Tracking dreams and nightmares

Does sleep tea work?

As a semi-lucid dreamer, dreaming has always been a bit part of my life. A rather sudden and weird change happened to me in terms of dream activity, so I’ve been recording my occurrences of nightmares for the last two months.

Earlier this year I went overseas for a break off study. In a strange new continent. Alone. Trying to find myself, discover how I really feel and what I truly believe. Meeting strange people, eating strange food, observing and experiencing strange ways of life. English speakers not always being available. I had only 3 nightmares during those 70+ days.

I came home to having nightmares every other night. At first, the most twisted nightmares I’ve ever had; ones that are not safe to share or remember. I was confident and ready to confront my problems instead of trying to hide from them. Were these nightmares just out of stress, adjustment, or was my subconscious trying to tell me something? Perhaps it was just the nine hours of jet lag and my body complaining about it. Actually, I do know of one major influence: that house triggered my tinnitus. (In fact, I could almost reasonably blame my having tinnitus on living in that house.)

My friend recommended I try sleep tea to reduce nightmares. I bought sleep tea with chamomile and peppermint. Sleep tea is not only meant to make you sleep better, it’s meant to calm you and relieve stress in a manner that one might imagine conducive to suppressing possible nightmares. Whether it was effective or I was simply benefiting from the placebo effect (which is not a bad thing either), I felt like it made a big difference. I tended to wake up too early due to jet lag but sleep tea was able to keep me knocked out sometimes. I set out to prove or disprove the effectiveness of sleep tea on suppressing my nightmares: using statistics.

Two months data

  • I had at least 19 nights with nightmares and up to 41 nights without nightmares. I only tested sleep tea on 8 of these nights for various reasons such as not wanting to wake up late and not finding nightmares to be a tangible disturbance to my mental health except with regard to sleep quality.
  • My average recall of nightmares probably lies somewhere between 40% and 99%. The number of recorded nights with nightmares is therefore an underestimate and the nightmare-less nights is an overestimate.
  • It is easier for me to remember whether I had a nightmare than how many distinct nightmares I had on the previous night. In any case, I had more than 40 nightmares over these 60 days.
  • I encountered new forms of nightmares so it sometimes became difficult to distinguish what was a nightmare and what was just an unpleasant dream.
  • A nightmare is also known as a “bad dream,” but I generally don’t consider dreams that are both good and bad or just mediocre to be a nightmare unless the bad part is disturbing enough that it wakes me up.
  • I did not track dreams, but I certainly had dreams (including nightmares) on the majority of nights.

Results

The experiment failed; I’m pulling the plug. Temporal factors were too significant. The assumptions of probability might have been reasonable for an earlier period of the experiment, but are no longer reasonable. I “lost” (overcame?) my reliable “source” of nightmares. I also don’t have enough data for nights where I drink sleep tea, but even if I did, the results would be skewed in favor of the hypothesis that drinking sleep tea makes a huge difference, when in reality it is most likely the result of other interfering factors too.

Discussion

It would have been an interesting experiment, and I’ll admit it: I just wanted to do it cause I find applying statistics fun sometimes. I wanted to compute a 90% confidence interval for the minimum percentage of dreams supposedly being suppressed as a consequence of drinking sleep tea. But my results are now incredibly biased. The frequency of my nightmares has decreased significantly, and I don’t need statistics to confirm this. For one thing, I moved out of the house, started flatting for the first time in my life, and have been constantly challenging myself to face my problems. Unfortunately for my craving of practical applications of statistics…

All manner of manners

I was raised to have relatively good manners. I’ve followed some rules of etiquette for many years without necessarily understanding their significance. This conditioning resulted in some subconscious expectations for me. Good people tend to have better manners, right? People who seem to deliberately ignore the basic rules aren’t all that civil, are they? Everyone is aware of these rules, after all?

I’ve had this funny feeling from my travels that I’ve only just understood now. Good manners are not universal. The rules behind manners are not the same across different cultures, even those that speak the same language. They vary from culture to culture, upbringing to upbringing, person to person. The fact that someone does not ever say ‘thank you’ does not mean that they are an ungrateful person. Sometimes I even get the impression that it’s my good manners that are unwarranted or unwelcome.

Having good manners is not an inherently bad thing, but to expect good manners from others can lead to disappointment or misunderstanding. This realization makes me want to adjust some of my behaviors that seem unnecessarily polite. My personality is polite in some ways and rude in other ways, but I should just express myself naturally. I feel like using good manners is a form of protection against discrimination, and yet it is also a fundamental basis for discrimination. I don’t want to actively take part in that anymore. Intention matters more to me than whether people follow the arbitrary culture-specific rules that I was taught.

