Monday, December 7, 2009

Dreams and reality

Dreams and reality

Sat, Dec 05, 2009
The Straits Times

Why do you dream the things you do? Do you have control over your dreams? And does eating cheese before sleeping cause nightmares? Experts Mind Your Body spoke to weigh in.

1 Cheese and nightmares

Contrary to popular belief, eating cheese before going to bed does not lead to nightmares.

That is what a study in 2005 by the British Cheese Board found.

Researchers roped in 200 volunteers to eat 20g of cheese 30 minutes before their bedtime for a week and found that 72 per cent of the volunteers slept well every night, with none reporting nightmares.

They also found that the type of cheese consumed affected the kinds of dreams the volunteers had.

Two-thirds of the volunteers who ate cheddar (a mild cheese) said they dreamt about celebrities while those who ate Stilton cheese (a much stronger cheese) experienced crazy and vivid dreams.

2 Nightmare hauntings

Have you ever been haunted by a persistent bad dream?

"Recurring bad dreams or nightmares may be a symptom of underlying emotional distress," said Dr Lim Li Ling, a consultant neurologist and sleep physician at the Singapore Neurology & Sleep Centre and president of the Singapore Sleep Society.

People whose sleep is disturbed by intense dreams or recurrent nightmares should see a sleep physician or psychiatrist for an evaluation.

The underlying problem or disorder and its associated symptoms of distress and anxiety may be treated with psychotherapy or medication.

Consultant psychiatrist Douglas Kong explained: "Dreams give you an indication, especially when you are in denial. The problem must be solved in real life though."

3 Dream control

Can a person have control over what he dreams of?

Doctors Mind Your Body spoke to were divided on the issue. Dr Lim said: "Dreaming occurs during sleep, which is a transient state of unresponsiveness.

"There is no conscious act of will so a claim of being able to control one's dreams seems unlikely."

However, Dr Kong thinks it is possible. He said: "In dreams, your mind revives what had gone on in the day. You can control dreaming in the sense that if you think a lot about something before you sleep, you may dream about it."

4 That falling feeling

The feeling of falling a person sometimes gets as he lurches between wakefulness and sleep may be physiological.

Dr Yeo Poh Teck, a neurologist at Yeo Neurology and Clinical Neurophysiology, said that when a person falls asleep, his brain relinquishes control over his muscles bit by bit and its control becomes less precise, resulting in sudden spasms and jerky behaviour.

5 Paralysis

Do not panic if you dream of being stuck or find yourself unable to move when you are vaguely roused.

Again, the explanation may be physiological, said Dr Yeo. When a person is awake and moving around, his brain receives a lot of information from his muscles and this constant back-and-forth flow of information enables him to locate his muscles and use them.

When a person sleeps, he loses muscle tone as the receptors feeding information which helps in the control of movement and posture to the brain become less sensitive.

This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times.

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