I am dreaming oddly
November 18, 2010 3:46 PM   Subscribe

As I have gotten older my dreams have gotten less vivid and meaningful. In addition, I don't feel part of them, like they aren't exactly happening to me. Instead I'm watching events as they happen to me, while still retaining some control. The best analogy is like how in many modern video games, there is a scripted plot sequence where your actions are limited but you can still look around at will. Can anyone identify with or explain these phenomena?

I hardly ever play video games BTW.
posted by blargerz to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This has always been my experience with dreams. They're rarely vivid, and never (literally not once ever) have I found one "meaningful", and it's not like I'm part of them, it's like I'm watching a movie where I maybe am one of the characters, but I'm still observing what's happening, not involved in it. I've always found dreaming rather unpleasant actually -- I don't remember dreaming very often, but when I do it always just seems like it got in the way of my sleeping, even if the dream itself was happy/about good things or whatever.

I don't know why yours have changed to become that way, but I can certainly identify with it.
posted by brainmouse at 3:50 PM on November 18, 2010

How old are you? How old were you when your dreams were more vivid? Are you dreaming as often as you used to? I've found that my dreams become more vivid the more I dream, and I dream more when I put more focus on remembering my dreams.
posted by rhapsodie at 4:11 PM on November 18, 2010

26 now. This started 3 years ago.
posted by blargerz at 4:14 PM on November 18, 2010

Eat vegemite. The dreams I have after a spoonful of vegemite before bed are almost always more wild than those without.
posted by jjderooy at 4:15 PM on November 18, 2010

Have you started or stopped any meds around the time you started noticing this effect? Some meds can cause changes in your dreams.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:16 PM on November 18, 2010

I can't explain it, but I can identify somewhat. I'm very interested in reading some explanations. Dreaming was once a huge part of my life, and I used to keep "dream diaries" that I wrote in every morning. I can still remember dreams I had as a small child, mostly the frightening ones. Many of my dreams are very emotional and meaningful. I've even fallen in love with people I know in real life via my dreams, people I never would have thought about being with if it wasn't for those dreams. Not long ago, I dreamed about an old friend who I lost touch with. I woke up feeling sick with grief. It was days before I felt normal again.

For me, the most vivid dreams I've ever had came when I was deeply depressed. In those dreams, I traveled to hauntingly beautiful places, the most achingly incredible sights I have ever seen. I used to wake up and cry because I knew I could never visit these places again. They were gone forever. As things got better, my dreams seemed to fade away. Most days now, I only remember dreaming about mundane things, or I don't remember anything at all. I miss having those awesome dreams, but I take my new, calmer dreaming tendencies as a good sign.
posted by keep it under cover at 4:18 PM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

I have the same experience as you. Has your sleeping changed as you've gotten older? When I was younger, I never got good, deep sleep and my dreams were always vivid. I also lucid dreamt all the time. As I get older, I find my sleep is deeper and more restful and my vivid dreams have tapered off. If I take naps during the day (which is rare), I can still enjoy my lucid/vivid dreams.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:41 PM on November 18, 2010

I thought that my dreams were getting less vivid until I moved one year ago.

A heavy freight train goes by my new house at 4 am on Mondays. When the house starts shaking, I wake up in the midst of a vivid dream.

Maybe your vivid dreams have shifted to an earlier sleep cycle?
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:47 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Forgive me, but do you smoke pot? That's what my dreams were like when I was toking, and they've come back full force since I quit.
posted by sunshinesky at 4:50 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

On occasion, I take melatonin to help me sleep, and I tend to have very vivid dreams -- which I personally do not care for, thus limiting my use of melatonin. I see I am not the only person with such experiences. (Though I have never take anywhere near 50mg at a time!)
posted by dhens at 5:12 PM on November 18, 2010

My dreams also became less vivid as I entered my mid-20s (and I quit having sleep paralysis and its accompanying hallucinations completely). In the past couple of years, though, I've started having very vivid, very meaningful (to me) dreams, which coincide with periods of great stress and upheaval in my life. It think it makes sense that your dreams could level off in your 20s after sort of 'coming down' from the emotional changes and stresses of being a teenager/young adult -- even if you weren't unhappy at that time, there's still a lot of personal growth/change going on for your subconscious to deal with.
posted by frobozz at 5:16 PM on November 18, 2010

FWIW I think my dreams are substantially less vivid if I have a drink in the evening, even one.
posted by ghharr at 5:19 PM on November 18, 2010

I'm your age. My dreams have actually become much more vivid in the past year-plus, during which time I've been tweeting a synopsis of the interesting parts of good ones (or bad ones worth sharing) every morning they occur, kind of like haiku storytelling. I don't know whether there's any cause-effect relationship there or not, but my dreams have definitely been much more interesting overall for at least that long. It could be that the act of writing down the dreams and reading back through them later creates some sort of positive feedback loop, but if that's the case, it doesn't always work—there are still times when I'll go for a good week or more without having (or maybe just without remembering) any interesting, in-depth dreams.

Stress seems to have a variable effect—sometimes it seems to lead to more interesting/dramatic dreams, and other times it seems to deaden interesting dream occurrence and/or recall. My workplace has regular monthly and bimonthly deadlines, so there's a cycle of stress associated with what I do, and that may well have some effect on my dreams, too. And worries about work and/or family often produce some pretty visceral nightmares for me.

