Elusive Dreams, Part 2

The Sleeping Gypsy, Henri Rousseau, 1897

The Sleeping Gypsy, Henri Rousseau, 1897

You would be hard pressed to find an artist, scientist, poet, or author who hasn’t been inspired and tantalized by their dreams. Frankenstein’s monster came to life in Mary Shelley’s tumultuous nightmares, not in a storm-wracked laboratory. The characters of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little first spoke in E.B. White’s dreams, while Nyarlathotep haunted H.P. Lovecraft’s sleep. Rush’s epic instrumental La Villa Strangiato was inspired by Alex Lifeson’s dreamscapes, and the surreal imagery of dreams has permeated paintings and sculptures throughout history.

Dreams have sparked countless artistic breakthroughs, but to the author who sits at the keyboard struggling to squeeze a drop of creativity out of his or her parched brain, dreams can be one of nature’s cruelest taunts. Sleep immerses us in a stream of wild, unfiltered creativity, but those wonders run through our fingers and evaporate once the conscious mind takes over.

However, there are three simple things we can do to hold onto more of those details.

1. Keep a dream journal.

Recording bits and pieces of dreams — even a word hastily scribbled in a notebook — can help us to access the memories of that dream. Keep a notebook and pen within easy reach of your bed. (A clip-on reading light is helpful.) When you awaken from a dream, any dream, immediately reach for your notebook and briefly jot down notes on whatever you remember. It’s not necessary to record every detail; write just enough to jog your memory. In the morning, these notes will help you to recall more of your dream, but more importantly, the very act of recording these memories conditions your brain to retain and recall them more easily.

2. Interrupt your dreams before they end.

Salvador Dali and Thomas Edison — polar opposites in many regards — employed one such technique. They would clutch objects in their hands so that the item would clatter to the floor when they nodded off. Awakened in the middle of dreaming, they would sift through the lingering fragments of their dreams to find inspiration before the memory faded away.

Because we enter REM sleep in approximately 90 minute intervals, you can set an alarm to go off in 90-minute increments. Periods of 6 or 7.5 hours are regarded as the best intervals for dream recall, as the later, deeper stages of REM sleep only occur after six hours of rest. These later phases can last up to an hour.

3. Get more sleep.

The deeper phases of dreaming only occur after 6 hours, so if you’re getting 5 hours of rest each night, you’re missing out on the most important recuperative stages. A well-rested mind awakens and recalls dreams more easily than one muddled by fatigue.

Practice these three techniques, and you’ll wake to an endless source of creative inspiration.

Pleasant dreams!

About John Doppler

Author, cruciverbalist, serial hobbyist… John Doppler blends science, art, and humor into a delicious smoothie of chaotic evil.

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