Sunday 19 June 2011

Dream-dozing - Micro-sleeps and micro-dreams


Usually when people (including myself) have a micro-sleep (e.g. momentarily nodding-off while reading quietly) this is perceived as an absence, an interruption in the stream of consciousness, a jump-ahead in time with a chunk missing.

Indeed, people may not realize that they have been asleep unless told by an observer.


But sometimes I doze-off straight-into REM/ dreaming sleep; indeed alternate between being awake and aware of surroundings with being asleep and in dreams.

Eyes open, there is the world; eyes closed, in a dream.

So the micro-sleeps are associated with micro-dreams, or fragments of dreams.


(Dream-dozing can typically only happen if the person is lying down, or has their body and head supported to some extent - such as resting in an armchair; since dreaming sleep is associated with muscle relaxation which would otherwise cause the person to jerk-awake.)


My experience of this phenomenon of dream-dozing with micro-dreams is interesting.

It feels like flipping-between two ongoing realities, with time subjectively moving at the same rate in both waking and dreaming; but going at different rates when one state is compared with the other.

By ongoing realities, I mean that (of course) the real world is going-on even when I am not attending to it, so that when I awaken from a micro sleep things have moved-on in the real world: if I have been asleep of a second, then a second has gone past - obviously).


The same applied to the dream world: if I have been awake, then when I return to sleep, then time has passed in the dream world.

But if I have been awake for one second, then more than one second of subjective experience - indeed much more than one second, has passed in the dream world when I re-enter it.

And, conversely, what feels like some minutes of dream story can occur in a few seconds of awake time.


If awake time is taken as the calibration, then dream time moves 'faster' - in the sense that a lot more narrative happens in a dream during one second of awake time than vice versa.


Also, the dream world is narrative, a story; whereas the awake world may not be perceived as a story.

The micro-sleep is a slice of narrative; the micro-awakening may be simply an image - for example a static picture of the room where I am dozing.

So in the micro-sleep I am in a story, when I open my eyes, I merely see the wall and chair.


What this feels like is that dreams are stories going on all the time, without me being aware of them.

When I have a micro sleep I can sometimes dip-into a segment of this on-going dream narrative.

So I fall asleep and experience in dream what feels like quite a lot of some narrative, then wake-up and almost no time has passed; then fall asleep and rejoin the dream but the dream has moved on a lot while I was awake.


In general, dreaming seems to be like a process that is going on behind the scenes, mostly without awareness. Awareness of dreams seems like an non-essential optional extra.

Whatever it is that dreams are doing, apparently does not need our awareness (and indeed many people claim not to dream, or very seldom; and everyone rapidly forgets most of most dreams).


So if (if) it really was true that dreams are pre-cognitive in the kind of way tha JW Dunne and JB Priestley have said, and that JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis apparently believed, then much of this pre-cognition would have to be having effects without awareness, would be having unconscious effects.

If pre-cognition was real and had a purpose; that purpose would be unconscious, implicit, a background to our aware lives.



dearieme said...

I remember very few of my dreams but I once told a friend about one that recurs frequently - wherein we own three flats in Edinburgh and I keep wondering whether we should sell them. He then pointed out that I must have another dream that recurred, because I would occasionally ask him about a case of wine that he was(n't) storing for us in his cellar.

Brett Stevens said...

This almost sounds like Platonic monism.

Our world is one of the many layers of a more complex world.

When you doze and go into interzone, you're accessing that world, which is a more direct combination of mind and universe.

Mythic imagination shows up in every advanced culture for a reason.

Your article did however remind me of how much fun the dream world can be, when one is in "explore" mode (as opposed to "react" mode, when trying to feel a way through a difficult time in life).

Gabe Ruth said...

You've basically just described the premise of "Inception". George MacDonald had ideas about the deeper purpose of sleep, and Lewis wrote a poem about pre-lapsarian man using sleep to draw spiritual as well as physical nourishment.

Bruce Charlton said...

I should add that I don't have (or don't remember) interesting or impressive dreams, at least only seldom.

The micro-dreams seem random and trivial, and I only recall them for a few seconds (they almost literally seem to fade away) - presumably they are active in 'working memory' for a few seconds (which is how long working memory holds things) but do not get laid down in long term store, perhaps because regarded as irrelevant and insignificant.

Brett Stevens said...


It seems to me the dream world operates through metaphor, and leaves behind a series of cues that do not tell us information so much as what information to be receptive to.

For this reason, it makes sense to me that the dreams are often "forgotten" immediately, because that information mapping has gone directly into the subconscious (or whatever part of the mind is separate from the ego).