Another data point: My S.O. gets up before I do about five out of every seven days, with "weekends" offset from mine, usually midway through the standard work week. So I'm frequently awakened briefly a couple of hours before my alarm goes off, which may well contribute to awesome dreamtime—there may be something about that particular pattern of being awakened that foments REM sleep. If that's true, my recommendation to you would be to get a significant other who consistently gets up for the early shift...or in some other way disrupt your sleep briefly a couple of hours before your usual wake time, so as to "catch" yourself mid-dream.

And then, many times when I get to solidly sleep in on the weekends, I'll have incredibly long, detailed dream sessions. So there's that...
posted by limeonaire at 6:50 PM on November 18, 2010

In response to the less vivid and meaningful part, it's probably related to the same reason why children have mush better imaginations than adults. Children don't naturally restrict their thoughts based on rules, regulations and laws of physics, and this impacts their daily thoughts and their dreams.

As a kid, I remember once dreaming about being in a sweet house where the inside walls were made out of Neapolitan ice cream. I had an ice cream scoop in my hand and I was standing on a conveyor belt that went through the entire house and I was close enough to the walls that I could reach out and scoop some ice cream. This dream was back in the days when I used to entertain myself by imagining stories of dragons, unicorns and princesses, on an almost daily basis.

Now a days (I'm 25) my day-to-day thoughts are typically about work, love and daily interactions. As a result, those are usually the things I tend to dream about. On occasion, I'll watch a super hero movie and then dream that I can fly that night, but I definitely don't dream about flying as often as I did as a kid.
posted by nikkorizz at 7:10 PM on November 18, 2010

nikkorizz has a point—another contributor to my dreams has probably been reading before bed, especially works by imaginative writers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, et al.... It occurs to me that many of the most interesting dreams I've had have come after reading back issues of the sci-fi mag Analog. And then there was that stretch this past summer when I was watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, during which time I had many, many terminator nightmares... So yeah, consuming more varied and imagination-spurring works would probably help you, too!
posted by limeonaire at 7:37 PM on November 18, 2010

In addition to all of the above have you changed your sleep patterns, partner(s) or started taking any medications in the last three years? Side Effexor killed my dreams - for me it was the hardest side effect to deal with.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:21 PM on November 18, 2010

Do you play many videogames where your actions are limited but you can still look around at will?
posted by 3mendo at 9:25 PM on November 18, 2010

3mendo: the answer is, "I hardly ever play video games BTW."

blargerz, research is putting the brain's maturity point in the mid-twenties [link] which may be related, e.g. your brain isn't bursting with growing energy anymore so your dreams take on a different aspect.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 9:45 PM on November 18, 2010

that should be *i.e.*, not *e.g.* (stupid mature brain!)
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:01 PM on November 18, 2010

I find that the dreams I have when I wake up in the morning and then go back to sleep are WAY more vivid than those I have in the middle of the night. This is especially the case if I change my sleep cycle (going to bed earlier, getting up earlier the day before) or wake and then snooze repeatedly. Maybe your cycle has changed without you realising it?
posted by Solomon at 1:11 AM on November 19, 2010

dreams are your brain's way of processing the information you take in during the day, tumbling all the sensory data around and seeing what's useful or new or interesting and disposing of that which is irrelevant or boring or repetitive (think of it as clearing the hard drive so there's more room for new stuff)...could it be that you're in a bit of a rut? a couple of people here have noted that their dreams are more vivid when they're stressed out, or recently moved, or have been reading before bed. part of getting older is having 'been there and done that' being a larger part of your day-to-day life experience. try taking a class, pick up a new hobby, take a vacation somewhere exotic, visit the art museum and etc...
posted by sexyrobot at 1:27 AM on November 19, 2010

My experience mirror's sexyrobot's comment. My dreams are non existent or at least blah when I am in a rut, or full-on depressed. When I am feeling good, my dreams are vivid, trippy and cathartic. I don't know which causes which. But I'd like to believe that better dreams lead to more daytime happiness.
posted by gjc at 7:59 AM on November 19, 2010

jjderooy is on to something. "Eat Vegemite" sounds crazy, but it's made from yeast and is loaded with B vitamins.

My dreams always come back in technicolor when I take B6 (pyridoxine). The fact that you notice a difference as you get older points even more to a nutritional cause.

A good B supplement, or nutritional yeast, should do the trick. Give it a try: you have nothing to lose.
posted by rhombus at 8:52 AM on November 23, 2010

Same thing happening here! I'm 22 and used to have way more vivid dreams as well as way more dreams period.
However, I know that the problem is my life is very much work, sleep, and tooling around online. I find that when I read almost any book / graphic novel, or watch any movie, I'll have a dream that is somehow oriented toward that thing in even the most mild way. So I'd say definitely keep your media input flow open. And don't just rely on the web! In fact, I'd almost insist you watch any movies on a TV if possible. I swear my imagination quota just about died for a few months when my only input was the computer - whether I surfed the web or watched weird YouTube videos or read a book on my PC.

Also, if you have or used to have any sort of hobby, like drawing, writing poetry, even knitting or just rolling a coin between your knuckles, make sure to do it. For some reason, the more input your brain gets (at least in my experience) the more likely it is to come up with it's own stuff.
posted by DisreputableDog at 2:28 AM on November 29, 2010

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