Odd Dream Phenomena

Most of us will experience these dream types at least once in our lives.

Posted Oct 22, 2019

Dream science has not yet developed a complete catalog of the varieties of dream experience out there. We need to develop a near-complete catalog if we want to create a real science of dreams. Therefore I am requesting my readers to send in some of their most puzzling dream experiences. I want to hear about the stranger forms of experiences you have had with dreams as these often challenge our limited current conceptions about what dreams really are. To get you started in thinking about strange dream phenomena consider these relatively well-documented examples:

Take, for example, Isolated sleep paralysis (ISP). It is a relatively common experience characterized by an inability to move or speak after waking up as well by the eerie sense that some evil or malignant being is present in the room and threatening you. You are paralyzed, half-awake but still dreaming because you are hallucinating this eerie malignant being in the room with you!

Or take false awakenings. Here you think you wake up and start your day, brushing your teeth etc but then slowly begin to realize you are still dreaming!

In visitation dreams a loved one or an acquaintance who has died appears in the dream and looks alive and healthy and generally carries a message for the dreamer like “I am OK and still with you.” What makes these dreams so extraordinary is that the dreamer awakens utterly convinced of the reality of the visitation… that is they are utterly convinced that their loved one was really there in the room with them.

You, psychology clinicians, may have had some clients who experienced so-called “Big dreams” during breakthrough points in the clinical process. These are impactful, transformative dreams that typically involve intense emotions upon awakening and claims about new insights into their lives.

Then there is the very puzzling case of twin dreams. We dream scientists have no idea what to make of these. Twins commonly report that they share dreams. If we assume that twins do not lie about these experiences, then we have two choices: 1) The twins unconsciously and covertly, in some unknown manner, shared the information about dream content; 2) identical (or nearly identical) dreams can occur in two different (but very similar) brains.

I have recently begun to study so-called lucid dreams. In a lucid dream, the dreamer is aware that he is dreaming. Thus he can manipulate actions and characters in the dream. Lucid dreamers have actually asked their dream characters: “are you real or am I making you up?” Strangely enough, the characters often claim that they are real! Then the lucid dreamer learns all about their backgrounds and histories and why they live in the dream world.

Some of you clinicians may encounter patients with dissociative identity disorder (DID). DID is associated with very interesting dream phenomena. Therapists of patients with MPD/DID report that alter personalities can appear in dreams as characters in the dream. Often a new alter will first appear in a dream and then later take over control of the behavioral repertoire of the individual and become a daytime alter. The dreamer will often experience a switch from her primary identity to an alter during a dream. Because there is amnesia for the actions of an alter during the waking experience, the primary identity will occasionally experience the alter’s daytime experience as a dream.

I’ll stop here. I could go on with lots of other strange facts about our sleep and dream lives but I want to hear about yours now!