The Bad Dream Reset

I sometimes take these afternoon naps where sleep so hard it’s like time just skips ahead. I call them “death naps.” They’re not restful at all since I just turn off for an hour or so, but the big problem is that there’s no departure from my mental timeline. I wake up thinking about the things I was thinking about when I went to sleep. Sleep is supposed to clear things up. A mental vacation. I need that break from reality.

When I go to bed for the standard nightly sleep cycle, I dream. A lot. Sometimes my dreams are so vivid and so far removed from my daily life that I wake up in a state of amnesia. And it can last for a couple hours. I mean, it’s not like I don’t remember my name, but I have no attachment to anything. I don’t feel a sense of urgency to be anywhere or contact anyone. Any previous obligations I had no longer carry any weight. I just walk around the house. Eat something. Stare out the window. Flip through a magazine. Then something – usually the phone – will remind me that I have a job and have places to be.

But even then, it can persist. I go to the job and wave to people I know, but in this detached frame of mind. I feel like I’m inside a fishbowl and the rest of the world moves by outside. I’ll have whole conversations with other people where I’m interacting and replying to questions, but in my head it’s like I’m listening to an analog recording of something that happened years ago. I’ll think, “Weird that I said that right there.” But I won’t correct myself because it’s on the recording that way.

It’s not that I’m dwelling on the dream and think I’m still there. I’ve already forgotten it. It’s as though I’ve picked up a book and opened to the middle and started reading. Nothing around me has any context. I’m living in the middle of this book that someone else wrote and I haven’t read the pages leading up to now. The whole experience can be extremely refreshing. It’s like a reset button and I wake up without feeling any stress at all. I have no connection to any consequences after nights like these. All because I had a really strong dream.

I’ve heard dreams are the off-gassing of the sub-conscious. All the thoughts you don’t have the chance to process over a few days or even years come out in dreams. Pressure is relieved and the sub-conscious comes out cleaner. Maybe what’s happening to me is that my off-gassing goes too far and doesn’t leave enough pressure left. When morning comes, I’ve lost all my bookmarks and footnotes. I’m not waking up shouting, “You’re not my father!” But it takes me some time to remember who I am and what I do. I have to research my timeline to figure out where I need to pick it back up.

Nightmares are the best for this phenomenon. The worst of these bad dreams make me I feel like I wake up and they’ve come true. I try to discreetly go around interviewing my friends and co-workers to make sure they’re the same people. Just to make sure I haven’t skipped over to some other thread of reality where people are different… but the same! Is that crazy?

When I was really young, like around five or six, I had really intense nightmares. Wake up screaming kind of deal. They said it was common in highly intelligent children. So I went around for a couple months terrified to go to sleep, but happy that I was smart. Then my grandmother (who just passed away a year ago at 103) said I should stop eating sugar before bed. Doing that causes bad dreams, she said. So Mom cut off my bedtime snack and guess what? The nightmares stopped. Then I wandered around for a couple months wondering if I wasn’t very smart and only had nightmares because I liked ice cream.

In recent months, the stress levels at work have fluctuated wildly. Sometimes weeks go by and everything is fine, but then there will be a huge push for some number gathering or a deliverable will be pushed up a month or two. It’s these latter times that make me wish I could have some crazy dreams and have that micro amnesia on purpose. The problem is that the stress causes me to lose sleep and have more death naps. People say I should exercise more. So I do. But then that gives me energy so I don’t even have the naps anymore. Lately, I’ve taken to eating before bed in hopes of inducing my dream detachment. Maybe one night I’ll eat a whole birthday cake and wake up the next day with no memories at all.

If I don’t get back to you about this experiment, you’ll know it worked.