Easing back into WaniKani

My main challenge for today was to force myself to sit down and knock out 200 reviews on WaniKani without taking breaks. Since I used to use WaniKani as a form of “productive procrastination,” I think my focus eventually degraded to the point that it had no connection to any specific goals. Furthermore, I’m not sure I currently give much of a damn about that box containing the fantasy called “Japan.” But learning a language is still a long-term investment that I see many subtle benefits of making.

200 reviews took me just 58 minutes. I wasn’t even rushing. But if I hadn’t set a specific time for it with a specific measurable goal in mind, it would have taken much longer. Or more likely, I wouldn’t have gotten very far before quitting. But after this session, there won’t be any more legitimate excuses, because it’s not a serious time commitment as long as I learn to discipline my mind.

An engineering problem

In class four years ago, I heard the story of how Shigeo Shingo (supposed creator of the SMED approach) was able to overcome the limitations implied by Harris’ Economic Order Quantity. The idea he applied was simple, but at the same time, it blew my mind the way the story was told.

You don’t always have to accept your limitations as they are implied (or even defined) by math or science. Sometimes you have the ability to change your limitations, and via that change you can replace your old limitations with new limitations that you’ve consciously defined.

As I read over my summary, I feel like it’s both ridiculously obvious and yet profound at the same time; on a logical level, it boils down to almost nothing.

For most of my life, I’ve been unaware of the concept of emotion. Needless to say, I didn’t understand what my own emotional, social, and other well-being needs were, or that they were important at all. Then, three years ago, I became aware of the world of emotion. I learned that these needs exist, and that emotions have to be acknowledged and processed in some way in order for them to not build up until they become overwhelming. But in part, I overcompensated for my history of emotional repression. I respected some emotions too much, gave them too much free rein, and even glorified them while continuing to deny other emotions that were more uncomfortable but equally important. I must change that, and I believe that I can. What I’m trying to do could well be the hardest thing I will ever do in my life, or it could be my ultimate ruin.

I have all these external psychological needs that are all but tangible and that I struggle to meet. I’ve tried for a long time to change the circumstances and manipulate the external factors in order to meet these demands. But it doesn’t work in the long-term, and the practical costs are exorbitant. It’s never enough. This is an engineering problem, and the solution is to effect a change in my internal workings such that the available external resources are rendered sufficient for my new internal needs.

Congratulate me on accepting my new job?

I won’t mince my words: my brain is messed up, from the higher levels of abstraction down to the chemical level. Coming from a background of lifelong emotional suppression and addiction, I have long suspected it and yet I’m still surprised by the details of this conclusion. There’s an adage that we have to be particularly mindful about what new vice replaces the old one we’re trying to overcome. After reading about how to process emotions, I’ve confirmed one of my least favorite hypotheses about my life:

It’s not enough for me to make smart decisions; I must work hard to embody the things I believe in.

When I was introduced to the world of emotions three years ago, I learned to find out what makes me feel good. But my sources didn’t really discuss balance and the bigger picture, so I’ve now realized that I’ve been unknowingly regulating my emotions in an unhealthy manner on a daily basis for years. It seems I typically either over-regulate my negative emotions or try to manipulate myself into feeling positive emotions and then under-regulate those positive emotions. This is my addiction, and it’s very very bad for discipline, willpower, motivation, or any of the things that drive us to work towards our goals.

In light of this information, I must accept my new full-time role as supervisor of my mind and body. There is no other way. I must find out what makes me feel uncomfortable. I must learn to accept that discomfort and operate towards my goals regardless of it. I must switch off the music to my ears. I must be willing to abandon everything I think I know, once again, and purge aspects of my behavior that I may have mistaken for my personality. I’m scared. I’m terrified. But I must be brave. I know this is what needs to be done.

If this is what I am right now, it’s not like I have anything worth losing in the first place; there is no tragedy in this.

One month into the dark chocolate diet

I’ve been experimentally consuming dark chocolate mainly for its appetite suppression for a month now.

Sources of dark chocolate

I’ve tried every viable dark chocolate block available in the supermarket. I believe Whittaker’s Dark Ghana (250 g chocolate block with 72% cocoa) is the most suitable for my nutritional needs. Its cocoa content is actually on the lower end compared to Lindt Supreme Dark (90%) or Green & Black’s organic dark chocolate (85%), while its sugar content is in the middle of the pack. Price wise, which isn’t a very distinctive attribute on the scale of things, it’s probably the 2nd cheapest option.

