Dream a little dream
October 6, 2006 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Two nights ago I woke up whlie I was in a vivid dream. Last night, just before I fell asleep, the previous night's dream came back to me out of nowhere. Not a repeat, but more of a " previously on" moment like TV shows do. Has anyone else experienced this or know what causes it ? Sure, there's some

This occurs maybe 3-4 times a year, and always facinates me. I am not consciously trying to recall the dream, I'm just trying to fall asleep. The only consistant factor seems to be that the dream had been interrupted somehow, ie; alarm clock, phone, that sort of thing. The dreams are varied in nature, but not usually scary in any way. At the moment I wake up, I am aware of the experience, but once I go back to sleep, or get up, it is completely forgotten until it returns the next night. Is this common, or am I bonkers ?
posted by lobstah to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've experienced this sort of thing as well. Though I don't have a complete answer to your question, this: "but once I go back to sleep, or get up, it is completely forgotten until it returns the next night." reminded me of a theory that once occurred to me about my experience of it. That is, it seems to me it could be a form of dream deja vu. In other words, you could just be dreaming that you previously dreamt something instead of actually having previously dreamt it (I'm trying to make sense, really!). Though, it's not exactly what I'm talking about, here's a previous AskMe on dreams + deja vu (which may or may not be at all helpful). Sorry if this is kind of a derail or terribly off the mark.
posted by Stauf at 9:01 AM on October 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've had this happen, sometimes as though my dreams were a miniseries. I even feel like I've missed episodes.

Since I can lucid dream, I wonder if this isn't a consequence of me deciding "hey, I'm gonna work on that story line again" or something like that. I don't recall having intentionally decided that, but it would make some sense (to me).
posted by aramaic at 9:09 AM on October 6, 2006

Response by poster: As usual, I was not clear. Usually, after waking from the dream, it sticks with me for a liitle while, even if I get up and go about my day. I know that I had the dream, but as events unfold, it slips away from consciousness. It may be related to deja vu, but not in the way you suggest.
posted by lobstah at 9:15 AM on October 6, 2006

Dreaming is just the brain going through patterns in your neural pathways, right? So if whatever prompted the dream in your brain in the first place is still at play the next night, it makes sense that you'd "replay" through some of the same pathways.
posted by DenOfSizer at 9:18 AM on October 6, 2006

I've had that happen a few times. It's not common at all, but every once in a very great while....

For me, it seems to only happen with exceptionally powerful dreams, ones that are brighter and more, um, 'important' than usual ones.

Grasping for an explanation, I'd suggest that regular dreams only use a small part of the brain... only small sections are used. The 'important' ones may involve a lot more of it; the sense I had was one of total focus and involvement, rather than just the more ordinary nebulous/wafty kind of dreams.

I don't think I've ever had one repeat past three nights, and I no longer remember the subject matter of any of them. I don't think they were important in any absolute sense. I didn't get any major insights or life changes or anything of that nature. But there was still a sense of importance at the time.
posted by Malor at 9:43 AM on October 6, 2006

FWIW, this happens to me on most nights. I find that once I put my book down and turn off the light, there's a moment that I'm not quite asleep, but not quite awake. My dreams from the previous night--sometimes many nights before--come back with alarming vividness. Often they come accompanied with a deja vu-like feeling; an "oh yeah, I remember that now!" realization, like snapshots of memories that only exist in this dream-like state, never when I'm lucid.

I've come to rely on this as a way to relax me even further into a good night's sleep.
posted by nitsuj at 9:47 AM on October 6, 2006

Probably a third or a fourth of my dreaming time is spent on old storylines. I have three or four recurring locations (detailed and identical in each dream, but nonetheless nonsensical in terms of real-world physics) that might crop up in any dream, too, regardless of plot. I always assumed everybody's dreams were like this.

I can't say I pay a whole lot of attention - I am more apt to pay attention (while awake) to the one-off dreams about squirrels attacking me with toothpicks than the recurring dream of walking through a carpark while somebody stands behind me, who I never actually see no matter how quickly I turn around (that's my most unpleasant and therefore most memorable recurring dream - I also have pleasant dreams set in the elementary school that is at the top of the car park's stairs, so I know while I am dreaming that if I make it to the stairs my dream will stop being scary).
posted by joannemerriam at 10:17 AM on October 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

I quite frequently get brief, indirect mental recollections of last night's dream soon after hitting the pillow, at about the time when the "conscious thinking" starts to turn off. I always assumed it was due to being in the same place as I was when I "left" the dream, and thus having a situational reminder/trigger. Your metaphor of "previously on" is a quite apt description of how this feels for me - it's not really vivid or scenic, but more like random unconnected images linked by the general "feeling" of the dream.
posted by matildaben at 10:27 AM on October 6, 2006

I have recurring dreams all the time, and I don't think it's deja-vu because generally I can remember them when I wake up. There's usually a whole story arc too, with a clear beginning, middle, and ending.
posted by joedan at 1:36 PM on October 6, 2006

Best answer: This is a stunning thread. It points to several possibilities really fascinating to me.

