Britta's Letters from her life divided between city-life in German's capital Berlin and life in a Bavarian village

Friday, 21 January 2022

Did you dream last night?


The question is not correct: you did dream (scientists say), but you might not remember your dream. Or better: your dreams. 

When we lie in our bed "like batteries in a recharger", Pia Ratzesberger writes in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (a newspaper article I refer to most of the time), over our lifetime we spend "dozens of years in our own motion picture" - mostly without remembering it. 

"The night knows three phases, which repeat themselves after 90 to 110 minutes like the news programme on TV, and we dream in all of them". 

Dreams, though they often seem surreal, cannot utterly escape reality - "our environment pushes through like a pencil through carbon paper". There are different parts of the brain involved: in the beginning the front part of the brain, where our critical thinking sits, logic. The thalamus in the inter brain works like a doorkeeper, he decides which impressions are allowed to enter and which not, and the firmer we close the door the deeper we sleep. 

In the first part of the night dreams are more like snapshots of the day. 

The eerie part of the night begins after more than one hour, the brain region for logic slows a bit down, while the limbic areal, responsible for emotions, starts to work. Our eyes move rapidly, we "fall into scenic dreams, as if we were on LSD." Three phases of sleep rotate - most intensively we dream when the morning is nearing - thus we often can remember those dreams better.  

"In Japan researchers in 2012 could predict with relativ high verisimilitude if a man in a sleep laboratory would dream of an animal or a car". (Hahaha: my impression: most men do that night and day, dream of a car!)

Dreams of falling, of examinations, of coming too late, are "classic dreams", writes Pia. And I didn't know that you can find in the Internet a huge dream diary, with more than 30 000 entries! 

"At least half of the people we meet in a dream we know from our day

And the phenomenon of the nightmare thrives -  not surprising - in crises. Pandemic nights. 

Children and about 5% of grown-ups suffer from frequent nightmares. Psychologists as Michael Schredl found a way to work with that: one should draw the dream into the day by writing, drawing, and thinking how one can change it. One should do that at least two weeks, 10 minutes a day. "Image Rehearsel Therapy" can even help to heal deep traumata as those of war veterans or rape victims. 

How to find out what your dreams want to tell you is another field of explorance - but not new. Around 200 AD, Artemidor of Daldis wrote a book with 300 pages, a reference book for dream interpreters. Sigmund Freud springs to our mind, too.  

Dreams can work as a therapy, preparing us to meet the reality of the day, or help us to train things we wouldn't dare to try in real life - falling, flying, fighting with a bear. 

Dreams do a sort of "reset" in our brain, and allow it to make different bondings and combinations than in daytime. I love the explanation why we cannot remember much in the morning: "If a man compartmentalises in sleep to recover, to clean his hard disk, it would make not much sense if we wake up in the morning with a full memory card.

One of the last sentences of this article is unsettling - but it follows a happy end: 

"The capitalisation of sleep has long ago started. We slick sleeping pills, and put on sleep-tracking watches (...)" (Dream) was till now the only place, in which we cannot do anything, and do not have to do anything. Maybe thus it is quite good when it is always one step ahead, and we cannot catch hold of it completely."

PS: I am proud of the photo I took this early morning - it visualises dream quite well, I hope. 

(My personal view on dreams I will present later in a snippet.) 


  1. I found the topic of sleep very interesting at university. One of the things I remember is that it is a time when connections in the brain are layed down in protein rather than nerve impulses, and that dreams are an experience of this. If you disrupt protein synthesis (e.g. by antibiotics or low temperatures - they froze cockroaches in the fridge in one experiment, I hope they didn't mistake them for pasties) then it disrupts the formation of memories. All very interesting but these days I'm more interested in sleep in practice rather than in theory.

    1. Dear Tasker, "when connections in the brain are laid down in protein" - that reminds me of the explanations for dementia - same effect, though forever.

      Not that I doubt the experiments, but I am very curious how the frozen dreams of a cockroach a) look like and b) how the scientists compare the "before & after" :-)

      The more I think about it the more I want to ask if the name of the leading scientist was Franz Kafka and his most important publication was in 1915 in Germany under the title "Die Verwandlung" = "The Metamorphosis", (subtitle The Transformation) - the cockroach dreams that it was before a salesman with the name "Gregor Samsa"...

