I was transformed into a dog, and running as fast as I could to evade my captors. My friend, who was now a monkey, was riding on my back, shouting directions, which I could not comprehend. We were running low on energy, but thankfully we saw a gas station on the way, and in no time the fuel tank was full and we rejoined the pursuit. My captors were kind enough to wait on us, as the queue warranted some time. I kept thinking that nothing of this makes sense and something is amiss. But I could not make out what exactly.
Thankfully, I woke up from this dream. It was still dark outside. The valley was sleeping peacefully, covered in a thick blanket of trance. My tent mates were sleeping, far from peacefully. It seemed that they were struggling with the dreams of their own. I wondered what character they might be playing. And will they be lucky enough to find a gas station, like I did.
Sun peeked at us, while we were following our morning algorithm. I was still thinking about the dream. It was still very vivid in my mind, even hours after sleep – which is very unusual. We had been trekking for 3 days then, and there did not go by a day when I didn’t have a vivid (and weird) dream. Many of the people in the camp were having the same experience. Dreams that hit you like reality. You wake up and take a good amount of time to come in terms with what is real. A dream, even as stupid and ridiculous as I had, seems to be perfectly normal when you are in it.
We discussed this while trekking towards our next camp site. In absence of any source (read Google) – we were left there to formulate our own theories. It had to do something with oxygen (the most potent drug) – Was lack of oxygen making us dream more? It does make you hallucinate at times. Probable cause. Since it had affected all and sundry, science was the only possible cause. Other theories were shunned along the way.
Our stay in the mountains in Kashmir continued to be dreamy. We were not complaining, since most of the dreams were happy dreams (weird, but happy). Discussing what we dreamt last night, was now a part of our morning algorithm.
I was really curious to know the answer, and one of the first things that I did when I came back to Mumbai was search for this. And the answer is really interesting – We do not dream more in mountains. We just remember it better. Most of the times, when in mountains, we break away from our dreams during REM phase – and hence, we do not forget. So, to summarize, we keep dreaming about weird things all the time, but mountains help us to remember. They are like – “Hey you! Take this. Remember your shit”.
Delving a little deeper into science :
During slow wave sleep a person is in their deepest sleep and their brain slows, becoming less responsive to external stimuli, while during REM sleep a person is dreaming (Harvard Medical School, 2007). Many people are able to better recall their dreams when they awake from REM sleep; it is like they are waking up in the middle of a dream so the dream is readily available to their consciousness. It is possible that at higher altitudes the cycles of sleep happen quicker so we are more likely to wake up during a bout of REM sleep, and therefore more likely to recall our dream. It could also be that the decreased oxygen levels somehow affect our dream recall, making dreams seem more vivid. Even another possibility is that the decreased amount of slow wave sleep, proposed to have the function of consolidating memories from the day, leads the brain to try to make-up for that loss of consolidation through vivid, realistic, dreams. Any of these ideas could be the reason that dreams are reported as more vivid at high altitudes, but these ideas are simply ideas and need to be investigated for their validity.
Pretty interesting, right? There is another field in neuro science which is very interesting and has caught hold of my curiosity for some time now – “Lucid Dreaming” and “Interpretation of Dreams”. Can we really connect with our subconscious, have a dialogue with our sleeping mind? The thought experiment is very trippy in itself. I have decided to experiment with this, see if I can find a connection or a common pattern in this weird myriad of thoughts. I will see how it goes. Read about Dreams! Try to debate with yourself what exactly is Reality.
“From a surreal point of view, a dream is something that speaks to you from your subconscious, letting you know all manner of secrets that you consciousness should unlock. From a realistic view, it is defined as a series of thoughts, sensations and images that occur within your mind when you are fast asleep.”
“This is because your dreams are the best window for you to use to access your subconscious mind, and they can reveal to you the truth about what you really like and desire.”
– Dreams, Will Harris