Sleep and dreams

I am fascinated by dreams and sleep and how they work and how little we know about them. According to Science Times, the New York Times weekly science section, we know a lot more than we used to.

According to the Benedict Carey reporting for the Times insomnia “makes you more reckless, more emotionally fragile, less able to concentrate and almost certainly more vulnerable to infection.”

I so knew all of those ones too. Though I’m shocked they left out accident prone. I have had much insomnia in my life and way to make the accidents! Sheesh. I’m so glad my insomnia has been cured.

Apparently the whole thing about “sleeping on it” to figure out a problem is totally true. I so knew that one too! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to bed completely freaked out about a plot problem and woken up knowing how to fix it. Or at least how to get to where I can fix it.

I also got gazillions of story ideas from my dreams and nightmares. And when I don’t sleep I’m buggered.

Pretty much all the articles in this week’s Science Times are worth a squiz.

Though sadly there’s no article about how 99% of people should be banned from telling other people their dreams. See, it’s not that dreams are boring; it’s that most people are really boring at relating their dreams. I had a friend—back home in Sydney—who was brilliant at telling her dreams. I looked forward to it!

Do any of you find your dreams useful? And not just for writing. Please to tell. But, no telling of the dreams! Boring dream recounting is verbotten!


  1. capt.cockatiel on #

    What if I’m good at telling my dreams? Awwww.
    Though they generally aren’t useful for anything but confusing me. *sigh* I’ve always found dreams fascinating, though.

  2. The Bibliophile on #

    As proof of my geekiness…in college i used to solve my toughest chemistry homework problems in my sleep. i would go to bed thoroughly confused, not being able to figure out a reaction mechanism, let’s say, and i would dream that i was writing out the solution on a piece of paper. when i woke up in the morning i would remember my solution and it would be correct! as you can imagine, i found this *extremely* useful.

  3. Lisa Yee on #

    Only once have I dreamt I was interacting with my characters from a book. Other authors I’ve spoken to said this happens to them all the time.

  4. lili on #

    the very first thing I wrote for ‘scatterheart’ came to me in a dream – where a giant white bear walked across a frozen ocean to push a stranded ship.

  5. tiffany trent on #

    yes. 🙂

  6. marrije on #

    i am currently suffering from insomnia and I can feel it clouding my judgement already. but while mucking around online I found this book that is perfect for you, justine:

  7. Corey on #

    Generally they tend to be quite useless, and more of a distraction later on in the day when I’m trying to figure out why the heck I would dream about, say, a giraffe that speaks Afrikaans hosting a game show. Though a few times I’ve felt they were frighteningly prophetic about future, disastrous, events… could be me reading too much into it, of course.

  8. shelly rae on #

    I frequently find my dreams to be useful or at least entertaining. My question for you is…How did you solve your insomnia?

  9. PT Sefton on #

    I’m a parent – and it’s really interesting to hear about the dreams of a less-than-ten year old, some surprising stuff is fermenting away in their minds. (Although sometimes I suspect recounted dreams are embellished a bit)

  10. Tole on #

    I have crazy recurring dreams, mostly about going back to boarding school, but every time i have the dream i remember all of the other dreams but am convinced that this time it is real.

    My dreams are useful for telling me what’s going on my head, for example i think i have these dreams when i’m feeling insecure about something.

    plus, at the moment i keep dreaming that i’m buffy – which i think is my subconcious way of telling myself to stop watching dvds and start doing some work!

  11. Rebecca on #

    i don’t like dreams, mostly because i end up having stressful or nightmarish ones. there have been a few good ones, but they’re mostly related to meeting famous people and talking with them …strangely enough.

    also, you have to be careful which dreams you share with others, because friends can end up blaming you for things your subconscious has brought out from the depths.

    i agree that you have to know how to tell a dream. the problem is dreams don’t usually have the simple beginning-middle-end, or some variation thereof, alignment. which can make relating one difficult.

    lastly, the time between going to sleep and actually sleeping and the time between sleeping and waking are usually the most helpful for me because I either end up controlling my dreams (which is nice when I’m running away from something scary and I can just make it disappear) or I end up with a really great idea on how to approach something (not unlike the chemistry problem example, or your plot point example, or—for me—a way to have a difficult conversation or express a difficult feeling.)

  12. janet on #

    I almost never remember my dreams. I remember one maybe once a year. I feel so cheated! I have friends who wake up every morning remembering surreal, technicolor adventures, and I am missing out.

