London calling…

What about you, are you a dreamer?

Nikita khandelwal

Nikita Khandelwal

In a previous post, I told you that the new and unprecedented lockdown period had led to three major types of sleep disruption. Consequently, some people told me about sleep disruption induced by a high level of anxiety related to the pandemic. These people admitted to more frequent, sometimes strange and at times even worrying, vivid dreams. Let me tell you about Laura’s dream, which recurred throughout the lockdown. In her dream, she is a passenger on a plane about to take off at night. Safely secured in her seat, the plane picks up speed at a normal rate and takes off. Suddenly, the pilot announces loudly through the loud-speakers that a technical problem has occurred on the plane, forcing it to land in emergency. Laura clutches her seat belt as if her life depended on it. The plane lands in a crash, shaking the passengers in every direction. She takes a look out of the window, and notices that the plane is speeding relentlessly through the streets of London and on the Thames, while the leader of The Clash starts singing London Calling… The world of dreams still has a lot of mysteries to offer, for Laura and for everybody else. This is indeed a particularly intense subject of research which enables us to learn more every day about the role of dreams. Thus, bad dreams such as Laura’s lockdown one are very typical in stressful situations, and validate one of the recent theories about the functions of dreaming: to virtually simulate a threat, in order to better face it during the day. Laura simulates a virtual lockdown - attached on the plane - to better face it during the day, all while trying to escape from this situation by projecting herself towards a future escape in a capital city. In other terms, dreams mainly have the function of emotional regulation. But that’s not it. Some high-level athletes I accompany shared with me their concern about dreaming less than during a normal training period. For a high-level athlete training between 30 to 35 hours per week, the stark reduction in diurnal activity during the lockdown may indeed have been problematic, and indirectly spilled over onto their ability to dream. The quantity of movement throughout the day influences the quality of your sleep. There is still a lot to discover but the vestibular system of the inner ear, which is particularly sensitive to gravitational stimulation, may have an influence on your sleep. It informs the brain about the daily amount of activity, quite like an actimeter which records your number of steps throughout the day. Indirectly, this could contribute to a higher or lesser amount of dreams. That way, astronauts in space have a reduction in rapid eye movement sleep duration. This sleep stage produces the most dreams, it is reduced in space due to the absence of terrestrial gravity. Thus, your night’s dreams are a valuable piece of information for the day ahead. And the quality of your day favours a tendency to dream. What if, starting tomorrow morning, you took the time to think about your dreams and why not even write them down in a dedicated notebook?   

Mathieu Nedelec, sport scientist in charge of research projects on sleep and recovery. I teach best practices to improve sleep and performance. I will read your answers carefully and let you know when my next posts will be published.