Tag Archives: sleep apnea

Some Questions You Might Ask: Dreaming Up A New Sleep Center Experience

This post is part of an ongoing series about what happens when an active dreamer goes in for a sleep study. Click here to read the previous post about my upcoming sleep study. Click here to read the first post in the series.

Apparently not everyone is as shocked as I am that a sleep study doesn’t necessarily involve an investigation of–let alone an interest in–the patient’s dreams. But when I went for my intake in preparation for a sleep study to determine possible causes of my fatigue and other symptoms, I was not only surprised, but also disturbed by the fact that the only time dreams were mentioned was in the context of sleep abnormalities. (Click here to read more on my first appointment at the sleep center.)

There are literally thousands of Sleep Centers, like the one I went to, across the US–and by all accounts, the number is climbing steadily. People come to these centers to address the epidemic of sleep problems suffered by millions of Americans. But no one is talking about the thing we spend more than two hours a night with: Our dreams!

After writing about the absence of any positive information about, let alone inquiry into, the patient’s (in this case my) dream life, I began to dream up what I’d like to see included in an initial visit to one of these centers. Granted, I’m no doctor–and yes, I am a dreamer in all senses of that word–so I’m not taking into consideration the unfortunate realities of the business side of medicine. Nonetheless, here’s what I wish I’d been asked, and why.

For starters, on the intake questionnaire, along with questions about whether the patient falls asleep on car rides, experiences balance problems, suffers from persistent itching, or pain on swallowing–I’d like to add these questions to the intake:

  1. How many dreams, on average do you remember each morning/each week?

  2. In general, is the overall mood of your dreams pleasant, disturbing, or neutral?

  3. How often do you have nightmares?

  4. Do you have lucid dreams (dreams in which you are aware that you are dreaming)?

  5. Do you have people in your close circle with whom you feel comfortable discussing your dreams?

Let’s look at what we could learn by adding just these five questions to a sleep study questionnaire.

  • Question 1: High dream recall could indicate that a person is waking frequently at night, whether they are aware of it or not. Because our short-term memory is deactivated during dreaming, some scientists suspect that we only recall dreams if we wake soon after the dream takes place. So high recallers could be suffering from a lack of deep sleep and frequent awakenings. At the other end of the spectrum, people who don’t recall dreams at all might not even be sleeping enough to enter REM (it typically requires about 90 minutes of sleep to cycle into REM sleep, where most dreams take place).
  • Question 2: The emotions experienced in dreams might correlate to waking life concerns. If a person is having a lot of negative dreams, there might be an unresolved issue in their life that is contributing to overall stress levels, which is proven to negatively impact health pretty much across the board. Such a person might benefit from joining a dream group or working with a dream therapist or a psychotherapist.
  • Question 3: Knowing that a person suffers from nightmares can unlock a lot of other information. For example, recurring nightmares can lead to insomnia, and treating nightmares with dream therapy (as opposed to medication) has been shown to not only cure the nightmare, but the insomnia as well.
  • Question 4: If a person has lucid dreams, we know that they are experiencing a hybrid state of consciousness that involves properties of REM sleep, as well as waking thought patterns. This might indicate that they are sleeping lightly. In addition, a lucid dreamer has access to great stores of healing energy that could be useful in gaining information about other health issues.
  • Question 5: Research shows that people who share dreams together tend to have strong relationships. Dream sharing indicates a level of openness and trust within relationships, and having this level of closeness in one’s life can help foster overall feelings of well-being and safety in the world. I think this question is more telling than is the standard query about marital status, which I think reveals very little about whether a person enjoys truly nurturing connections in their life.

Having people answer these simple questions or some like them could open up a helpful dialogue between health care professional and patient that would reveal a lot about the conditions in a person’s life that foster health and feelings of well-being.

In my dream of a truly helpful Sleep Center, along with pamphlets about Sleep Apnea and Narcolepsy, like the ones I was sent home with, people would also receive pamphlets about the healing potential of their dreams. This pamphlet could offer a few bullet points about how to improve dream recall, as well as the healthful properties of dreamwork. It might also list the web site of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, or other excellent and reputable sources of information about dreams, as well as referrals to certified dream therapists and dream groups.

If we as a society were really serious about cutting medical costs and encouraging people to incorporate healthy lifestyles, then sharing information about dreams and the sleep-nurturing practices that contribute to having sweet dreams would be promoted as an economically sound way to encourage health and well-being.

Yes, yes, I know, we are a long way from living in such a world. But, I can dream, can’t I?

ZZzzZZzzZZzz…

 

 

 

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But isn’t all that dreaming exhausting? We’ll soon find out.

An abundant dream harvest

When I mention how many dreams I remember each morning (3-5 is not unusual and my dream reports can run up to 2,000 words) people often ask me if all that dreaming makes me tired.

I quickly answer that no, my high level of dream recall doesn’t interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. To back up my claim, I’ve polled other prolific dreamers and they say they’re energized, not exhausted, by their abundant dream harvest.

But the fact is, I’m chronically tired. I’ve always assumed this is a result of the hectic pace of my waking life and not the seeming hyperactivity of my dreaming brain.For better or worse, I will now have the chance to find out once and for all whether all this dreaming is wearing me out. Later this month I’ll be going in for a sleep study to see if I have any sleep-related disorders that are causing my fatigue—and perhaps also contributing to my unusual level of dream recall.

Time to study the situation

Here’s what happened: Like many women my age, I’ve become more forgetful than I was a few years back. My friends reassure me that having a tough time remembering the names of actors or where I put my keys simply comes with the territory of getting older. But my mother has Alzheimer’s disease, which has made me hyper-vigilant about my own memory, and I wanted a professional’s opinion. So, I made an appointment with a neurologist, and after a seemingly endless battery of tests the results were in. My brain functioning was deemed normal, with no signs of early Alzheimer’s or dementia. This news allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief—but I still wasn’t satisfied that the difficulties I’ve been having with memory are purely a result of getting older.

“Well,” the doctor asked, “how have you been sleeping?”

When I mentioned my vivid, and abundant dreams, along with the fact that I’m told that I talk in my sleep and snore lightly, the doctor raised the idea of a sleep study to rule out a mild case of sleep apnea or narcolepsy.

“A sleep study!” My eyes lit up as if I’d been told the answer to my woes was a trip to the Bahamas and my health insurance would cover the cost. I realize that for most people having sensors stuck to their head, face, and legs, and then going to sleep in a strange setting is not particularly appealing. But for a dream therapist like myself, this sounds like an exciting adventure. After all, anything that helps me understand sleep and dreams better, not to mention how my sleeping brain works, is my idea of a good time.

A difficult choice

“How will you feel,” the doctor asked, “if we find out that the remedy for your problems means you stop having all those dreams?”

I thought about this for a moment. It sounded like that O’Henry story where the woman sells her hair to buy her lover a watch fob for Christmas, and he sells his watch to buy her beautiful combs for her hair. What if the best thing about sleeping gets taken away from me so I can get a better night’s rest?

“I’ll manage,” I told the doctor. For one thing, I can’t be greedy; I’ve already had more than enough dreams for a lifetime. And besides, I could always fine-tune the art of Shamanic journeying in order to enter dream space in another way.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to finding out what sleep science can tell me about my dreaming brain.

Stay tuned for the results …

***

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