Recursive Dreaming, Sleep Choking and Easter Overstuffing
Dreams are processing,
Memories and emotions.
Why you keep having the same (bad) dream
What are dreams? Why do we have dreams, and nightmares?
The most convincing theory is that dreaming is a way of processing the events of the day. In dreams you relive parts of the day but without the emotional impact. Dreams are a jumble of memories and anxieties and hopes. Dreams are your unconscious making sense of the happenings, thoughts and feelings of the day.
This is why dreams are so confusing at times. They don’t make sense because their purpose is not to make sense. Which is why we don’t remember most dreams. They are a process to untangle the emotional content from your memories.
The result of dreams is you remember things without experiencing the emotions associated.
For example you can recount your first big romantic breakup without the intense emotions you felt when you were going through it. Women can remember child birth without also feeling the intense pain of it. People who were involved in violence can remember those events without feeling the emotions and pain. And so on.
Why do we sometimes have recurring dreams then? If dreams are processing of events, then recurring dreams don’t make sense.
“Recurring dreams are likelier to be about very profound life experiences or just very character logic issues that are kind of guaranteed to recur in waking life because they’re part of you rather than a one-time event” says dream researcher Deirdre Barrett, a lecturer of psychology in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Recurring dreams signify unresolved issues. Your brain keeps trying to solve these problems through dreaming, but fails. This non-success is either because the problem is objectively unresolved and affects you, or because something is blocking your capability to process it.
PTSD is the extreme example. Sufferers have had traumatic experiences. Their brain tries to process these experiences through dreams, but fails. The intense emotions remain linked with the memory of the traumatic experience. They are a powerful constant burden as sufferers cannot help feel the intense emotions whenever the memories are triggered.
What this means for you?
If you have recurring dreams, investigate them. Normal dreams are meaningless artifacts of unconscious processing. Recurring dreams are an issue that your unconscious cannot resolve.
We naturally shy away from things we fear, or make us uncomfortable or that we cannot solve. Our natural instinct is to ignore such recurring dreams because of this instinct. Don’t ignore them. They are signals for a problem that you should solve.
Most of the time, it is as simple as addressing a real-life problem that you had been avoiding. Sometimes it’s more complicated. It’s something that you are not processing emotionally due to a mental block. These are not easy to heal. But doing nothing is a surefire way for the issues to worsen.
The meaning of dreams
How do you start investigating what a recurring dream means?
First you need to gather data. Start keeping a dream journal. This is simply a notebook by the bed where you write down the dream as soon as you wake up. We tend to forget dreams. In the first moments after waking, you retain some memory of them that then fade away. Writing them down right after waking preserves some of this memory.
Second you need to interpret the dreams. Contrary to popular belief, there is no universal translation for dreams. Their symbolism is unique to each individual. We share a lot of the model of the world, so the meaning of various symbols is similar. But your dreams have unique meaning to you. What this implies is that you need to interpret your own recurring dreams.
For the recurring dream ask yourself what the message could be. What is your relationship to the things or people in the dream? What are your fears about what happens in your dream? What are the things in your life that might be related to it? Do this yourself or with a close, trusted person who knows you well.
Alternative reason for recurring dreams: bad sleep
Psychological interpretation of dreams is nice and useful. But sometimes, it’s useless. Sometimes recurring bad dreams are the result of recurring bad sleep. They are a signal of circadian disruption.
Things like late caffeine, digital overstimulation, unhealthy sleep timing, sleep deprivation can lead to bad dreams. If bad sleep recurs, then so do the bad dreams.
Find out how good is your sleep here. A low score is a warning sign you should not ignore.
There are some specific sleep disrupters that are likely to cause bad dreams.
Indigestion is one. Eating too late creates indigestion because the digestive system slows in the evening. Your digestion is slower and worse at night. You should avoid any food (or calories) in the last three hours until bedtime. You might not feel indigestion, but that does not mean it does not happen. So not feeling full or nauseous does not mean you don’t have indigestion. I for one sometimes have nightmares if I eat late.
Sleep apnea. We talked about it before. Further in this newsletter is a study how it causes cognitive problems even in the absence of other problems. It also is likely to cause bad dreams. Honestly sleep apnea is a nightmare in itself. You stop breathing momentarily, that is quite awful.
Alcohol. It disrupts REM sleep especially which is when you dream.
What this means for you? If you have recurring dreams, it’s a signal for problems you need to solve. Address them.
