I'm always dreaming, even when I'm awake; it is never finished.
July 25, 2012 9:52 AM   Subscribe

So, this might not even be a problem; I’m not sure, but I dream too much.

I dream a lot. It’s pretty neat in one way, I have a whole mental dream map where all the different dream spaces are connected. I’ve got to draw it out sometime.

But I’m starting to wonder if the fact that I have many memorable dreams every night is a problem worth addressing. The thing that makes it seem “too much” isn’t the simple quantity, but the fact that they often amount to more interesting fodder for reflection than my daily life — they dominate too much of my daytime thoughts. It’s very literally as though I were awake and very busy for a few hours. I would say I think about my dreams, trying to piece them together, or just feeling revisited by them, as much as 20% of the time I’m thinking or reflecting altogether. The impressions are so vivid.

I’m on Prozac, and that seems to be some kind of a factor. But even without it, I dreamed a LOT. Prozac makes them a little more realistic, a little more lively, perhaps. I’m actually stepping that medication down, though, so that effect might be sunsetting soon. I take Lamictal now also, but there’s no info about its effect on dreaming that I’ve seen so far.

Sometimes, I sleep a lot. Maybe this is related to the anxiety/depression/bipolar II, but really it seems to follow my regular monthly hormonal cycle more than anything. I get fatigue in PMS, I take a nap or conk out early. I get a solid 8 hours most of the time, sometimes with a bonus nap or an hour or two of weekend lollygagging.

But again, I reiterate: the lotsa dreaming is only related to sleep time in a 1:1 ratio. It’s always been this way, whether I’m generous with sleep, regimented, or light. As long as I wake up with an adequate number of hours slept, I feel well-rested and I do not feel like I sleep poorly, though I’m somewhat a light sleeper.

Also, my dreams are SUPER normal. Like, barely subconscious at all. Predictable and semi-lucid. I’ve had spates of unpleasant dreams in the past — a phase where I was doing violence to people I love stands out — but for the most part it’s the kind of dream everyone has, just very bright, sometimes funny or action-filled.

I have mentioned it to friends, and one said “just get a dream journal,” and I said I DON’T HAVE THAT MUCH FREE TIME. Honestly, I’d love to have a massively cross-indexed journal, but that seems like a big undertaking! It would be 1000 words a day, minimum.

I’m looking for insights into coping with this. Is it something I should take to my psychiatrist, a therapist, or just be happy about? Is there a self-applied therapy, or a way to tamp them down, a la lucid dreaming techniques? Is there a way to sleep more darkly? Should I just go be a poet already? :P

Bonus points for recognizing the post title.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How well do you sleep? I realized at one point that despite getting 8 hours I was always tired, and when I talked to my doctor he said my vivid, memorable dreams in part showed that I was not getting deep, restful sleep -- only surface, light sleep. I started taking melatonin to help me sleep more restfully and it made a difference in the quality of sleep I got so I had much more energy during the day.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:57 AM on July 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have vivid dreams too. It's your brain working out your problems and solving life's riddles.

I find that if I go to bed with a riddle (like an Excel formula that I need) I'll wake up with an answer.

Prozac and other drugs can cause this, or change your dream pattern.

There's not a lot you can do about it. If you feel refreshed when you waken I wouldn't worry too much.

I think I recently read somewhere (perhaps on the blue) that vivid dreams means less of a chance of Altzheimer's. So there's that.

Oh, and for your title, if you google it BOY you sure do get a lot of slash fan fic.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:01 AM on July 25, 2012

Same thing here as DoubleLune. I've found that a whole melatonin pill (35mg?) is too much, but cutting it into fourths was just right for me.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:05 AM on July 25, 2012

It sounds like you're not planning to do it, but I'd recommend against a dream journal. When I kept one, it made my dreams even more vivid. Just thinking about my dreams during the waking day also made them more vivid. So when a dream memory invades waking life, you might try not engaging with it and just let it float by, which might make them calm down a bit.
posted by ceiba at 10:06 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

To springboard of DoubleLune's answer - dreaming itself, or at least the REM state of sleep, is necessary to help our brains process information. In fact, the REM state is so important that if you are going through a period where you're getting less sleep than you usually do, after a couple days your body will adjust to try to put you into a REM state more frequently to "make up the difference", sort of (i.e., if you usually try to get into REM state once an hour when you sleep 8 hours, if you suddenly started only sleeping 6 hours your body may after a few days try putting you into REM state ever 45 minutes). I often don't remember my dreams, and I know that when I've been going through a period of sleep deprivation my thinking gets a little "fuzzy" - but then when I start getting more sleep again, I go through a week of having these super-intense dreams, which I'm assuming is my brain switching back to "oh, now we have more chances to get back into REM again," and then it tapers off and my thinking clears up. So REM is indeed important.

But what DoubleLune says is also important, that REM state is only one state of the sleep cycle, and missing out on any one of those states isn't great. So if you're dreaming a lot but you're also feeling tired all the time, that may be a sign that you're deprived of one of the other sleep states. If you just dream a lot but you're otherwise okay, then...that's just the way you're wired.

I am not a doctor, this is not medical advice.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:11 AM on July 25, 2012

This is very similar to my sleep history, without meds, and my history has been true since I have been a child (when I read *The Last Unicorn*--my copy had a detail from the unicorn tapestries on the cover).