  13. janet on #

    Ha ha, just read the article on co-sleeping. Our daughter has slept in a crib since she was about 6 months old, but a couple of times a week she wakes up during the night and the only way to get her back to sleep is to bring her into our bed.

    Anyway, a few mornings ago when she was sleeping with us, she woke up from what looked like a sound sleep, sat bolt upright, and proclaimed “Zucchini is yummy!”

  14. liliya on #

    nice links and comments.

    has anyone ever read a really convincing account of a dream in a (fiction) book? I don’t think I have. Dreams in novels all read like mini-novels, all smoothed out and made logical.

  15. Nicholas Waller on #

    I find I skim dreams in novels, unless they are very short. I have put tiny dream fragments into a couple of short stories where I think they are relevant – eg a visual effects bod struggling with creating a monster-movie 3D character in his computer but who can dream the perfect creature. But even a half-page dream in a novel is too much.

    My dreams can be very vivid but as soon as I try to nail them down in words by describing them they turn to ashes in my hands and sound dull even to me. So I don’t bother.

    If I have spent a longish period in my own bed I tend not to remember dreams, but if I am travelling or staying elsewhere I am (presumably) sufficiently unsettled to wake up at times that help me remember them.

  16. Kaleb Nation on #

    One particularly terrifying woman with a pitchfork who chased me through a maze might end up in a later book. And how can you replace the near-first-hand experience of driving a car that won’t stop, on a dark night?
    I did have a dream 2 nights ago, but all it was was the New York Times with my book at number 2 for its 153rd week. Encouraging.

  17. amanda coppedge on #

    I love to dream! I only tell the interesting ones, usually if they are funny or they are about a particular person. I record and tag them all in my personal blog (nerd) but I mark them clearly as dreams so people who don’t like dreams can skip them. Come to think of it, I have actually dreamed about you and Scott. Nothing weird, no worries. And many of my dreams have become part of books I write, yes.

    I just finished a great book: “The History of Last Night’s Dream” by Rodger Kamenetz. Fascinating.

  18. janet on #

    has anyone ever read a really convincing account of a dream in a (fiction) book?

    It has a little too much of a coherent plot, but “Alice in Wonderland” does better than any other story I know at capturing dream logic.

  19. nichole on #

    I tend to work in my dreams and often wake up saying things out loud like “i don’t know, i’d have to check the invoice.” honestly, there are so many mornings that i wake myself up with the talking. and they say sleeping alone is a bad thing.

    I, too, find most people’s dreams pretty boring. I usually don’t even try to tell my dreams to others because they are crazy and jump around in time/space too much. my role in dreams also changes a lot. at one point, i’ll be a specific person and then a minute later, i’ll just be an observer.

    i would tell people about my more interesting dreams, but i just don’t want people to find out exactly how crazy I really am.

  20. Corey Feldman on #

    I find sleep and dreaming very useful. My sleeping mind regularly finds solutions to problems my waking mind was unable to solve. For me typically dreams fall into one of a few categories. Some are entertaining, some are nonsensical day residue and still others give me insight into my own thoughts and motivations. All three of which I have found ways to incorporate into my writing.

    As for sleep. As a child I was diagnosed with Dyslexia and in college ADD got tacked on top. I have also been a life long insomniac. A couple years ago, I started to Lunesta for the insomnia. Interestingly enough, the ADD symptoms subsided. I am still Dyslexic, but even that seems more manageable with a good night sleep.

  21. Kenina-chan on #

    The worst things about my dreams is that everything is so real. If someone punches me, I feel it. if it is raining in my dream, I can feel the cold and wetness of it and smell the yummy rain smell. but the worst thing about pain in my dreams is that it’s so scary. it hurts when something shoots me and when i wake up, the pain will evaporate away. why would my brain simulate pain that i don’t have?

    sometimes i’m a completely different person in my dream and i don’t even realize it until my alarm clock goes off. it’s so real because i have memories of a former life. and i don’t understand why people wake up before they die. if i die in my dream, i die. and when i finish dying, a new dream will start.

    when i wake up, i’m just as tired, as if i’ve been running all night. it’s pretty hard to fall asleep when i usually have two nightmares a week and about three dreams a night. most of my dreams are just scary, not mightmare material though.

  22. ariel cooke on #

    for years i dreamed about this city of neoclassical villas. it seemed so familiar but i could never figure out how i knew it. one day i was going through some of my mother’s old clothes and found an outfit made of fabric designed by fornasetti. as soon as i saw it, i realized it was the city from my dream, rendered in black & white engraving. i had forgotten all about the outfit until that moment. sadly, i never got to dream about that place again. i still kind of miss it.

