Monday, 17 November 2014

Being awesome at dreaming 101 (or How Do I Remember Dreams?)

I'm really awesome at dreaming - or at least, I'm really awesome at recalling my dreams. So, I decided to write a little 101 on Being Awesome at Dreams which has very little scientific merit but it works well for me.

How dreams work
Firstly, Google this.

Okay, now you're done that, you have probably read that dreaming occurs during REM sleep. There are plenty of theories about dreams, some suggest it's your mind rebooting for the day, others suggest it's your brain getting rid of junk. Like space junk, but for dreams.

Planning dreams
A little bit of reading about this goes a long way, but in my personal experience you can sometimes plan dreams. For example, concentrating on a good topic or goal you have before you fall asleep can help you visit this idea in your dream; while watching or thinking about something which scares you can also be played out in your dreams. This isn't any type of theory, but positive vibes are always a good idea.

Recalling a dream
This is all based on my own experience, but here's what I have found works.

Once you awaken from your dream, lie perfectly still and try to recapture the memory of your dream. Sometimes it helps to think about the easiest things to recall in your dream, other times it helps to go back to the start of your dream and recall it from beginning to end. In this moment, it is relatively easy to remember your dream because that's the only thing you have been doing! To help cement your dream, keep playing it over and over again. Then you can write it down or tell it to someone, or perhaps rehearse in your head how you would tell someone and then think 'okay, so that sounds kind of stupid, let's forget about it.' Dream journals are useful.

Revisiting dreams
It's often written in fiction that characters can go back to their dreams, but in my experience, you can't always go back to a dream where you have left off. Often in my dreams I will return to a similar dream situation and know I have been there before. I have also had reoccurring dreams or themes. For example, during periods of transition I have often dreamed that I am in the drivers seat of my car, but someone else is steering. The person changes, but the subject does not.

Dream symbolism
Many different cultures believe that dreams can symbolise or mean something in your every day life. There is some great and interesting research on this. One of my favourite dream symbols is all your teeth falling out, meaning that you are losing your money. I've only had this dream once and it wasn't accurate at the time!

My dreams are most often based in my previous workplaces, church and places in my home town. I have also had frequent dreams about West Terrace in Adelaide, though usually it starts there and ends up being a maze through a university that doesn't exist. I rarely have dreams in an unknown location. A lot of the time my dreams don't seem to mean anything, but then can stick with me regardless.

Spiritually, I have had a few dreams which I believe are from God and are confirmation of what I believe.

In terms of death, when I was younger I had dreams of death the night before the morning when Mum would tell me someone had passed away, which were mostly my great uncles who I didn't know very well. I haven't had any death prediction deaths since then, but they still scare me a lot.

My most vivid dreams
A reoccurring dream I have had is road tripping with one of my parents and finding a used book store which sells books I have always wanted to read but have never been able to find. I have this dream a lot (in fact, I had it last night). In these dreams either we don't have enough money or I wake up before we leave the book store.

A dream I had when I was nine was about my project I was doing on Spain. My project had gone missing in my mum's car and I couldn't find it in the dark. I go back inside, then come outside again. Mum is holding onto a walking frame and saying 'How do I use one of these old wive's things?'

In a series of scary dreams I have had, two stick out. One was an image of me eating a whole heap of small pins from a sequin kit I had. The other was pulling back the covers of my bed and finding a huge pile of matches. This still kind of freaks me out.

Every now and then I dream that I didn't pass Year 12, even though Dream Lisa knows I am actually a teacher. I have to go back to high school (note - my own high school, not some bogus dreamland one), where my friends are still enrolled and all the teachers know I'm a teacher but make me redo Year 12 anyway.

A reoccurring theme I have is totally unmanageable situations at work. These have included running several stand alone portable classrooms by myself in the middle of an electrical storm, doing yard duty while several children injure themselves (though, triage wise I did pretty well) or having to teach in my second and completely altered classroom, complete with a stage and a whole lot of mess.

Getting over scary dreams
I have never had night terrors, but I have had nightmares and dreams which leave me uneasy. There are three solutions which work well for me. The best one is to attempt to block out the dream memory and go straight back to sleep. The second one is talking about your dream and then trying to go back to sleep. The third is to get up, have a warm drink, do something to distract you (I like to read) and go back to bed when you're ready.

A few years ago I started measuring my sleepability on whether I was actually up to completing a task. You start off thinking something big such as 'could I drive to ____ (name somewhere at least two hours from you)?' 'Could I go to gym?' 'Could I read a chapter of a book?' 'Could I have a piece of toast?' Once you get a 'no' answer, work out if you have enough energy to do something small, and if not, go back to sleep.

Getting awesome at recall (or How to be an elephant) 
I have got an excellent memory for recalling event sequence, detail, quotes and experiences. This doesn't translate into being an organised person, I have to work on that. For a long time I thought everyone had great recall, it turns out, they don't.

Some ideas at creating an elephant's memory:
- Record things. Use a camera and a journal. Both are very helpful, but it is really the journal that helps you keep the memory in your head because you have had to process it it at least once to write it down, and can revisit it each time you reread it. This allows for further reflection.
-Talk about your experiences with at least one person. I'm so lucky that I have my husband, my mum and my gran to talk things through with every day. Talking with someone about your experiences also allows them to ask questions which is really good for further reflection.
- Revisit memories often in whatever form you choose.
-Allow your mind to drift and recall things. Make connections, comparisons and contrasts whenever you can. Obviously, I have been able to revisit some old dreams today because I have thought about them often enough to recall them.
-Don't be scared to block of memories you don't need to recall. I am often quite scared of nightmares after they have happened, but manage to block them out before going back to sleep. Doing this allows you to keep the memories you want and gives you permission to do away with the ones you don't.