The journal Sleep has an interesting study on how people with narcolepsy can experience sometimes striking confusions between what they’ve dreamed and what’s actually happened.
Narcolepsy is a disorder of the immune system where it inappropriately attacks parts of the brain involved in sleep regulation.
The result is that affected people are not able to properly regulate sleep cycles meaning they can fall asleep unexpectedly, sometimes multiple times, during the day.
One effect of this is that the boundary between dreaming and everyday life can become a little bit blurred and a new study by sleep psychologist Erin Wamsley aimed to see how often this occurs and what happens when it does.
Some of the reports of are quite spectacular:
One man, after dreaming that a young girl had drowned in a nearby lake, asked his wife to turn on the local news in full expectation that the event would be covered. Another patient experienced sexual dreams of being unfaithful to her husband. She believed this had actually happened and felt guilty about it until she chanced to meet the ‘lover’ from her dreams and realized they had not seen each other in years, and had not been romantically involved.
Several patients dreamed that their parents, children, or pets had died, believing that this was true (one patient even made a phone call about funeral arrangements) until shocked with evidence to the contrary, when the presumed deceased suddenly reappeared. Although not all examples were this dramatic, such extreme scenarios were not uncommon.
This sometimes happens in people without narcolepsy but the difference in how often it occurs is really quite striking: 83% of patients with narcolepsy reported they had confused dreams with reality, but this only happened in 15% of the healthy controls they interviewed.
In terms of how often it happened, 95% of narcolepsy patients said it happened at least once a month and two thirds said it happened once a week. For people without the disorder, only 5% reported it had happened more than once in their life.
Although a small study, it suggests that the lives of people with narcolepsy can be surprisingly interwoven with their dreams to the point where it can at times it can be difficult to distinguish which is which.
If you want to read the study in full, there’s a pdf at the link below.