Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sweet Dreams Are Made of This

by Jeffe Kennedy

Night falls.

The world changes. The familiar disappears under cover of darkness. Predators roam and the wise hide indoors, tucked into their beds, safe asleep and dreaming of day.

A prevailing theory among physiologists is that sleep evolved as a way to make us stay put during those times we were most likely to get killed. Animals who do best at night sleep during the day. Those best adapted to daylight sleep all night. It keeps us from getting bored, trotting out and getting munched by the first better-adapted critter that walks by.

Then, because our bodies spent this time essentially suspended, the rest of our physiology began to take advantage of the down time. Sleep became a clean-up function. Run the blood through the liver. Purge the digestive system. Build and repair tissues. Make up new batches of hormones and neurotransmitters.

Our brains particularly use sleep to purge and reboot. The bizarre, flickering images of our dreams come from the waves of neural firing that never occurs while we're awake. (Well, except during REM intrusion, when you're so deprived of dreaming sleep that you actually start dreaming while awake. I understand it's worse than hallucinating.) The brainstem locks down messages to the muscles to keep us still while our brains run tests of all systems.

Many neuroscientists believe that our dreams are just so much junk. Just the flotsam and jetsam of cluttered brains, with no more significance than the clusters of garbage we haul off to the dump.

This is presupposing that we are solely biological machines, however.

And no, I don't believe that, which annoys the other neuroscientists. This is one of the reasons I wasn't all that good at it.

I believe in the unquantifiable.

That the part of ourselves that isn't a conglomeration of fatty acids and chemicals speaks to us when we're quiet. When we're not busily trotting about the world. Race memory, whispers of the universe, they send us messages, spelling them out in the neural outpouring of our souls.


Every one of my stories has started from a dream. Some piece will wrap me up and speak so loudly that it's like being handed a golden egg. Treasure it. Break it open and listen to the story. Passionate, disturbing, sexy, questing, frightening, exalting - they all tell me something.

Like a gold miner, I'm panning for nuggets in the detritus. You'll know them by their gleam.

Listen to your dreams.


  1. I agree. The idea for my first book came to me in a dream, and I really don't believe it was a random occurrence.

  2. Nice explanation of the evolution of sleep, Jeffe. I know what you mean about scientists and dreaming - I ran into this in grad school. The current trend in psychology echoes that foolishness that dreams are just meaningless trash. I much prefer the Jungian version - that dreams are meaningful windows to our psyche. I have certainly found this to be true, for me.

  3. That is a fine thing, and a lovely post.

    I like how the Aborigines of Australia think about dreams, that *Dream time* is just as important and as real as *walking time*

    Thanks for posting this Jeffe.

  4. Every one of your stories started from a dream? That's pretty cool. I've started a few that way, though not recently.

  5. Yeah, Linda - ask and we shall receive, right?

    Thanks Kerry. I've made the same discovery.

    Oh, John - I just love the "Dream time" stuff. Thanks for reminding me.

    Linda, you have *expectations* now!

  6. Lovely post. There's so much about sleep that's mysterious and utterly necessary for survival, despite our efforts to sidestep it with alarm clocks and energy drinks.

    I did some reading recently about how sleep patterns were much different before electricity was commonplace. In the dead days of winter, like this, there was the idea of "first sleep"...from sunset until about twelve or one a.m. Then, it was natural for folks to awaken to snack, make love, get up to visit the neighbors...lots of crime and mysterious things in those hours between "first sleep" and "second sleep"...a second stage of sleep from two-ish until sunrise. Weird how patterns change.

  7. Wow - I'd never heard of that, Laura. Very interesting!

  8. Weird stuff. More info on that here:

  9. I admit, I had to go look up "Race Memory." Yeah, yeah, I grasp the highly descriptive name, but... imagine if we were trained to recall those memories. Would the just the traumatic ones be embedded into the global consciousness?

    Man, now, I have to go off in a corner sometime between First and Second sleep and contemplate this.

  10. Some people claim that you can train recall of race memory. Others say we work off of it all the time. I agree that the hypnogogic hours between 1st and 2nd sleep would be ideal to explore this!

  11. @Laura - that's about the most fascinating thing I've heard about sleep in a really long time. I think I'm going to have to investigate it more.

    Like many of you, much of my writing has stemmed from a bit of a dream or two, but I'll admit I don't grasp their full meaning, but I do think that dreaming about the same thing over and over is clearly a message of some sort trying to get through.