I also have a few issues you don't mention, which is poor sleep initiation and maintenance and bouts with significant insomnia. But when I sleep, I always dream, and I always dream vividly, like you describe, and I spend part of my day thinking about what I dreamt about over the week.

I don't keep a dream journal. For awhile, when I was a child/teenager/very young adult I would regularly tell people about my dreams or incorporate what I had dreamt about into my regular life (in my play, in a story for school, as an idea for a term paper) and think nothing of it. But then I got this idea sometime in college that it was annoying social behavior to tell people about your dreams and stopped. Around the same time, I was also in therapy with a psychologist who put some stock into the material of dreams and encouraged me to talk about it, but because of this idea I acquired that dreams were boring and meaningless and just sort of brain discharges, I also stopped talking to her about them. This change in attitude is also a point where I can identify having a lot more nightmares, and for some reason (rightly or wrongly) I connect the attitude with the change. Possibly because that same psychologist told me that nightmares are your brain's way of telling you to pay attention to something.

Later, I started talking about them, at least to my partner, because he's cool like that. I also have interconnected "landscapes" in my dreams, recurring characters (people/animals my brain made, not people I know), recurring themes and images. Though I don't keep a journal, around 10 years ago I started, as I fell asleep, thinking about some problem I want to solve (big ones--like what to name my kid, and small ones--like how to organize the pantry). I do this most every night, and combined with how I think about my dreams during the day, it feels like a nice angle to get at problems. I am sure that thinking about them this way perpetuates the dreaming and amps it up the same way dream journals do.

So if you don't have daytime sleepiness, and it sounds like you have your medications and medical advice well in hand, think about ways to make your dreams work for you, a bit. There is nothing wrong with daydreaming about your dreams; it's another kind of thinking. If it isn't a barrier to doing all the other things you want to do with your life, then strengthen this issue like any other cognitive skill. You already know the master symbols at play, so thinking about them within a context of useful problem solving means that you can live your Beagle quote up there.

Sleep well!
posted by rumposinc at 10:18 AM on July 25, 2012

I would say I think about my dreams, trying to piece them together, or just feeling revisited by them, as much as 20% of the time I’m thinking or reflecting altogether.

My hunch is that if this weren't your dreams it would be football or shoes or science fiction or puppies or homebrewed beer or erotic fan fiction or some other damn thing. We've all got stuff that's basically escapist and "unproductive" that we still spend a lot of our time ruminating on. Sounds like this is yours, and I'm not really convinced it's a problem.

That said: I wonder whether some sort of mindfulness technique might be helpful here. I mean, if you're really finding that the post-dream rumination is interfering with your waking life, and aren't just worried about it on principle. Rather than trying to dream less — seems like a recipe for frustration, like trying to yawn less or be more ticklish — you might just try to focus more on what's going on in the moment while you're awake.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:31 AM on July 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Make your life more interesting than your dreams!

Right now, I am having a very rough patch with my chronic illness, and I am in one of my worst "Emily Dickinson with wi-fi" phases. My dreams are incredibly interesting to me, but part of that is because my life is dull.

When my life is more interesting, my dreams become a footnote.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:42 AM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might enjoy Dream Sequence by Carla Speed McNeil.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 12:07 PM on July 25, 2012

I do not believe anybody knows the answer to your question. My go - to source on everything about sleep is William Dement. It is a huge unexplored area.

One time I set aside a few months (3 or 4--it was a while ago) to record all the dream episodes that I could, with pad and pen next to pillow every night. I spent a couple days analyzing all of it and came to no meaningful conclusions. The entirety was a random jumble. On the other hand I have had two recurring nightmares my whole life; they are Jung's nightmare number 1 (lost in labyrinth) and Jung's nightmare number 3 (too much to pack into suitcase). These are from Jung's Seminar on Dream Analysis. Jung's explanation of their significance in my personal psycho history appears to me right on the money.
posted by bukvich at 12:13 PM on July 25, 2012

I would also recommend against dream journalling; the more you engage with the dreams, the more vivid and lucid they are likely to become, and the more you are likely to remember/revisit throughout your waking time. Dream journalling is one the first basic steps when one is interested in practising lucid dreaming -- if you already feel like your dreams are affecting your waking life, it's not a path I'd go down.
posted by catch as catch can at 1:53 PM on July 25, 2012

Usually the answer on when to take something to a psychiatrist or a therapist is when it's bothering you or interfering with your daily life. Is it, or do you wonder whether it should be? If it is actually bothering you (emotionally, just using up too much of your brain's waking attention, or whatever), then you should definitely bring it up.

I know people whose usually pretty active dream lives were ratcheted up to 11 on Celexa, and it was intensely unpleasant for them even though they mostly just dreamed about living with their parents or whatever. They couldn't let it go a few minutes after waking like one normally does.
posted by wintersweet at 3:10 PM on July 25, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all! It's great to hear from people who have the same experiences.

Sidhedevil: whoof. No thanks!!! I'm already living in a 110 year old house I'm renovating, skating roller derby and getting a PhD. I think life is about as interesting as I can handle. Just goes to show I'm mentally hyper, even when asleep.

I think the "downplay it and let it blow by" advice is pretty right on. Leave it to me to never think of "do nothing, take it easy" as a solution to anything. :)

Thanks again!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:20 AM on July 27, 2012

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