The unexpected way insomnia causes political tensions

March 6 | Guest post by Dreamdeer
Masked, print from original watercolor fashion illustration by Etsy seller JessicaIllustration

We talked about political tensions causing insomnia, but it can also work the other way around — insomnia causes political tensions, and back again in a vicious circle.

At last autumn's Psiber Dreaming Conference put on by the International Association for the Study of Dreams, a major dream researcher spoke on the dream deprivation epidemic in America, and about the terrible consequences of dream deprivation.

Unless you're narcoleptic, when you're sleep-deprived, your body puts physical restoration first in the little sleep that you do get, delaying most dreaming till you get out of what it thinks must be survival-mode. Also, most sleeping pills, tranquilizers, stimulants, caffeine, alcohol, marijuana, and a whole lot of other substances can constrict dreaming. What you get might be more intense, but that's because it's trying to squeeze a lot into little.

Dreams enable you to make neural connections out of what you learned that day.

But your dreams enable you to make neural connections out of what you learned that day. Take that away, and people lose the capacity to extrapolate from what they've learned — they can only memorize and regurgitate information. And they can't always discriminate between good and bad "facts." They can't apply something they learn to a similar situation. They can't think fairly because they can't see how A resembles B or how what's true for one group might not be true for another.

They cling to what thoughts they do have (often taught to them) increasingly fiercely the harder it gets to think. They become irritable, then combative. They become suspicious, and gradually paranoid. Extend it long enough and the memory starts to go. Alzheimer's, in fact, might well be caused or triggered by dream deprivation.

Have you noticed lately how more and more people are flunking the Turing Test? Whether they agree or disagree, whatever their party, they respond more like robots than people — answering not what you say, but the closest thing in their programming to what they expect you to say.

It's more obvious when people disagree, but even when they agree, you will often find that they don't actually know the details of your position — just that it resembles something that they feel they ought to support. And they will post lots and lots of memes rather than original arguments, including some that, when examined, champion things that they disagree with (sometimes vehemently!) once it's pointed out. But they won't take it down because it came from the side they aligned with. And yes, you can find this behavior from people of all political parties. It's classic dream-deprivation thinking.

Never think that sleep hygiene is self-indulgent. It is your duty to your community to maintain your brain in fit shape to play your part as a citizen

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  1. Thanks so much for sharing this! Politics aside, I suffer from chronic fatigue- although the one sleep study I had said I don't have any sleep disorder, my chronic exhaustion (and my FitBit's data, flawed though I know it must be) show that I'm not getting enough restful sleep. I used to dream vividly, and remembered my dreams when I woke. I've dreamed once in the past 12 months or so. And meanwhile, my recall of memories and words continues to fail, my ability to follow logic (especially spatial concepts and theoretical designs) is bizarrely inconsistent, and I find myself getting emotional and defensive over stupid things (but feeling driven by things beyond my control). I knew being tired must be part of that, but never considered that without dreaming, my brain is basically backsliding! I'm not sure what I can do about it (I already have blackout curtains up, as quiet an environment as I can made, don't drink stimulants after 3pm, don't eat after 7pm, go to bed between 9-10m every day and wake at 6am every day), but it feels good to be more aware of (one of) the issues.

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  2. "What you get might be more intense, but that's because it's trying to squeeze a lot into little."

    I have trauma-induced insomnia that's been an issue since I was a child. Partly because of the trauma, and partly because my sleep doesn't cycle properly or deeply enough, I get intense (and uncomfortable at best; nightmarish/flash-back-like at worst) dreams that make me upset when I wake up. It's absolutely awful. My heart goes out to anyone who isn't used to years of this and is just being introduced to it now because of election stress.

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    • In most cases, nightmares are part of the healing process. There are many ways to help you through this so that you can get more restful sleep.

      First of all, write it down. When you have it on paper you can feel more in control of it. Then you can start processing it (with a therapist's help, of course, if you're suffering from PTSD as this sounds like.) Even if you can't figure out what the dream's trying to tell you, the mere effort can let some of the pressure off and reduce the urgency of the dreams.

      If it's a flashback dream, replaying actual events, center yourself in your most motherly aspect of yourself and gently take the person you were at the moment relived, hold her in your lap and say, "There, there, dear, right here, right now, you are safe. Now do you want to talk about what happened? I will listen to you, dear one. Tell me all about it." You don't have to "be over it" when you're not. If nobody has given you a chance to talk about it, be that person for yourself. Keep contrasting the bad experience with the present where you are safe and loved.

      If that doesn't work, if you increasingly feel like shouting back at your mother-self, "No, I'm not safe!", then by all means discuss with your therapist what it would take to feel safe now. But the flashback is coming back because something has not been addressed that needs worked out.

      If you have nightmares that do not conform to the literal past, ask yourself what each thing in the dream means to you. Never mind dream-symbolism books–those can only tell you what a symbol means for lots of people, but it might not fit you at all. For instance, motorcycles might symbolize machismo and rebellion for lots of other people, but in my dreams, for a number of personal reasons, they symbolize my mother.

      If there is a really scary figure in your dream–a monster, an axe-murderer, a hungry lion, even a giant menacing teddy-bear, picture that figure in a jail cell that he, she or it cannot escape. Picture a comforting guardian beside you–your guardian angel, you patron deity, a loving relative, your loyal dog, a superhero, whatever works for you. Picture a whole mob of guardians if you want. Now, with these guys having your back, imagine yourself sitting down with a clipboard and interrogating the nightmare-person. Tell him/her/it, "You stand accused of frightening me, but I want to see if you have your reasons. Are you trying to tell me something? What do you have to say for yourself?" Write down whatever you imagine him/her/it answering to your questions. If he/she/it gets abusive, imagine one of your guardians rebuking him/her/it. And ask yourself if the villain might simply be voicing abuse that you yourself heap on yourself. Take all of this to your therapist for discussion.

      Sometimes you can become aware in a dream that you are dreaming, and confront your nightmare. Re. Dr. Jeremy Taylor had a patient that this happened to. He kept getting nightmares about a foul-smelling dragon chasing him. One night he realized, "I've dreamed this before–hey, I'm dreaming now!" So he stopped running, turned to the dragon and shouted, "Stop! Who are you?"

      The dragon stopped, and grotesquely tried to act puppyish and friendly, even though he was a disgusting creature with tar oozing out from under his scales and smoke coming out of his nostrils. Trying to smile and look coy, the dragon says, "I'm your smoking habit!"

      "Go away!" the man shouted. "I don't want you in my life anymore! I don't need you anymore!" And with that the man woke up, and found that he had lost all desire to smoke.

      I wish you the best of luck with your dreams, and good sleep in your future!

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      • Thank you so much for your detailed response! I have just started dream journaling, and I'm working on solidifying the habit of recording them every day before I start focusing on what dreams may or may not mean. I've been learning a lot about this lately, and this was a very timely article. I love learning about this sort of thing!

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