I’ve been sleeping a lot lately. Well, actually I haven’t. It just seems that way. If I count the number of hours sleep I get a day it would total about 7, give or take. I don’t sleep all at once – waking up every few hours for a drink. In fact the last time I slept for a solid 8 hours without waking up would be around 10 years ago (remember the band ‘Right Said Fred’, whatever happened to them?). People who complain about getting broken sleep should live with my sleep patterns and see how they get on! Anyway, that’s not my point.
I go to bed around 12.30am (and read National Geographic magazine for a while if you must know) and get up in the morning about 7am – I didn’t say wake up because it takes my eyes a while before I can actually see out of them. But since I’ve started upping my exercise regime (I’ll be damned if I’m going to become a flabby late-20-something) I’ve been falling asleep on my sofa for a nap in the early evening. This was something I thought I’d left behind when I was at school (when you’re growing you really do need loads of sleep – teenagers aren’t just lazy, their bodies do need more rest). I’ve always found it a disorienting experience. One minute it’s daylight outside and the next I wake up and it’s pitch black. For a few moments I have no idea where I am, what I’m doing there and what the hell is going on. Then it comes back to me and I feel even more tired than I was before I laid down.
But with all this perceived sleeping I’ve been doing quite a lot of dreaming. I’ve mentioned how bizarre my dreams are before (the first paragraph) and sometimes they can confuse the hell out of me. I don’t know about you but my dreams can be so realistic that at a later point I can get confused as to whether a situation I’m remembering has actually happened or I just dreamed it. My memory is hazy enough (misspent youth and mobile phones) about real events without clouding it with realistic dreams.
Another strange thing that happens in my dreams is to do with emotions. I’ve had a few dreams where I’ve cheated on my girlfriend and, in the dream, I feel sooooo guilty and terrible that I can hardly take it. I wake up and the feelings are gone (obviously because it never happened), but the memory of them is very real. Maybe my subconscious is punishing me for looking at other women or something (just joking kid!). I’ve even had a dream where I was crying like a bridesmaid at a wedding and when I woke up my eyes were wet as I really had been crying. But the weird thing was that the emotion I had felt in the dream had gone, so there I was with tears running down my cheeks felling great and looking forward to a sunny day. I almost laughed. I guess you’d have to have been there…
Another curious thing is recurring dreams. I do genuinely get the one where I turn up to an exam without having attended any classes during the year (and thus feel the panic of not being prepared) from time to time – and I will note that I have at least remembered to change out of my pyjamas. In fact, that one came true at University (the exam one, not the pyjama one). I attended one lecture in Operations Management all year and, when it came time for the final exam, I just didn’t answer the management question. Problem solved.
But for years I’ve had not a recurring dream but a recurring person in my dreams. It’s a girl and she pops up now and then in different circumstances with no general pattern. I’ve had a good look at her in a couple of dreams and I definitely don’t recognise her from the real world. Who is she? Why does she appear in some of my dreams? No idea. I actually asked her who she was in a dream once (did I mention that I sometimes have lucid dreams? You know, where you are actually awake inside a dream) and she just smiled and walked away. It kinda freaks me out when I wake up and realise it was her again. Like when you wander around and keep seeing the same person in the corner of your eye following you around… Maybe she’s a subconscious stalker. You think there are laws against that? Unlikely.
I suppose the strangest thing about dreams (for me) is that they are perceptually no different from reality. When you see somebody you know and have a conversation with them, that’s not what’s really happening. Your brain is actually taking the outside world and rendering it for you to interact with. If you’re standing in a noisy crowd you can’t really hone in on any voice or conversation in particular, it just sounds like a rabble. But if someone says your name you hear it instantly. The thing is, your brain is listening to all the chatter around you but until it hears your name it doesn’t bother to relay the conversations to you. It filters out everything without you ever realising it. Your brain chooses what it wants you to be aware of. Scary.
So reality is a bit like virtual reality in a way. And when you’re having a vivid dream, your brain is just sending you the same signals it would in the normal world, so to you it’s real even though it’s not. So my question is this. When I’m not sure if I’ve dreamed something or actually experienced it, how can I really know for sure which is which? And if you tell me which is which, how do I know that you’re not just a part of the dream?