Tracking dreams and nightmares

Does sleep tea work?

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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.

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.

A month of INTP-flavored abstinence

My mind has been so active lately. For example, I’ve been averaging one or two dreams/nightmares a day for the last month and a half since I came home from Europe. Quite unusual. My subconscious, via instinct, has been regularly delivering me the answers to some very hard questions. My instinct used to speak to me about once a year, so it’s been a very noticeable change from that. Although my everyday situation in life remains stagnant, I’ve been learning so much through cognition that my writing, my dialogue with friends, counseling, and so on can barely keep up with the content my mind is sifting through. There are so many thoughts that need checking. One does not simply accept what their intuition tells them when the conclusions are so novel relative to one’s experience. “How can I know this?” is a common one. But I digress.

All this thinking is a distraction from the work I must complete. Much of it is misused. I cannot stop thinking, so it seems what I naturally do is redirect it to what is convenient for my lazy and impulsive conscious mind. One of my worst behaviors by far is to fixate on hobbies and adopt compulsive projects in order to procrastinate and distract myself. I need to work on that big time. I’m not sure I’ll be able to follow through, but I have to try. I cannot back down from a challenge that I know to have such important consequences if I succeed. I will try and that’s what matters the most. I refuse to stop trying, even if it’s just trying to try.

For a month, I’ll abstain (read: try to abstain) from pursuing any projects describable by any of these terms: weird, crazy, obsessive, stupid. That pretty much rules out all of them. Only piano practice, blogging, and cooking will be permitted as possible exemptions. I must spend more time confronting the work that makes me uncomfortable but is important to my goals. I must lean into that discomfort and try to understand it and accept it.

Brilliant or stupid?

INTPs love ideas. We love ideas for their own sake. Why pursue happiness when you can pursue ideas? These ideas don’t have to be practical or useful to be beautiful. We are known for having numerous hobbies and projects, and an absolutely dismal completion rate for these projects. When we stick to one thing for an extended amount of time, we tend to get bored and end up switching to something else. The saying “the proof is in the pudding” does not seem to apply to us, because coming up with the idea is often enough satisfaction for us as it is. Taking such tendencies to the extreme, such as too frequently allowing the brain its dopamine hit without actually having achieved anything, can lead to problems such as chronic procrastination, addictive behaviors, and attention disorders. Another natural consequence of our admiration for ideas, especially if we don’t engage in enough disciplined practice, is that we don’t get as good at carrying out our elaborate plans. This means that when we have an exceptionally precious idea, that we’re determined to bring to life without question, there may well be a deficit in skill and a resulting mismatch between what we dreamed and what we end up with.

Enthusiasm, ideals, optimism, and naivety are usually what inspire me to make my ideas happen. But the work involved is almost always harder than initially imagined, and what tends to happen is that I trade in my feelings for that logical state to keep me focused. At some point near completion, I’ll realize I’ve lost the ability to appreciate the beauty and context of the original idea. Maybe my work disappoints me. Maybe the idea was silly all along—how did I ever think this idea was genius?

Feelings become inaccessible. Introspection is silent. Emotions do not compute. But I’ve come so far and put so much into the work; I can finish it and I might as well. Trust in the self that could see the beautiful forest before, even if I can only see ugly trees now. The idea always turns out to be brilliant or stupid, and before you finish the project both outcomes seem simultaneously probable. What is this, quantum physics? Why can’t the idea just be mediocre? Why does sustained effort always have this emotional cost?

Wrapping up the social distance experiment

Quite a success, I’d say.

In response to a particularly rough week in terms of handling emotions, this past week I’ve engaged in an experiment where I’ve tried to reduce interactions that cause unnecessary emotions. I tried to: not initiate contact with friends, abstain from using empathy around people, stop feeling the need to explain myself, and avoid making new acquaintances. Maybe most importantly, I decided to practice being selfish in the way I view friends.

Actually, I violated the terms of the experiment many times. The good thing is that it was always in the back of my mind, my behavior was more conservative, and I simply acknowledged the times when I really wanted to break the rules. I never expected to follow it to a tee, knowing that in the end awareness is the key.

The experiment was successful in that sense. In fact, I made a very significant breakthrough that has been holding me back in forming deeper connections with my existing friends. The specifics do not matter, but my assumptions from one long-term friendship of questionable value was holding me back from all my other friendships. The context of my experiment finally allowed me to recognize and acknowledge my fundamental dissatisfaction in that friendship—which is a feeling that I had been failing to process from a logical and practical point of view for quite some time.

When a long-standing assumption or branch of logic is collapsed in its entirety (in the INTP mind), it often triggers a whole series of re-evaluations and further chains of propagation. There is a sudden clarity to me about the kind of social interactions I desire, and what I think of as high quality interactions. In the past it wasn’t easy to acknowledge desire (for fear of disappointment or rebuke), but even if I’m past that it’s still not always easy to know what you want after neglecting and being out of touch with your own needs for most of your life.

Naturally, my emotions have also been more grounded this past week. I certainly haven’t been avoiding emotions; rather, I’ve given them adequate space while making sure they don’t cause a mess by interacting with each other too much. Gosh, it sounds like I’m raising emotions like a caregiver or something.