Tag Archives: sleep study

The Sleep Study Results are In. Hold the Drum Roll. (5th installment in the series)

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 first post in the series.

My doctor ordered a sleep study for me to see if I had sleep apnea or another condition that was degrading the quality of my sleep and leaving me feeling tired and worn down by day. But I had a question of my own: “Is all my dreaming exhausting me?”

The stakes were high. I have always valued my active dream life (recalling several dreams each morning—usually in vivid and abundant detail). My dreams inspire poems, help me make decisions, comfort me in times of despair, and give me fresh perspectives on my daytime experiences. “But what if the solution to your sleep woes is a course of treatment that diminishes your dreams?” one doctor asked me early on. I decided that was something I’d have to risk.

Interesting results–but not in a good way

And now, at last, the results of the sleep study are in. (Hold the drum roll, prepare instead for anti-climax.) Other than a fair amount of snoring (who, me?) it appears I have no sleep-related conditions of concern.

Good news, yes. But was the report satisfying? Not at all.

The process of undergoing a sleep study in and of itself was interesting—but not necessarily in a good way. I found myself immersed in a system that values sleep, but that seemed to devalue dreams, ignoring them except as possible symptoms of sleep disorders.

As the weeks between my initial intake, the study itself, and awaiting the results wore on, I began to question my own thinking and long-held beliefs: Was it possible that the dreams I so cherished, relied on for guidance, wisdom, healing, and comfort, were nothing more than a symptom of some sleep disorder or pathology? I asked this question to myself, and posed it in one of my blog posts as well.

One of my long-time readers and friends replied to that post, saying in a comment what I’ve always known, but needed to be reminded of: “Your dreams are not symptoms of illness nor are they a defect—they are a gift.”

5-pages and an insight

The 5-page report of my sleepless night in the sleep lab indicated that I was asleep for about 7 hours. This didn’t match up with my experience at all, where I noted in my journal that I slept about 3-4 hours in total all night long. When I raised this discrepancy with the doctor I was working with, she said that it’s possible to be sleeping lightly and conscious at the same time. In any case, this twilight sleep, if sleep it was, is so different from my normal sleeping experience that it didn’t seem worthy of too much attention. In fact, I slept so poorly at the sleep lab that I can learn little about my sleep or dream life from the experience.

But from a medical point of view, doctors were able to measure my heartbeat, body movements, and brain waves to determine what they were after: No apnea, narcolepsy, or restless leg syndrome. No explanation, in short, for my daytime drowsiness.

The doctors can’t say whether the nighttime dreaming I do is affecting my ability to achieve adequate rest, despite getting 71/2-8 hours of sleep a night. I suppose the culprit could well be the multitude of daytime dreams I pursue.

Either way, I’m going with my friend’s advice:

If the dreams do make me tired, so be it! They are extraordinary gifts that add meaning and interest to my life. So if you see me yawning during the day, don’t take offense, and don’t be concerned—I’ve decide that some daytime drowsiness is worth the price of admission to a wonderful world of dreams.

 ZZzzZZzzZZ

To read the entire series about a dreamer’s experience in the sleep lab:

Click here to read the first post in the series.

Click here to read the second post in the series.

Click here to read the third post in the series.

Click here to read the previous post in the series.

ZZzzZZzzZZ

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Sleepless at the Sleep Center (4th Installment)

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 first post in the series.

My sleep study took place on one of the coldest nights in a historically cold winter. But I didn’t mind, because what better thing is there to do on a cold night than snuggle in for a long night of sleep and dreaming?

I imagined the night being something like sleeping in a hotel room—but with a few wires attached to my head and face for the benefit of the technicians and other professionals who’d be monitoring my sleep patterns for any sign of irregularity. So, as if I were setting off for a mini-vacation, I packed a book to read and my journal, along with my toothbrush and pajamas.

I was still feeling optimistic about my chances of having a pleasant night’s rest when I arrived at the sleep center and my technician, we’ll call him Dr. Z, led me to what looked like an economy grade hotel room, such as you’d find in a Days Inn. There was a double bed facing a wall-mounted large-screen television, a night table, and private bath.

But there was also a bedside console the size of a nineties-era computer tower, and a hefty hank of colorful wires coiled on the side of the bed where I like to sleep.

A rainbow of reasons for insomnia at the Sleep Lab.

A rainbow of reasons for insomnia at the Sleep Lab.

But my hopes for a cozy evening of pre-bedtime journaling and reading were finally dashed when Dr. Z motioned for me to take a seat in the straight-backed chair beside the bed, and informed me that he’d spend the next 45 minutes attaching all those wires—not only to my head and face—but also to my chest, back, legs, and finger. And if that weren’t enough, he explained that a cannula would be inserted into my nostrils.

Wired for sleep.

Wired for sleep.

He also pointed out a camera mounted to the wall above the bed, and a little device that looked like a baby monitor on the bedside table, both of which would be recording me throughout the night.

While I digested all of this, I grabbed the remote control and clicked off the television, where a weatherman was predicting sub-zero temperatures for the night. “You know, watching TV before bed isn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep,” I said.

“That’s true,” Dr. Z replied in a flat voice. I realized later, he must have been restraining himself from replying that my comment was way beside the point. After all, within an hour I’d be weighted down by wires and tethered to the computer console for the rest of the night. I couldn’t even walk the few paces to the bathroom without assistance.

