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…

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.

Requiem

Music Spotlight: Duruflé’s Requiem

According to the TED presentation, The transformative power of classical music | Benjamin Zander (which I can recommend if you’re craving a bit of emotional inspiration), the purpose of music is simply to make us feel something. Not all music has a well defined purpose, but the topic of this spotlight does—it’s a requiem.

If you learn nothing else from this post, remember this:

A Requiem is a celebration for the dead.

Where did requiems originate from?

Requiems are inspired by the Requiem Mass, a Catholic liturgical service. Composers began to use the texts from the Requiem Mass simply because of the dramatic character, but these works are not performed for services (they’re too long and have no liturgical relevance). Even though a Requiem may have limited genuine religious value, it’s still interesting to note some of the context.

A Requiem Mass is offered for the repose of the soul or souls of one or more deceased persons. It is frequently, but not necessarily, celebrated in the context of a funeral. In Catholic funerals, the Church seeks firstly to offer Mass for the benefit of the soul of the deceased so that the temporal effects of sin in Purgatory may be extinguished, and secondly to provide condolence and comfort for the deceased’s family and exhort the latter to pray, along with the Church, for the soul of the departed. [Adapted from Wikipedia]

Maurice Duruflé

The piece is simply titled Requiem so we call it Duruflé’s Requiem. The composer was a notorious perfectionist who would even touch up his works after they were published! That’s something that speaks to me strongly. It is difficult for me to describe or categorize Requiem. Some might call it arabesque music, others might even say it’s impressionist music (a controversial term—”conveying the moods and emotions aroused by the subject rather than a detailed tone‐picture”). It definitely incorporates themes from Gregorian chants.

Personal significance of Duruflé’s Requiem

My overall reaction to hearing Requiem was at first, and still is, I can’t believe music like this exists. I’ve sung Gregorian chants and other Requiems before. This isn’t even close to anything else I know. Musically speaking, there are so many time changes in the music, and yet it has this fluidity due to its Gregorian inspirations that transcends standard time. Difficult to count through, I cannot imagine myself being able to master playing the organ part within a lifetime. There’s also so much diversity and richness of emotion over the various ritual texts. Even the disinterested observer would not be able to write it off as “the same old religious music.”

I had the ‘privilege’ of singing Duruflé’s Requiem for its actual written purpose, in dedication to our own choir member who had taken his own life. Although he was simply a loose acquaintance, I had just started to enjoy interacting with him under a different context to our less-than-cordial past. Our preparation and performance came near the height of my dissatisfaction with our choir. I cared nothing for our group on a personal level, and, while supposedly being the best permanent choir in town, I held our work ethic and lack of attention beyond notes and ego-based environment in absolute disdain. Eventually I did quit and no longer wished to pursue one of my former dreams of joining the national youth choir, which somehow I’m sure I was capable of doing. It’s funny, but I just do not gel with musicians.

Naturally, singing the Requiem was not about me. I put everything aside to do my best in this celebration for the dead. It didn’t matter if I was performing alongside others for whom this was a mere formality. It didn’t even matter if I made mistakes, which remarkably I didn’t. My sincere and brave presence was required, and that was it.

Requiem is a damn sophisticated work. There were many parts I didn’t fully appreciate in context until I bothered to examine the translation of the Latin. Whether you understand the words or music or not, just imagine listening to it as a parting celebration for a hypothetical person, and then it will start to make sense. Not all of it, but some of it will speak out powerfully.

Translation

Duruflé’s Requiem is set in nine movements. To provide context, I’ve included small excerpts with translations for each movement. I encourage you to read along while listening to it.

I. Introit (entrance)

Requiem aeternam
dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Eternal rest
give to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

II. Kyrie (Lord, have mercy)

Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Lord have mercy on us,
Christ have mercy on us.
Lord have mercy on us.

III. Domine Jesu Christe (Lord Jesus Christ—offertory)

Domine Jesu Christe, rex gloriae
libera animas omnium fidelium
defunctorum de poenis inferni

O Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory,
deliver the souls of all the faithful
departed from the pains of hell
and from the deep pit.

Tu suscipe pro animabus illis,
quarum hodie
memoriam facimus,
fac eas, Domine,
de morte transire ad vitam

do Thou accept them
for those souls
whom we this day commemorate;
grant them, O Lord,
to pass from death to the life

IV. Sanctus (Holy)

Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth,
pleni sunt coeli
et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis!
Benedictus, qui venit
in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis!

Holy, Lord God of hosts.
The heavens and the earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He Who cometh
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

V. Pie Jesu (Pious Jesus)

Pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem sempiternam.

Gentle Lord Jesus,
grant them eternal rest.

VI. Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)

Agnus Dei, qui tollis
peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem sempiternam

Lamb of God, Who takest away
the sins of the world:
grant them eternal rest.

VII. Lux aeterna (Eternal light)

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,
cum sanctis tuis in aeternum,
quia pius es.

May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord,
with Thy saints forever,
for Thou art merciful.

Requiem aeternam
dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Eternal rest
give to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

VIII. Libera me (Deliver me)

Libera me, Domine,
de morte aeterna,

Deliver me, O Lord,
from eternal death

dum veneris judicare
saeculum per ignem.

and Thou shalt come
to judge the world by fire.

Tremens factus sum ego et timeo
dum discussio venerit

I quake with fear and I tremble
awaiting the day of account

Dies illa, dies irae,
calamitatis et miseriae,

Day of mourning, day of wrath,
of calamity, of misery,

Requiem aeternam
dona eis, Domine,

Eternal rest
give to them, O Lord,

Libera me, Domine,
de morte aeterna,

Deliver me, O Lord,
from eternal death

IX. In Paradisum (Into paradise)

In Paradisum
deducant Angeli in tuo
adventu suscipiant te Martyres
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus Angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requiem.

May the angels
receive them in Paradise,
at thy coming may the martyrs receive thee
and bring thee into the holy city Jerusalem.
There may the chorus of angels receive thee,
and with Lazarus, once a beggar,
may thou have eternal rest.

Listen

At the time of writing, this one is my favorite recording of Requiem available on YouTube. It’s a very difficult work and I feel some of the other performances are a bit off.

Further reading

Full text and translation.

There’s even a whole Honors thesis on this. The Duruflé Requiem: A Guide for Interpretation