Sleep apnea is linked to cognitive problems even in otherwise healthy men
We talked about sleep apnea before in this newsletter. A new study shows that sleep apnea has significant negative cognitive effects even in people who are otherwise healthy. This research found that healthy middle-age men newly diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea have poorer mental function in judgment, impulse control and recognizing other people’s feelings compared to men without the condition. They were not aware of these cognitive deficits.
What this means for you?
It’s even more important to identify whether you have sleep apnea. It’s deeply corrosive yo your health, but in ways that you don’t feel.
The Sleep and Health Benefits of a Cold Bedroom
In an interview with HealthNews, Danielle Kelvas, MD, explains how temperature is crucial. Temperature changes your hormones that regulate sleep and wakefulness. If the bedroom is too hot or cold, these hormones are badly regulated, which can create insomnia or wake you up.
The Sleep Foundation recommends an ambient bedroom temperature in the range of 60 °F (15.5 °C) to 68 °F (20 °C).
What this means for you? Measure the temperature at night in your bedroom. It’s likely too warm. Adjust to bring down at around 18°C.
Why we celebrate Easter (and everything else) with food
Hands up if you ever ate too much on Easter. Or Christmas. Or any other celebration. I know I have. Many times.
Why is that?
Overeating on holidays does not make sense. Food is cheap and plentiful for most people. Proof of this is how we suffer from so many diseases of excess food intake. More proof is how much food people throw away.
Why would we overeat when there is so much abundance for food?
This abundance has not always been the case. In fact the opposite is true. Until less than a hundred years ago, most people struggled to obtain enough food. For virtually all of human history, getting enough food was the main objective of each day for almost everyone. In fact, for all animals getting food is the main activity of the day, every day. For all living beings survival is mostly about obtaining more energy than they expend.
As humans, as animals, as living beings, we are obsessed with food because it was the main goal of our lives. You probably have enough food now so you consciously don’t worry about it. But that does not change your deep unconscious obsession with it. There has hardly been sufficient time to change such deep unconscious perceptions.
“Love and hunger rule the world.” – Friedrich Schiller
At an unconscious level we are all deeply obsessed with food. It is not just objective sustenance. Food is a powerful signal to others. One that we use extensively on special occasions.
Celebrations are times of feasting. Eating on these occasions is a way to express the celebratory spirit. So overeating is likely.
The food on the festive table does not appear out of the ether. Someone is the host who provides the food. For them, the food they provide says things about them. They express their affection to the guests by giving them tasty plentiful food. They also signal their own social status through this food. If guests are not eating a lot of the food, the host interprets this as a critique of their food, and thus an implicit invalidation of themselves. There is high pressure for hosts to provide food that is overeaten by the guests.
These guests have an obligation to eat a lot of the food and compliment it. Doing otherwise would offend the host. It is said that in ancient times, not eating food given by your host was a deadly insult. We don’t duel over it now, but we still feel strongly about it. As a guest, you are expected to appreciate the food you receive.
On top of all of these pressures, there is the role of food as social bonding agent. We develop social relationships over the sharing of food. We ‘break bread’. We go out to eat with love interests, friends, colleagues, family. Thus there is always unconscious pressure to eat when sharing a meal with others. Not doing so is an offense.
As a side note, this is an important barrier to fasting. It’s a bit unpleasant to go out with people and be the only one not eating. There is a social cost to it.
So when you are at an Easter meal, all of these factors are working to push you to stuff your face: your need to always eat whenever you can evolved over millions of years, your desire to validate the host, your social instincts to bond over food, your natural interpretation of the festive spirit into feasting, and the likely tasty food itself.
What this means for you?
1. Pre-empt Easter overeating. If you know your host and the meal they will serve, then make a mental plan about how you will eat. Maybe you know there will be multiple appetizing dishes. Then make a plan to have a small portion of each and only take seconds at the end if you are still not full.
2. Manage the effects of overeating. Help your digestion so that you mitigate some of the harm. Take a walk right after the meal, instead of lying on the couch, to improve glucose control. Eat slowly and chew well. Don’t drink while eating to not dilute stomach acid. Stop eating three hours before your normal bedtime (even if you will be going to bed later on that day). The circadian clock keeps ticking the same on Easter as any other day.
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The sleep of seals and other animals which have returned to the sea
I think it proves important sleep is when you consider that whales and dolphins evolved the ability to sleep one hemisphere at a time.
The Big Picture on Humanity - at WaitButWhy
Capitalism vs Communalism: a first-hand experience
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Quote to ponder
“I believe depression is legitimate. But I also believe that if you don’t exercise, eat nutritious food, get sunlight, consume positive material, surround yourself with support, then you aren’t giving yourself a fighting chance.” - Jim Carrey
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