How to record your dreams and use them for creative thinking
Tom Church, Editor of Screams, experiments with recording dreams and using sleep for creative thinking
“We are a dreaming creature” said Salman Rushdie. Certainly, I thought, we have dreams, goals, ambitions, but how do we know if we really dream, in our sleep, when we’re not conscious, when we’re basically dead?
And if we do dream, why can’t we remember them? We spend a third of our short lives asleep, doing nothing. Wouldn’t be great if you could use that time creatively? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could remember or even control your dreams?
The answer is yes, you can. In the first step towards achieving lucid dreaming – consciousness within your dreams – I followed the methodology of Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. and Howard Rheingold set out in Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming and the result was incredible. The first vivid dream I can ever remember in such clarity – and the first dream I can remember at all in years (keep reading for the methodology).
Enter my Inception / Matrix dream:
The walls started to tremble. Plaster cracked and pieces of the ceiling fell. Dust erupted into the rooms. Like a great iron tanker creaking in the ocean the pipes yearned and stuttered. People ran outside.
Bricks pushed themselves out and rotated, shifting around each other like a thousand rubix cubes. Roof tiles folded as if they were part of an accordion and the windows opened inwards scattering a fleeting darkness. The house tick-tick-tick cranked and a stump folded itself smaller.
“Look over there”, an American girl said to her boyfriend pointing to the house next door, “look at the blinds”. The blinds in the window were slanted, pulled towards the folding house.
Tick-tick-tick crank, the house folded again. I was there now, watching it with the couple. Tick-tick-tick crank. Tick-tick-tick crank. The wind whipped our faces and debris started to fly towards the house.
The volume of noise expanded and filled our ears. It was as if the effort required to fold the house grew each time. Tick-tick-tick crank. It was barely visible now. Nothing else on the street remained. The ground beneath us was pulled away like a blanket and the house folded into nothing.
White. A ringing in my ears.
That’s all I saw and that’s all I heard. White.
“Now, did that world exist, or did you create it?” A voice said. Perhaps it was mine, I don’t know.
How to remember your dreams
To remember your dreams and potentially use them for creative design, you must wake up immediately after an active sleep phase (or REM sleep) and record the last thing you remember. This sounds much easier than it is and some understanding about sleep will help:
The Two Types of Sleep: Quiet and Active
‘The quiet phase fits fairly well with the common sense view of sleep as a state of restful inactivity – your mind does little while you breathe slowly and deeply; your metabolic rate is at a minimum, and growth hormones are released facilitating restorative processes. When awakened from this state, people feel disorientated and rarely remember dreaming.’
‘The transition from quiet to active sleep is quite dramatic. During the active sleep phase, commonly called rapid eye movement or REM sleep, your eyes move rapidly about (under closed lids, of course), much as they would if you were awake. Your breathing becomes quick and irregular, your brain burns as much fuel as it does when you’re awake, and you dream vividly.’
The Sleep Cycle
In a typical eight hour stretch of sleeping you go through many quiet and active phases, usually in 90 minute cycles. There are several stages of sleep but the important one to note for recording dreams is active / REM sleep:
Recording Your Dreams
To record your dreams (which is a prerequisite to lucid dreaming) you need to get a dream journal. Something you can scribble your dreams in quickly and easily. I use Evernote. What you’re going to do is wake up after an active/REM sleep phase and record everything you remember.
‘If you find that you sleep too deeply to awaken from your dreams, try setting an alarm clock to awaken you at a time when you are likely to be dreaming. Since REM periods occur at approximately ninety-minute intervals, good times will be multiples of ninety minutes from your bedtime. Aim for the later REM periods by setting the alarm to go off at four and a half, six, or seven and a half hours after you go to sleep.’
If you went to bed at 11PM, you would set your alarm for any of these times: 12:30AM, 2AM, 3:30AM, 5AM, 6:30AM, 8AM.
When the alarm goes off, make a big conscious effort to wake up a little bit and remember your dream. Write anything you can in your diary.
Put your alarm further away. LaBerge and Rheingold recommend keeping your dream journal by your bedside table. I found this to be detrimental. In my first few days I failed to record any dreams. Every time my alarm rung I’d just turn it off – but I was so deep in sleep that I wouldn’t even remember turning it off when I work up in the morning, much to my frustration. So I put my alarm (phone) on my desk so that I’d actually have to get out of bed to turn it off. This woke me up enough to realise what I was meant to be doing: remembering my dreams.
Keep at it. The first few times I recorded absolute garbage. Here are my first three “successful” entries:
Dream #1: Terry, work, not enough time.
Dream #2: Explieirubg slarm fashion
Dream #3: Suits – Buckingham Palace Road – Book in appointment – “Ok then”.
(Terry is my brother and if you’re a familiar reader of Screams you’ll know I do some suit tailoring)
On my fourth day (setting alarms for 01:30, 04:30 and 06:00) I recorded the Matrix / Inception style dream in vivid clarity. I was so excited to be able to recall it – almost as if I was lucid within it – that I spent a long time writing everything down.
Using Dreams for Creative Thinking
Salman Rushdi was right, we are a dreaming creature. And by remembering your dreams you can use them to push your creative thinking. REM sleep is like one large brainstorm, ideas unconstrained by the usual daily distractions and thoughts, free to roam against physics and logic.
When I reached the white, as described above, I got a flavour of euphoria. Peace. It lasted only a moment before the dream continued but the experience sounds similar to that which I’ve heard about from friends who have done 10 days of silent meditation and also similar to some psychedelic drugs. I woke up happy, excited in fact.
Michel Foucault, the French philosopher theorised you had no freedom. He described life as a bending of our souls around the iron cage of greater powers. An excruciating series of variations on the Weberian theme. Yet in your dreams you can find freedom. While it sounds painful – setting your alarm for three times a night, if you time it correctly you won’t feel any more tired during the day. If we learn to explore our sleep, not only can we have total freedom of ideas and creativity, but we also gain a third more of our lives.
- Pictures are by Lucas Doerre, a fantastic graphic designer from Germany
Screams is the creative design blog of Tom Church (me!). Learning how to record dreams was the first step towards achieving lucidity. This is all in an effort to learn new ways of creative thinking, and discover inspiration for creative design. Screams seeks to explore all disciplines and smash them together into a big mix to push design boundaries and learn something about humanity along the way. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, follow Tom on Twitter, and like our Facebook page here.