ZOMBIE DREAMS!

Happy August! I almost let the day get away from me, because I am very much feeling like the subject of today’s entry: ZOMBIES!

I had no idea these were so popular, but zombie dreams ranked right up there with lucid dreaming and insomnia. When I think of zombie dreams, I don’t necessarily think of the “hordes of hungry undead” type zombies. In my dreams, they are certainly in varying states of decay, but I usually only see one, and it’s not inherently threatening. The sight of an animated corpse is just incredibly unnerving, whether it would eat you or just bring you another cup of coffee.

So what came first, zombies or animated corpse nightmares? I’m certain people have been having zombie nightmares for as long as people have been dying and dreaming. It was probably a lot more common when your daily life might involve seeing a corpse. (Those poor cops and morticians! I think it’s bad enough when I have repetitive dreams about filing paperwork. Geez!) How often do you dream that you’re talking to someone you know is dead? One of the major facets of any culture is treatment of the dead, and it’s not surprising to want to bring the dead back to life. We just don’t want them to return to life as their body continues to decay.

As you may or may not be aware, “zombie” comes to us from the West African Vodun tradition. These were revived by a bokor and are essentially mindless servants. It’s a fantastic idea, and one that Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis suggested is inaccurate. Davis proposed that the zombies had never been dead to begin with, they had simply been given a substance that put them into a state of suspended animation, after which they would be revived in a state of psychosis.

So real zombies aren’t much like the movie zombies that have been spreading through pop culture. They went from terrifying speculation to excellent comedy and now they’re just a part of fictional nature, being cartooned onto children’s school supplies, like unicorns and dragons. They begin to lose their scare factor when so many people are prepared for a zombie apocalypse.

…then you have a dream about zombies and remember just how scary they are!

I’m not big on interpreting dream symbols, because symbols seem to vary in meaning from person to person. If a zombie chases you and you are scared, it probably means the same thing as if a clown chases you and you are scared. That said, here is the most commonly copy+pasted snippet I’ve found.

“To see or dream that you are a zombie suggests that you are physically and/or emotionally detached from people and situations that are currently surrounding you. You are feeling out of touch. Alternatively, a zombie means that you are feeling dead inside. You are just going through the motions of daily living.

To dream that you are attacked by zombies indicate that you are feeling overwhelmed by forces beyond your control. You are under tremendous stress in your waking life. Alternatively, the dream represents your fears of being helpless and overpowered.” – dreammoods.com

This gets paraphrased all over the internet. If you’re the zombie, you’re feeling detached. If you’re chased by zombies, you’re feeling overwhelmed. No wonder zombie dreams are so common, that describes the workforce at large.

But what about a dream of a single animated corpse, all sinewy and disgusting? What if it’s not chasing you or in any other way threatening you, but the sight of it still makes your skin crawl? That’s the kind of zombie dreams I have most often. Realistically, something that decayed would barely be able to stand, and maybe it’s that unnatural element that creeps me out.

Have you had a zombie dream/nightmare? Please comment!

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Lucid Dreaming: Part 1

I really hate it when a dream seems so real that I believe the events actually happened. I’ll do something terrible or embarrassing, and the next day I will feel like everybody remembers I did those things (only, of course, to realize that it never happened and they don’t know why I’m acting strangely). If only there was a way to tell myself that I’m just dreaming, I could have some control over the situation.

Well, some say there is a way. Lucid dreaming is the phenomenon in which the dreamers become aware that they are dreaming and are able, in some cases, to assert themselves over the content of the dream. If you are not making a conscious effort to achieve lucidity, it may happen infrequently, but you have probably experienced it at some point in your life. I remember my most vivid lucid dream. I became aware I was dreaming, but I still didn’t grasp the potential for experimentation. My dream still had to follow a story, so I created transitions instead of abrupt changes.

It went like this: I was walking down a highway and off to my left was this great prehistoric forest. Huge vines and massive trees set down in a valley. I was amazed and thought “I wish I could show this place to my friends…but it’s a dream.” With this realization, a light rain started to fall. I didn’t try to stop the rain. Instead, I created a place to escape the rain. On the other side of the highway, a strip mall opened up. The signs were all spinning like counters waiting for me to choose what kind of store each belonged to. What did I want? “Hmm, I could really go for some frozen yogurt.” A sign stopped on the TCBY logo and I went in to dry off and enjoy my dessert.

I hadn’t been trying at lucid dreaming; I wasn’t expecting it. I was unprepared for it, so I feel like I didn’t make the most of it. It’s hard to say if I could have controlled the dream any more if I had been expecting it, because our minds are wired to believe what they see. This is why hallucinations are so dangerous. Even if you rationally understand that your friend’s face couldn’t turn into a pile of squirming maggots, if that’s what you see, it will be hard to convince you it’s not real. For the same reason, no matter how strange and surreal the dream becomes, our brain is willing to accept it as reality.