  23. Emmaco on #

    I love my dreams. They’re mostly interesting and fun rather than useful but I want to second the question: how did you cure your insomnia, Justine?! don’t just leave us sleepless ones hanging like that!

  24. Carrie on #

    I love waking up in the morning and being about to revel in my dreams. To poke and prod at them, and see if I can maybe fall back into them.

  25. serafina zane on #

    well, i haven’t had many very interesting dreams lately, on account of life eating into time for those unproductive activities like sleeping, but as a general rule, my dreams seem to point to the fact i’m insane. i’ve had odd persephone dreams and dreams watching people die, and i am not even going to try and analyze what those mean, because the anserw would no doubt scare me.

    i know this is technically dream recounting, but this is a quick summary. about three days before (yes, the guy from the children’s show) died, i had a dream i was in a store and they announced over the loudspeaker that he had died. but this dream had been three days ago. as in before he died.

    sadly, my dreams are usually not that cool. that particular one just scared me. and i agree completely with whoever talked about unrelalistic dreams in books. they make too much sense! i have to admit to writing dream scenes though, but they were more prophecies, which i feel are different than true dreams.

    i find in i almost never dream about people i know or go to school with, except when i’m on vacation and not around them.

  26. shloopy on #

    When I go to bed, I look forward to sleeping, not dreaming. When I dream, it’s usually a ‘let’s see how many variations we can have on tsunami nightmare’ dream. My friends usually have cool dreams, where they come face-to-face with warped visions of everyday problems. They tell me about them, and I say what they mean. (Oh, you’re worried about your relationship, deadlines are making you nervous, blah, blah…) I NEVER have dreams that are logical after waking. Usually they’re random stuff about going to a wrong class or something.

    I sleep-talk often, usually every night. Although I usually only mumble, I was known to have said, “I better go turn off the coffee machine upstairs.” I don’t drink coffee, or even know how to use a coffee machine. the subconscious can throw some weird things out there.

  27. Rebecca on #

    sleep. what is this “sleep” thing you speak of? i don’t think i’ve heard of it. hahahahaha.

  28. marrije on #

    ariel cooke’s dreamstory for the win!

  29. nichole on #

    rebecca. I know how you feel. In college, I used to say “I’ll sleep when I graduate.” Now I realize that I’ll probably get to catch up on my sleep when i die.

    It’s such a shame because I’m really fond of sleep. 🙁

  30. Curly on #

    behold! the unicorn kingdom club:

  31. Lauren on #

    I once dreamed a song. I woke up and wrote it the next day and it’s my best song yet. dreams: v. useful.

  32. kelly g on #

    maybe telling people your dreams is boring, but i really like doing it. and hearing about other people’s. it’s just all so interesting.

    my dreams are usually very strange. i’m usually somebody else in them, and i’m also like a third-person camera view as well. now that i think about it, all my dreams are like i’m watching them on tv. except the one from last night. anyway, i treasure my most vivid dreams because, when my life is busy and boring, it’s a crazy adventure that i can remember until the next one.

  33. kim on #

    don’t even let me starton the werid dreams that i have.

    i dreamed the one time when i was little i woke up (yes i woke up in my dream),i my mom was putting in a viedo for me and my sister. when i was walking down the hall and passed in front of the stairs i trapdoor opened and i fell in. i screamed for my mom but she did not hear me. the next day when i woke up i walked down the hall and there was a outline of a square in the carpet right where the trapdoor was in my sleep.

    i also had a dream where i woke up( yes i wake up a lot in my dreams) and i saw my dad in the kitchen, i also saw snakes everywhere. my dad was talking on “phone” which was a snake with its mouth open right by his ear. i walked outside and there was snakes everywhere.

    i have also had an animated (cartoon) dream.

  34. Rebecca on #

    Anyone ever have recurring dreams? I have a couple, but the most pleasant one goes like this:

    I’m on main thoroughfare of a town. The buildings are usually two to five stories high, and above them I can see a greyish blue sky. I start to run hard and then kick up, jump, and I start to fly. Not into the sky, clouds-rush-by-me-flying. Just, a big long leap that leaves me hovering about two stories above the existing buildings. I glide for a while with my body outstretched (not quite superwoman, yet not without purpose) and then I descend carefully. My feet meet the ground, and I start running again. I leap. I do it all over again.

    I sometimes feel like this dream lasts for hours. And there have been variations in real cities. But usually it’s a fake one with that dusty sky.

    I love that dream.

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