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…

Fe grip during my trip

I gambled my life and future on this trip. We’ll see if I was a smart gambler after all.

Ah, the infamous Fe (Extraverted Feeling) grip. The Fe grip is a mood or state that Introverted Thinking dominant people fall into sometimes. It is associated with visible expressions of emotion and can seem rather uncharacteristic of their typically logical mindsets.

Every INTP experiences it differently. This is just my own hypothesis, but I think that emotionally unaware INTP adults tend to experience the Fe grip very infrequently and only for a short duration, emotionally aware but immature INTP adults (like myself) tend to experience cycles between “normality” and the Fe grip, and mature INTP adults start to get good at managing their energy/triggers and even deliberately manipulating their mood if they need to.

In this post I will talk about my own personal Fe grip, in particular during this trip. For a brief history, I first became emotionally aware about two years ago after my first emotional breakdown, and as I started learning I experienced a long Fe grip—two months. It was pure bliss, and I was almost overwhelmingly happy all the time. (I guess contrast is such a powerful thing.) Eventually that ended and I fell into cycles of intense logic and isolation followed by cheerfulness and almost normal feelings of sociability. And in my current stage, I’m simply learning how to detect and interpret my energy levels and triggers. However hard that sounds, it’s harder than that.

I think the main MBTI theory focuses on triggers for the Fe grip, starting or ending it. While I do have triggers as well, the typical outlets of anger and frustration for INTPs do not apply to me so much except with someone specific. Instead, I believe the primary thing for me to look at is my social/emotional energy levels. For starters, bad things happen if you don’t acknowledge your emotions (especially if you aren’t aware of them). That’s all I’ll say about that. The basic energy level then is the “introvert battery.” You’ll see this analogy a lot, and it just means that an introvert (as opposed to an extrovert) spends energy when interacting with other people and they need to recharge their energy by having quality alone time.

My current theory for me is that cycling between the default cold INTP state and the overly sentimental and sociable Fe grip is usually caused by charging energy for too long without spending enough, and then often discharging all too quickly due to overeagerness and poor management. A cycle can last between a week and a few months, with the Fe grip lasting at most 50% of the period and usually closer to a third or less. The problem with letting these involuntary or inadvertent cycles happen is that both phases get exaggerated. You don’t want to speak to anyone. You neglect even your closest friends for up to months. You’re possibly productive, really bad if you’re not, and highly stressed either way. You live without balance in terms of exercise and diet. And then suddenly you don’t wanna work you just wanna play and you really want to make new friends you clearly don’t have enough close friends and you wanna share your innermost thoughts and emotions and just hang out and you catch up with your best friend for hours and you have a great time and think why not do this next week again and this is great you feel like you’re almost normal you want this feeling to last and why not go further then you make a new online acquaintance and express a mutual interest in—BAM. Next cycle hits. You’re gone for months again.

So, if you can prevent these rough cycles by balancing your energy, then maybe you can tap into logical efficiency and still maintain a satisfying social life as you see fit. I think I’ve spent most of my trip—two months and counting—in the Fe grip or near it. Is that unhealthy or suboptimal? In this case, I think not for a couple of reasons.

  1. I came here to reset my stress levels. When you know almost nothing about Europe, trying to research and plan everything is a stressful activity. I could spend a whole month planning how to spend the next month, but that would necessarily neglect the quality of the month spent planning. I have a huge tendency to over-research and fall into analysis paralysis. I said no to all that and yes to impulsive decisions and relying on strangers to help me.
  2. Relying on help from strangers. It would be difficult to do this in a hard logical state. In fact, the logical conclusion anyway would be that I need to charge as quickly as possible and risk falling into the Fe grip in order to make the most of social interactions and not burn out trying to figure out things on my own.
  3. Being more reliant on instincts. An INTP in the Fe grip can struggle to force themselves to be logical, have an obviously biased sense of perception, and feel rather conflicted about it. Traveling is such an unpredictable and subjective experience anyway, I felt that yielding logic in favor of instincts was better for making sense of things in a short period of time without the stress associated with thinking.
  4. Buridan’s ass. Similar to above reasons, but sometimes a decision simply can’t be logically computed or the decision doesn’t really matter in the scope of things.
  5. Distorted sense of judgment. Canonically speaking, the Fe grip is associated with being triggered by stress, manifesting as unpleasant emotional outbursts, and resulting in all sorts of social paranoia fueled by emotional securities. My experience is the opposite in this case, with a distinct lack of stress and my Fe mood being rather optimistic. As an example, I don’t tend to rule out the possibility that a stranger I’m meeting up with (especially a woman) could be a serial killer. (This is logic speaking.) In fact, I can be rather paranoid about it. In one case, I even met up under ideal conditions for a serial killer, though I was clearly wondering whether those conditions were coincidental or not. My Fe mood said “well I hope the dinner is nice at least.”
    Another important implication was not worrying too much about what people thought about me. A negative Fe mood can cause all sorts of negative thoughts about people’s motives and being puzzled about why people are being so nice to you. I mean, I still had these kinds of thoughts because of my past, but thanks to my Fe grip being underpinned by childlike naivety, I’ve internalized these surprising social experiences through a positive lens. Perhaps even too positive than is realistic. But good memories can’t hurt, right?
  6. No logical nightmares. There is nothing more torturous than what I call a logical nightmare. (It’s something that only happens to me.) In the past, writing as much as I have during this trip was a specific trigger for nightmares, though mostly also because I wrote for misguided reasons. Now that I’m writing because I want to, although it still seems like too much in terms of the time it takes, it’s good to find out that it doesn’t cause me stress anymore.
  7. Willingness to make mistakes. ‘Healthy mistakes’ will be made and it’s good to not just accept that reality without beating yourself up over it, but to even enjoy it.
  8. Get inspired. Being overly sentimental about everything can be a source of inspiration for INTPs. Unfortunately there has been a lack of suitable outlets for me while traveling. Sigh, I wrote a poem and went through all the associated stuff… really not a healthy thing from an objective point of view.
  9. Eat less. I usually eat 50% more than what I have been eating during this trip. My brain is really energy inefficient and also generates stress as a by-product, but lack of stress and staying out of logic mode has made a huge difference in my appetite. While I’ve saved money as a result, it’s quite a disadvantage in terms of trying out different kinds of foods when a few Hungarian pastries is enough for a day.
  10. Combating laziness. I’m extremely lazy and I’ve managed to respect my laziness while still doing a fair bit. It’s mostly to do with activation levels, and my craving for meaningful social interactions has given me a fighting edge.
  11. My lists are always too long so I’ll end here even if I missed something. Although I make a lot of edits like when I remember later. :S

