even while I'm still dreaming I will think WTF? I have on several occasions experienced dreams so terrifying that I have made myself wake up on purpose. A couple of times when this happened, I was finally able to go back to sleep by deliberately going into a dream-like state (is this lucid dreaming?) and solving whatever it was that scared me...slaying the monster or saving the baby.
posted by tamitang at 8:23 PM on February 25, 2009

I was having a dream two nights ago, where I was trying to wash my hair in the bathroom of a friend's house, but he was remodeling, so the light wasn't working, and I couldn't see what I was doing.

The faucet wasn't working, so I used water from the toilet cistern (!), which I suddenly discovered had sand in it, which I had shoveled into my hair.

So, I hunted around and found the shower hose, without realizing the shower head was missing. So, I aimed it at my head, and turned it on, just as my friend stepped into the bathroom, and said, "You should really turn the light on", at the exact moment I ended up spraying my face with a high-speed jet of water from the headless hose.

It made me laugh so much in my dream that it woke me, but the situation was so hilarious, I couldn't stop laughing once I was awake, for about five minutes. My wife thought I'd gone bananas, and trying to explain only made me laugh more.

Each time I drifted off to sleep, the dream state almost restarted, and kept making me laugh myself awake.

Absolutely bizarre.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 11:55 PM on February 26, 2009

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