EEG readings show higher amounts of beta-1 waves during lucid dreaming, which seems to indicate conscious thought. It can begin during a dream (dream-initiated), or you can transition directly from awake to dreaming without losing self-awareness (wake-initiated). I believe on occasion I’ve been able to transition through wake-initiated lucid dreaming, but it is very difficult to maintain conscious focus once you cross that threshold. I will close my eyes and begin dictating my environment, only to realize in a few minutes that my attention has wandered, wake and try again. Truly, if you need to get to sleep and your body/mind won’t let you, just close your eyes and really try to build a story. Don’t just think about things you have to do, visualize yourself doing them step by step. You’ll be dreaming in no time. Probably not lucid dreaming, but you’ll at least be sleeping.

A fair amount of research has been done on lucid dreaming, and one observation has been that the perception of time seems to be about the same during lucid dreaming as while awake. How do we gauge this? Eye signals. During REM sleep, our eyes jump around quite a bit, but imagine for a moment that you realize you’re dreaming and you have the ability to control where you look. Yes, you’re actually just looking at your eyelids, but your brain is still telling you what you see, so without breaking from the dreamscape, you are able to give messages to the waking world where scientists with electrooculograms record your activities.

The eyes are our best bridge for communication with the dreamer. In fact, devices have been marketed to lucid dreaming hopefuls that produce a blinking red light which is visible through the eyelid as a signal to the dreamer. Many of these devices were discontinued due to discomfort and poor success rate. The manufacturer says that success will dramatically increase if you follow the instructions on reality checking, but if you’re able to reality check in a dream, congrats you’re already expressing conscious control. They will lead you to believe that if you couldn’t do the reality check, the device isn’t working because you’ve failed to do your part. Sounds like a snake oil to me.

Awareness in dreams has been recorded and given names throughout history, especially early Buddhism. The term lucid dreaming wasn’t used until 1913 when Frederick van Eeden used it in a commentary article on sleep. It would be interesting to know, based on yesterday’s entry about the chemicals of sleep, what role adenosine plays in lucid dreaming. If you remember, adenosine is responsible for suppressing arousal, so would it also be responsible for keeping us dreaming once we’ve realized we are dreaming? Would higher levels of adenosine allow us more conscious control over the dream for a longer time or would it simply prevent us from realizing we’re dreaming?

Aside: Seriously, you need to watch Inception if you haven’t already. It’s pretty dark, but very relevant, especially with the inclusion of reality checks.

When I asked about the most interesting facet of sleep/dreaming, lucid dreaming topped the list of responses, so I would like to spend more time on this subject. Consider this Part One and check back soon for the continuation where I will discuss some methods used to achieve lucidity. Tomorrow’s free topic is just around the corner. Are you prepared?

Time-lapse Sleep

Watching time-lapse videos of people sleeping reminds me of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should. I don’t think I’m giving away too much when I say that it involves erasing memories while the subject sleeps. As with any Charlie Kaufman film, there’s some love-triangley, melancholy disquiet, and it edges into the surreal and symbolic (another common quality of his work) very much like a dream.

If you search around YouTube for “time lapse sleep” you will find numerous personal videos. Many of them aren’t terribly useful, because they don’t include a timestamp or a description of the actual time elapsed in the video. This is important to actual study, because it gives clues as to the person’s normal sleep cycle. Research has shown an average cycle of 90 minutes, though in my own study, I found my cycle only lasted 70 minutes.

I would shift a little bit in the beginning, then about 45 minutes in, my breathing would become heavy. At about an hour and ten minutes after falling asleep, I would wake up and turn over, then repeat the same process. I was only able to capture 2 cycles before I actually woke up and stopped recording. It turned out to be very awkward sleeping with my grow light on.

Before I started the video, I wasn’t sure what I would see. I love scary movies and part of me expected I would find something creepy standing over me. It was nothing like that. I was also a little afraid since my doctor suspected I have sleep apnea. I thought I might see myself stop breathing, but obviously if I was able to watch the video it meant I’d been able to start breathing again, so that wasn’t a particular concern. Instead, when I played the video back, I saw a pretty mundane little nap.

I’m still looking for good software to use my webcam for still capture. For the first video, I used Flix (demo version with the watermark). It’s $10 to register and have the watermark removed, but I didn’t trust the program. It came with a bunch of adware and was pretty unstable. I uninstalled and rolled back my computer the next day. I’m not opposed to spending money on a good program, but my funds are limited at the moment, so cheap is better. I’ve heard of Gawker, but it’s a Mac program. All I, or you, need for time-lapse sleep videos is something that you can set to take photos with your webcam at intervals of your choosing. I think I set mine to take a picture every 15 seconds.

Give it a try, if you’re curious. The only slightly disturbing thing about it is that you get to see yourself totally vulnerable and completely natural. You’re not even self-aware enough to present your “good side” when you’re sleeping, or to suppress embarrassing gestures/expressions.