The entire room, it turned out, was a collection of sleep hygiene “don’ts.”

As a Dream Therapist, who helps people improve their sleep for a good night’s dreaming, I ticked off in my mind each infraction one by one:

Good Advice: For a good night’s sleep darken your bedroom as much as possible.

Grim Reality: In the Sleep Center little attempt had been made to block out the light from the floodlights in the parking lot. The window was covered only by a slatted blind; there was no curtain or black-out shade. Furthermore, a small glowing red light was attached to my finger, which meant that every time my hand passed anywhere near my face, the red light shone in my eyes.

Good Advice: Eliminate screens from the bedroom. Don’t watch television before bed.

Viewing and being viewed: A large screen TV and a camera to monitor my sleep positions in the Sleep Lab.

Viewing and being viewed: A large screen TV and a camera to monitor my sleep positions in the Sleep Lab.

Grim Reality: In the Sleep Center a large screen TV is mounted across from the bed.

Good Advice: Sleep in loose, comfortable clothing.

Grim Reality: Although I packed a pair of cozy pajamas, my Sleep Center sleepwear also included constricting wires and bands fastened around my ribs and belly.

Good Advice: Your bedroom should be a quiet and peaceful environment.

Grim Reality: In the Sleep Center it was as if I were cozied up to a refrigerator motor, as the lab equipment hummed beside me all night long.

In short, “Sleep Center” turned out to be a cruel misnomer. And needless to say, I slept but little—though I did dream a lot—on the night of my sleep study.

 ZZZzzzZZZ

Click here to read the first post in the series.

Click here to read the second post in the series.

Click here to read the previous post in the series.

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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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Intake: What a Sleep Study Reveals about How Medicine (de)Values Dreams

In last week’s episode … um, I mean post …

Click here to read the 1st post in this ongoing series about my upcoming sleep study in which I hope to find out, among other things, if all that dreaming is making me tired—and if so, will the cure rob me of the vivid and abundant dreams I so love and cherish.

A hopeful entrance

When I parked my car in front of the Sleep Center I felt a surge of hopeful anticipation.

I was here to find out if I was eligible to participate in the sleep study my doctor was recommending, and while I’m not usually one to look forward to a medical test, this one was different. Here, I thought, I’d meeting with doctors and other professionals who are as interested in sleep and dreaming as I am.

But as I sat in the waiting area filling in my “Sleep Inventory” before meeting with the sleep doctor who would determine whether I’m a candidate for a sleep study, I was struck by the fact that not a single question on the sheet addressed dreams. The two-sided questionnaire asked what time I go to bed, what time I wake up, how long it takes to fall asleep, what causes me to awaken at night, what my bed partner tells me about my sleep patterns (whether I snore, kick, etc.), whether I nap, how much caffeine and alcohol I consume and what medications I take. Beyond that I was asked about everything from whether I doze off watching television or as a passenger on an hour-long car trip, whether I have difficulty chewing, whether I hear voices or see hallucinations during the day, and if I experience joint pain or balance issues. My vision of a sleep center as a place where sleep and dreams were being studied, valued, and nurtured, was quickly dissipating.

In spite of the fact that the average person spends more than 2 hours a night dreaming, not a single question on the two-sided single-spaced document addressed dreams

I mentioned this to the Registered Nurse who called me into her office to discuss the Sleep Inventory, take my blood pressure, look at my throat and discuss my sleep patterns. “That is interesting,” she said. But she didn’t seem particularly interested.

Dreams as symptom

The nurse now launched into her own set of questions, one of which finally referenced dreams: She asked if I dream when I nap. I told her that no, I rarely dream during my infrequent short naps, which are usually less than half an hour long. That was a good sign, she said. It’s normal not to dream during a nap, because it takes about 90 minutes to cycle through the first sleep stages and enter REM sleep, the period when most dreams take place. So, if I did fall directly into dreams at nap time, that could be a sign of narcolepsy, a condition where you fall asleep unintentionally during the day, she explained.

While on the subject of narcolepsy, she also asked me if my knees buckle or if I tend to drop things when I experience high states of emotion. Turns out, people who suffer from this condition often have high dream recall and report vivid dreams.

So, in this case, dreams were being raised only as a possible symptom of a possible health problem. When I asked whether my prolific dreaming could be contributing to my daytime drowsiness, she mentioned that my ability to recall so many vivid dreams might be linked to another problem: Sleep apnea. That’s because people with apnea wake frequently throughout the night, and these frequent awakenings, usually during REM sleep, aid dream recall.

Sleep Center v Dream Temple

I left the Sleep Center contemplating the fact that dreams had been invoked only as a symptom of sleep abnormalities. I couldn’t help but think of ancient times when there were sleep temples, not sleep centers, where people came to find healing and guidance in their dreams.

But here I am in the 21st century, forced to consider that my unusual level of dream recall, which I count as a gift, might also be indicative of a problem.

I have read stories about saints and mystics who had healing or prophetic visions, and who later learned they had a brain tumor or other illness, that was causing them. When the tumor was removed or the illness cured, the mystical experiences disappeared. And so, I have to accept the possibility that if the sleep study reveals a sleep abnormality, the cure–which on the one hand could restore my energy and mental acuity during waking hours, could rob me of the beautiful dreams of adventure, beauty, guidance, and connection, which I count among the great pleasures of my life.

Zzzz

And so, the plot thickens. Stay tuned to see what the sleep study reveals about my dreamy brain …

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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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