First, I think it says something interesting about the Hypnic Jerk (aka Myoclonic Jerk and Hypnagogic Jerk) which is discussed in an excellent previous thread. As noted there, imagery is associated more often than not with these events, which occur just as people fall asleep, and lobstah's experience, and some of the answerers' here, both of which I think we can reasonably equate to the imagery part of the Hypnic Jerk, suggest that previous dreams could be the source of this often surprisingly complex and involved material, which is very like a dream but occurs outside of REM sleep.

It also gives strong support to the idea that dreams and the content of dreams are an important part of cognition, rather than a trivial epiphenomenon; otherwise, why would a mechanism exist which seems so clearly aimed at resolving the action or conflict of a previous specific dream-- a mechanism which involves the extra step of transferring dream content to a distinct state of the brain?

If we consider stauf's introduction of the problem of deja vu, things could get really interesting. A paper just published in Nature, vol 443, p 287, discussed here and here and nicely explored in a recent Metafilter thread, demonstrates that stimulating part of the temporoparietal lobe of the left side of the brain can produce a feeling of being followed and even a feeling of being embraced by a shadowy person. According to the study, the actions of the shadow person mimic the actions of the subject, which implies that this region of the brain can make one's own doubled actions seem to come from outside as the actions of another person. The paper also suggests this region of the brain as the source of the schizophrenic's feeling of being followed and watched.

In the thread stauf links to, zardoz, the OP, asks about certain days during which he has the experience of deja vu "dozens of times," and goes on to say "actually it's not quite deja vu, it's more linked to my dreams last night... it's hard to explain..."In answer, nanojath mentions that repeated deja vu's can be an "early warning sign of schizophrenia" and cites an article which mentions this in passing. Other answerers report similar experiences to zardoz's, with a particular emphasis on being especially tired during the times they (the repeated deja vu's) tend to occur.

So, perhaps the part of the brain stimulated in the Nature study normally becomes active just as we fall asleep and can help to open a pipeline for material from unresolved dreams. When it becomes active when we are awake, perhaps it can produce feelings of deja vu, which may or may not seem to the person experiencing them as being associated with a previous dream. For me, it's hard not to conclude that this is the root of the deja vu phenomenon. As I reread the Metafilter thread, I notice that blackleotardfront characterizes the brain stimulation events as "proprioceptive 'deja vu.'"

The demonstrated connection with paranoia and a sense of being watched, which argues for its activation in schizophrenia, taken together with the connection to the onset of sleep indicated in this thread, could also then explain the fact that sleep deprived individuals almost always ultimately develop some degree of paranoia, a sense of being watched and a sense of alienation from themselves, as well as the development of paranoia and the 'gang illusion' in the course of ampthetamine intoxication.

If we posit activation of the brain region in question during dreams, which is at least an intriguing possibilty based on lobstah's and others' accounts, we could explain, very speculatively, how your own impulses and sensations can seem to come to you as those of the characters in your dreams, instead.

And finally (please pardon me for the length of this answer), I can't help thinking all this, properly construed, is the key to narcolepsy.
posted by jamjam at 5:57 PM on October 6, 2006

jamjam, that's fascinating. I have that you're-being-followed dream all the time, maybe two or three times a month for as long as I can remember. I don't have the feeling at all when I'm awake, ever. I've always assumed it was a stress dream, but maybe something is happening when I sleep to regularly (but infrequently) stimulate that part of my brain? Cool.
posted by joannemerriam at 6:49 PM on October 6, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks so much, jamjam. In my description of the dreams, I failed to mention that most involved a task or decision that was made more difficult due to the circumstances presented in the dream. This fits in with what you describe in the second paragraph.

For instance, in one dream I am taking some family members to a Broadway show, and instead of using normal means of transportation, I decide to use a sailboat. There is water available for wherever I steer the boat, but the rest of the street is normal, and filled with traffic. I remember feeling frustrated that some cabs would not allow me to to turn where I needed to, and I was forced to go past my destination. The scene that I remembered as I woke was: Me, looking down angrily at a cabbie, who was ignoring me. This was the same scene that popped into my head on the next night. For some reason, I can still recall all the details of that scene; the colors, the water rushing by, my guests - all dressed in formal attire, the cabbie.

This happened over 6 months ago, and for whatever reason, once I experience one of these events, they seem to stick with me.
posted by lobstah at 6:40 AM on October 7, 2006

I have frequently had serial dreams in the past, where stories are picked up and continued. Also dreams taking place in the same odd place (for no apparent reason, I used to dream frequently of a park in a town where relatives lived).

I don't know if I've ever had a "previously on" sort of intro, but it wouldn't surprise me if I did. I too grew up watching the tube.
posted by Goofyy at 6:45 AM on October 7, 2006

Response by poster: Oh, and thanks to everyone else who participated in this thread.
posted by lobstah at 6:48 AM on October 7, 2006

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