x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

How to weave the meaning of dreams

Do you remember your dreams? The world seems split between people who can recall their nocturnal imaginings and people who do not.

Do you remember your dreams? The world seems split between people who can recall their nocturnal imaginings and people who do not. The former tend to broadcast the often surreal and dramatic occurrence of their sleep in great detail, taking particular relish in recounting your odd behaviour if you happened to put in an appearance. The latter often prefer to say: "I don't dream", which could mean they don't remember their dreams or it could mean the contents of the dream are too strange or embarrassing to relate.

Pretty much everybody dreams. During an average lifetime, six years are spent dreaming. That's less time than spent watching television, but it's enough to notch up quite a few hallucinatory episodes. I tried to think about how I learnt about dreams, but all I could remember was the "dream season" in Dallas, the 1980s US television show.  During one season of this show, which must have been on air when I was about seven or eight years old, the producers gave full reign to their febrile imaginations, killing key characters with gusto. The plot lines grew increasingly bizarre until the season culminated with one of the characters waking up and, as one of the slain characters emerges from the shower, realising it was all a dream.

To say this television show did more for my understanding of dreams than subsequent years spent wading through tomes by Freud would be wrong. Nevertheless, going through the experience of a dream over the length of a television show did help to clarify exactly what dreams were. Dreams play an important part in childhood and their effects are not always good. Roughly 14 per cent of children have nightmares and night terrors. Astrid seems to be one of those children. She wakes up suddenly and starts writhing around and crying out loudly.

She seems awake because her eyes are wide open, but she is actually asleep. These episodes are classic night terrors. They differ from nightmares because they do not occur during rapid eye movement sleep. Apparently there's not much you can do about them. You just have to wait them out and then try to soothe the child back to sleep. These episodes provide a glimpse into the possible prevalence of dreams over the next few years. Astrid will, I feel, be a very active dreamer, one who experiences and remembers dreams when she wakes up.

Explaining dreams and nightmares is going to be a challenging process. Perhaps I will order the DVD box set of Dallas just in case.