  2. Only 5% of adults suffer from frequent nightmares? The most terrible event happened in my family 6 years ago, and although I can keep my mind busy in waking hours, I have no way of diverting attention away from the recurring nightmare at night. Always the same one :(

    Image Rehearsal Therapy might work. At least it would take the control away from the brutal relative... and return it to me.

    1. Dear Helen, I only can rely on the number the article gives - it calls it an "estimation". I wonder too - though Schredl collected more than 15.700 dream protocols of his own dreams, I ask myself how they come to estimate 5 % - because the number of unknown dreams must be huge, and did anybody ever did ask us?
      I feel with you and the horrible burden that must lie on your soul - as you say: the waking hours are not the problem, but the night. Recurring dreams I know too - and try to get their meaning, and it feels like lead all over my body when I wake up. You know the reason of these dreams - your last sentence seems so very important to me: to get back the feeling of control - to be able to change or stop a recurrent dream might take the deepest hurt out of it. Not forgotten, but modified.

  3. Hels comment resonates with me. My former partner suffers nightmares caused by a traumatic event some 20 years previously that lay dormant for 10 years then manifested itself. Treatment for years has not stopped the nightmares. It was frightening for him and for me. After 30 years he no longer lives with me and I still re-live the events daily and nightly. Some of the treatment he received was the image rehearsal type because dream therapy is paramount in the treatment of many mental illnesses, dating back to Freud. For my ex partner it has never seemed to work.

    1. Dear Rachel, I also think that the "doorman" in our brain sometimes maintains a very strict regime about what comes up to our consciousness and what is sealed often for a long, long time - you speak of 10 years.
      So sad that the Image Rehearsal did not work for your ex partner, but even sadder that you still too have to suffer from his problem.
      Living together for such a long time and then separating is a reason of its own to work hard in ones dreams to deal and come to terms with that! I wish for all of us that our wounds will heal.

  4. Yes, I dream Britta, often several in a night in technicolor usually. Some I recall as soon as I wake up, others later in the day. I seem to dream a lot about old boyfriends back in my younger days - wonder what all that means!!! Very informative post, thanks for sharing so much with us.
    More snow coming our way - tonight I will dream in black and white I think.
    Hugs - Mary

    1. Interesting that you mention the colour of dreams, dear Mary! That is a question I often ask people. In the article Pia writes that most people dream in technicolour - one explanation they give is the spread of colour tv - before (she says, but also a little doubtful) more men were "convinced" to dream in black and white.
      I am not convinced, but sure that I do both, dreams in black&white and in colours - in 1975 I wrote a (thick) dream diary which I still possess, so I can look it up. More colour, but also often black and white.
      I do not have the foggiest notion what your special dreams might mean :-) - come to think of it in my dreams I often am the same age as those Adonises :-) - and hope very much that they dream the same too!
      Here the snow vanished after one day - but one never knows when it will return - as with dreams...
      Hugs, Britta

  5. Dreams are strange. They are often so vivid at the time but then you open your eyes and they simply fade away immediately. Sometimes I want to tell my husband what I have dreamt but by the time I go down stairs it is already forgotten.
    Yes, I like your photo too - is it Bavaria in the snow?

    1. Dear Rosemary, dreams vanish so easily - when I wrote my dream diary long ago, I had that diary and a pencil beside my bed and jotted it down as soon as I woke up. Later in the day I dissected it into different layers - some parts were easy to explain, some parts very tricky. I had some recurrent dreams (not nice), and even now I have one, always the same landscape and I am looking for a direction, have lost my way -- well, not a book of seven seals, if you ask me :-)
      Yes, the photo I took in the morning from my balcony in Bavaria - I was thinking about how to illustrate the theme of dream - and there it was.

  6. Dreams are an interesting topic. I rarely remember a dream and luckily sleep quite restfully and soundly. My brother and son are both known to walk in their sleep and I wonder if this is connected to dreaming? Your photo is very beautiful with the full moon and snow covered landscape.

    1. Dear Susan, it is a great gift to sleep soundly! I never met a person who walks in their sleep - it must be very unsettling to wake up in a surrounding one did not expect - an occasion one cannot control is disturbing. Though what I read they never hurt themselves, even when going down a stair.