The reason Whittaker’s Dark Ghana is my favorite is because it’s the least addictive. In fact, it was the only one that I didn’t find addictive. I think it has the simplest taste, and while some of the higher content chocolates have a more distinctive bitterness, they are also somehow more sweet overall despite generally having less sugar. For example none of the 100 g chocolate blocks survived more than 24 hours because they left me craving more, whereas the sizable chunks of Whittaker’s were more satisfying. Maybe there is some psychological benefit to having distinct pieces (rather than a thin block with grooves too thin to be functional); you know exactly how much you’re intending to break off at a time.

I also tried drinking cocoa powder, just dissolved in boiling water. The taste was a surprise at first and will take getting used to. I’m gradually reducing how much sugar I’m taking with it, and I think it will be eventually possible to enjoy it without sugar. Overall, the drink is satiating in some ways, but because it’s winter I sometimes make a second drink.

Effectiveness of the diet

I’ve concluded that some dark chocolates are not very beneficial for reducing appetite. I’m not saying that dark chocolate should be self-suppressing, but if I was given seven 100 g blocks of Lindt Supreme Dark and I finished that in a week, I’d feel that something wasn’t right even if my overall appetite did indeed decrease. I don’t want to manage my appetite; I want it to be self-managing. So far I feel that Dark Ghana works for me. Sometimes I have two and a half meals a day, sometimes two, and on the rare occasion I don’t feel the need to eat until dinnertime. I’m not saying that this effect is inherently desirable, but my appetite is not so much of a burden anymore and my body won’t complain too much about my unreliable cooking routine.

Weight

I’ve lost 1.5 kg in one month on this diet, while having to refrain from exercise due to a mysterious injury that prevents me from walking too much. Although weight loss isn’t my specific intention, I intend to continue this diet for a while, now that I’ve found the right sources of dark chocolate, and observe what happens.

A ridiculous day

Last night was bizarre. Between struggling to fall asleep and my mind being too active when asleep, I was woken up seven times out of over 12 nightmares (and one good dream). 12 nightmares in one night? How is that even possible? I didn’t know it was possible either. They were mostly what I call ‘logical nightmares,’ which I would describe as my mind not being able to shut off and being stuck simulating a decision or analysis without necessarily being aware that the situation is not for real. Sometimes my thoughts sync with physical manifestations of unrest (such as tossing left or right depending on which side of a decision I’m considering), and it can be rather torturous. On this night, I was mainly subject to two relatively unfamiliar forms: the alert, and the conclusion. An example of an alert nightmare is receiving an awaited email and feeling cognitive dissonance with regard to how to feel or respond to it. The “conclusion nightmare,” as I’ll call it for now since this is new to me, is a single thought that draws a conclusion about some internally controversial topic. The conclusion is usually not obvious but may not be true. What’s really shocking about this form of nightmare is its brevity, since the most canonical form of logical nightmares I experience usually encapsulates a helpless indecisiveness such as analysis paralysis. In fact, the most painful aspect of that is not being able to wake up from such a cycle. But with the conclusion nightmare, I’m waking up because the conclusion is shocking or horrifying…

It wasn’t all for nothing, though. During the longest period awake after the fifth terror, my mind was particularly perceptive and intuitive. I completed an important 2-year-old thought experiment that I may write about sometime. I didn’t think I’d be able to confirm my suspicions without first-hand experience, but now I’m sure of my conclusions regarding that imaginary universe I wasn’t born in.

Things that happened during the day, although I don’t want to go into much detail, was also slightly different than usual. I finally got my chance to prove that I’m the best in my family at a skill I haven’t even been allowed to practice.

Later there was a very long family discussion. Two things confirmed. No matter how the problem is presented, Dad simply needs to vent guy-to-guy sometimes. Mom needs to feel needed.

A 10 minute rest in bed at night before driving somewhere. My memory and imagery are incredibly vivid. I have a terrible memory when it comes to musical scores; traditionally I can’t play anything on a piano without sheet music because I can’t even reliably recall the first line of any piece. And here I am, reconstructing the full visual score for a piece that I’ve known for only a few weeks and never tried to memorize. It’s certainly not photographic, but the notes are clear and at least 95% accurate. My visual memory is usually fuzzy at best (probably as bad as my eyesight without glasses), so I really don’t know what’s happening to my brain today.

To top it all off, I think I might have just fallen in love based on the mannerisms of a stranger. Maybe not, but whoa… I’m not always in touch with my intuition, but sometimes when it speaks to me it can surmise about unknowable aspects of a person just from a short period of contact, often so accurately that it would take months to identify details of the assessment (if any) that are not accurate.