A reality of dreams

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.

Link to locked study at Sleep journal (via @Neuro_Skeptic)
pdf of full text.

3 thoughts on “A reality of dreams”

  1. Reblogged this on Axion NeuroTherapy and commented:
    The NeuroEnhancing Effect of Illusion.

    In the best of circumstances, many of us struggle to get to the core of reality, of what is actual and what is just illusion. Imagine living an existence where that boundary were even more blurred, where the construct of a dream would permeate your day so clearly that you would go so far as to make funeral arrangements for a loved one who “died” in your sleep.

    Though narcolepsy is a disease, an abnormality of the immune system gone rogue, maybe we could learn something from this condition, something about the way we struggle to define reality. Do you trust yourself to call something real? How secure are you in declaring the tangible, the solid, to represent what is true?

    Physicist Martin Savage makes the argument that we may actually be simulated beings, created by a designer that enjoys enormously sophisticated power to manufacture a very realistic environment, a sort of Matrix. If this were the case, could the Simulation Model give us insight into “diseases” such as narcolepsy? Or schizophrenia? Or those eerie moments, the times when strange synchronicity seems to create events too coincidental to be accidental?

    So contemplate self-healing from that perspective, just for a moment. Imagine the placebo effect, which turns out to be very powerful indeed, as a sort of subroutine, a reboot or system rebalancing program. If we are simulated beings running on a super-sophisticated computer, wouldn’t it make sense for the code designer to include a routine to debug and defrag? And could conditions like narcolepsy represent an errant process, a bug, that simply demands a reboot, or some debugging to improve the system?

    Chew on that a bit. Drop that one in for some contemplation then tell me: Which of your systems needs the most debugging? Your patience? Your endurance? Your level of compassion and empathy? Or how about your sense of direction? And if you could run a reboot, how would your life be different with the “new you” running better than ever?

  2. I did not realize subscribing to mind hacks would be so useful….I hadn’t heard about this autoimmune component of narcolepsy but I had extreme fatigue including episodes of falling asleep on the living room floor, frequent sleep paralysis and autoimmune issues. This post (no kidding) prompted me to schedule a sleep study (years after my GP ordered one) and ta da, results indicate this is likely what’s been plaguing me all these years.

    Still have follow up tests to do but like the blood tests but good to have some clues. Much obliged.

    I have had dreams about mundane household tasks that seem to meld into where I put my keys or what I bought at the grocery store, but not enough to think its part of the disorder!

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