There are certainly downsides too, but I believe it’s been quite okay for me to be in the Fe grip for all this time. Despite my lengthy description, I’m still actually quite bad at reading my energy level or figuring out whether there’s actually two levels (social and emotional) I need to distinguish specifically. Quality of interactions matters a lot; different people/situations drain different amounts of energy. In theory, some rare people even top up energy when you spend time with them. I’ve never felt lonely this trip, per se, but sometimes on consecutive days I switch from “man I really want friends here” to “damn there are too many people now,” even if there was no change in number of acquaintances.

The end of the Fe grip

The Fe grip will always end; the only question is when and how. I’ve been expecting it for most of this trip actually, just anticipating the crash. Somehow it just hasn’t happened yet, despite how much energy I’ve expended. I guess there must be something that’s different from the circumstance at home that has allowed me to sustain a positive charge no matter how I have spent my energy (often unexpectedly). I don’t believe that exploration does that for me. Exploration makes me tired, and it’s something I keep having to force myself to do during this trip. (Although I do tell myself it’s okay to not explore.) That said, I’m very curious by nature, and my curiosity can be sustained for a very long time under ideal conditions.

It’s important for me to note that I’ve been emotionally overwhelmed several times during this trip. A large part of that is because I’ve experienced so many firsts, and first times always leave a stronger impression on you than subsequent times. My main emotional outlet this trip would have to be crying. I used to be really good at crying as a child, and I lost that ability due to how I coped with the trauma of emotional neglect I unknowingly went through. Crying feels much better now, and I wonder if there is some special interaction with my introvert battery.

The Hiddening

If this Fe grip ends with a hard crash into cold logic, it’s a possibility that I’ll act like nothing from my trip ever happened for a few months or more. What trip? What new friends? What inspiration? On the other hand, if I land smoothly and can regenerate and maintain a reasonable balance as I try to approach so many aspects of my life afresh, maybe I’ll be able to integrate the me I’ve discovered during this trip with my present situation at home. I have no idea how it will go.

I gambled my life and future on this trip. We’ll see if I was a smart gambler after all.

Appetite

Appetite is controlled by the brain. The brain is often too stubborn to change its setpoint in terms of appetite, but I think living in a new environment has done it for me.

One thing I find really troublesome about science is that you can never really trust any source just because they said something. This is a common acquired perspective among postgraduate students in scientific fields, but believe me when I say I’ve put it very lightly. My point for now is that you shouldn’t trust me either, just because I’m about to cite something that gives the appearance of being properly researched to some extent.

My appetite remains weird, even though all that lingers of my cold is a dry cough. I could have blamed the cold. I could have blamed 11 hours of jet lag, which is almost the worst possible scenario. I could suppose that my body hasn’t fully adjusted to the food and water here, or that the sudden increase in my cocoa consumption is working as an appetite suppressant. But my most recent theory is this: my brain has flipped a switch. All my previous assumptions no longer apply. There aren’t any snacks around. No one’s gonna cook for me. There’s no such thing as comfort food. Eating requires the setup cost of deciding on a place, walking there, ordering, and waiting for the food to be served. Eating has always been a bit of a hassle, even though I kind of want to try different foods here, but now sometimes I feel unmotivated to feed myself. Occasionally, I procrastinate eating in order to save up for the next meal of the day, for which I’ll just eat a normal portion. Problem solved.

At home, I do overeat a little, and maybe it’s related to stress. In this new environment, I cannot tell whether I am stressed at all. There is almost nothing that can go wrong, since I have few external requirements. I have some things I want to achieve in a timely manner, and I am achieving them slower than I would hope for, but I am the only person who can put myself under stress. I am the filter. I can consciously decide whether to be stressed or not in relation to what I observe or feel. And lately, it’s been quite easy to choose not to be stressed. Not to overthink. I’m eating more out of necessity and less out of habit. That didn’t use to be the case, so even though appetite seems messed up, maybe I’m eating exactly how much I need to. Although, my nutritional choices could be better :X

Here’s a short TED talk, “Why dieting doesn’t usually work“, which essentially inspired my theory. I’ve experienced a sudden semi-permanent change in appetite before, as a result of treating GERD with proton pump inhibitor medication (which by the way, was a mistreatment: acid reflux treatment is one of those failings of peer-review medical science where doctors prescribe something that’s been labelled all this time as a working treatment despite a mass of more recent evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, showing the contrary, but commercialism or some other self-righteous concern prevents a correction from being made). This time I also feel like there’s a fundamental change in conditions that might have affected my brain’s control setpoint.