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.