      I'm glad you like the photo!

  7. I seldom recall a dream.
    That photo is wonderful!

    1. Thank you, Joanne!
      Some dreams are so impressive (and full of meaning) that I still jot them down in my normal diary.

  8. Dreams are so extraordinary and show what the brain can conjure when left to its own devices. Yet in our waking hours, we (read I) can most often feel so devoid of imagination and creativity when we try to direct it somewhere.

    Sometimes I remember bits and pieces for a short moment but not so much. Years ago I was surprised to learn in conversation that not many people have a soundtrack that runs over their dreams like I do. I expect in reality it's just the same refrain on a loop and not a full symphony but it'll usually be what was listened to recently. We travelled through Turkey for a week with a driver once, who had Turkish music playing in the car, and I realised pretty quickly I was playing it back at night through my dreams, in the language I didn't know!

    As a science, sleep seems like one of the final frontiers. And that's an almost eerie photo!

    1. Dear Pip, I do not fear that your brain will ever lose imagination or creativity - never!!
      Very, very interesting is the matter with the "soundtrack" in dreams - I haven't thought about that, (the long newspaper article neither) and though I delved deep into my dreams I could not say that there was one.
      Once I dreamed of a huge wave splashing through my attic - it was a wonderful copy of the famous Japanese picture - and in colour - so art is there, but sound? I do not know. (
      I hear snippets from songs in my mind every day, very, very often - but for me then the words are more important - I use them to find out what I really think (better: feel) of a situation.
      Wow - the Turkish adventure is impressive - and convinces me that I do dream without music.
      "... that investigation of dreams is expensive and isn't very profitable, the big money for research lies somewhere else, and so the group of searchers is not overly large", writes Pia R.
      I add: "Money, money, money, must be funny in a rich man's world" - haha, once in a blue moon that I listen (and agree with) to Abba, which, as a Rolling Stones fan, I did not like when I was younger.

      The photo adds a touch of E.T.A.Hoffmann, I hope :-)

    2. To segue your segue even further from the subject: We had a street fair in my neighbourhood yesterday and I stopped at it for a moment to video (badly) a police brass band playing "Mamma Mia"! Abba are/were very popular in Australia.

    3. And yes to E.T.A. Hoffmann!

    4. Dear Pip, Abba was/is very popular here too - and now their Avatars are travelling through the world. Their costumes and their music must have hit the Zeitgeist - it is just that I never was a fan (they are creating good vibe energetic music, but are as soft saccharine as Rosamunde Pilcher, for my taste)

  9. A few nights ago I went to sleep listening to an audiobook. In my dream there was someone talking to me without stopping to wait for my response to what he said. I interrupted him by telling him to stop talking for a while and let me say something. He paused, then repeated the last sentence before I interrupted him. This made me angry, so I tried to stop him again. Again he paused, then repeated the same sentence. By this time I was really angry and began shouting at him. He paused again, then just repeated the same sentence. I was so angry that I woke up when the reader of the audiobook was reading the same sentence. This means that somehow I had squeezed about 30 seconds into a 3 second period of real time. Dreams are strange.

  10. Dear Tom, so time in a dream evidently does not equal our normed time "in real life". The dream seems to prolong (or shorten) it. The same happens when in a dream we are able to reach a very distant point in the blink of the eye. Or walk back in time easily, mixing past and now-time.
    Every bit as interesting I find our reactions in dreams: the anger that arises if someone is stubborn and impolite and does not listen to us - repeatedly. Maybe "the one" you could not interrupt wore a strange orange-yellow haircut and was partying wildly, thus he didn't even made an effort to listen? Here you didn't need the help of a dream interpreter :-) Query: Could you not only hear but also see the monologising person?
    Dreams are strange - I put on a very old Stones record: "I went to see the gipsy, to have my fortune read..." or, though famous a bit before my time, the Everly Brothers "All I have to do is dream" . The political correct people-police should peruse their song text - not ok, not ok --- that is another quality of dreams: till now nobody can look into our heads and soul -- though, as I mentioned above, the Japanese try to do just that...spooky...

  11. A beautiful photograph Britta.
    Whenever I remember my dreams , they often relate to something I did that day or something I have been thinking about …. even if they are weird ! XXXX