Dreaming in Adolescence

Dreaming in Adolescence by Kelly BulkeleyIn the current issue of the IASD journal Dreaming (Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 240-252) I have an article with results of a blind word search analysis of a teenage girl’s dream series.  (Many thanks to the anonymous dreamer, “Bea,” and to Bill Domhoff for mediating our interactions.)  The article is my latest effort at developing a method of using statistical patterns in word usage frequency to identify meaningful continuities between dream content and waking life concerns.  I think the results show that we’re making good progress. Here is the abstract of the paper:

 

“Previous studies of dreaming in adolescence have found that 1) shifts in dream content parallel shifts in cognitive and social development and 2) adolescent girls seem more prone than boys to disturbing dreams and recurrent nightmares.  This paper confirms and extends those findings by using a novel method, blind word searches, to provide results that are more precise, detailed, and objective than those offered by previous studies. The method is used to analyze a series of 223 dreams recorded in a private diary by an American girl, “Bea” (not her real name) from the ages of 14 to 21.  Accurate predictions about continuities between Bea’s dream content and waking life concerns included important aspects of her emotional welfare, daily activities, personal relationships, and cultural life.  The results of this analysis illuminate the multiple ways in which dream content accurately reflects the interests, concerns, and emotional difficulties of an adolescent girl.”

And here are the final two paragraphs:

“These findings underscore an important yet frequently misunderstood point about the continuity hypothesis: The strongest continuities between dreaming and waking relate to emotional concerns rather than external behaviors (Hall and Nordby 1972; Domhoff, Meyer-Gomes, and Schredl, 2005-2006).  Many of Bea’s nightmares do not reflect actual waking experiences, but they do accurately reflect the dire possibilities and worst-case scenarios that trouble her in waking life.  Bea’s nightmares mirror her worries about things that might happen, not necessarily any actual events that have happened.

“For clinicians, therapists, counselors, and teachers who work with adolescents, the Bea series adds new empirical depth to the idea that dreams are meaningful expressions of emotional truth, especially around issues of family history and personal relationships, and perhaps especially for adolescent girls.  It remains to be seen if word search analyses have any further practical value, but the results presented here should certainly encourage anyone who works with teenagers to listen carefully to their dreams for potentially valuable insights into their developmental experiences.”

 

 

Tracking Robert Bosnak’s Dreams

Tracking Robert Bosnak's Dreams by Kelly BulkeleyThe Sleep and Dream Database has just added a new series of dreams to its collection, thanks to the generosity of Robert Bosnak.  In his 1996 book Tracks in the Wilderness of Dreaming he included an appendix with a series of 51 dreams recorded during a seven-week period of travel and personal transition.  With his permission I have transcribed and uploaded this series into the SDDb, where it can be found under the survey label “RB Journal 1996.”

 

This is a fascinating and valuable series of dreams for a number of reasons. It was recorded by a Jungian analyst with extensive training and professional experience in dream analysis, and it was recorded during a time of significant changes in his waking life. I have known Robbie for nearly 25 years now, since the Chicago conference of the Association for the Study of Dreams in 1990, and I consider him a good friend and colleague.  So it is no easy task to bracket out my familiarity with his life and pretend to study the word usage frequencies of his dreams “blindly.”   Nevertheless, here’s what strikes me in comparing the RB Dreams 1996 to the SDDb male baselines, focusing exclusively on the numerical results and what I’ve learned from past studies:

By my count, this series of 51 dream reports has 7469 total words, for an average of about 150 words per report.

Most of the reports (35) are between 50 and 300 words in length.  Twelve reports have 49 words or less; the shortest report is 13 words.  Four reports have 301 words or more; the longest report is 731 words.

I performed word searches on the whole series of 51 reports for the 7 classes and 40 categories in the SDDb template, and compared the results with the Male MRD Baseline frequencies for reports of 50-300 words.  It’s not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, so the results should be viewed as suggestive rather than definitive.

You can see a google docs spreadsheet of the results here.

The RB dreams have higher frequencies of descriptive perceptual words for intensity, colors, and aesthetic evaluation, along with a slightly higher proportion of vision-related words.  This could be a product of the dreamer’s reporting style and post-awakening literary editing of the reports.  It could also reflect dream experiences of unusual sensory richness and detail.

There is no more fear in RB’s dreams than in the baselines, which would seem to rule out any unusual stressors or anxieties in waking life.  (The low falling frequency may also point in that direction.) The high proportion of happiness-related words really jumps out—I’m not sure I’ve seen a series before with more happiness than fear.  The relatively high number of sadness references suggests sensitivity to loss and mourning.

The relatively low number of awareness-related words could be another product of reporting style, and it could also reflect a greater focus while dreaming on relational process rather than cognitive analysis.

The RB dreams have more references to flying than falling, which reverses the pattern I typically see in other dream series (more falling than flying).

The high proportions of speech, family characters, and friendly social interactions all point to a person who is actively and productively engaged with other people in waking life.  He seems closely involved with several immediate family members: His wife, daughter, son, brother, mother, and father.

The very high frequency of sexual references could reflect a greater degree of honesty in RB’s reporting compared to the baselines, and it could also indicate the significance of sexual activity and thoughts in waking life.

The high number of fantastic beings suggests someone with a lively imagination, perhaps familiar with video games or fantasy fiction.  A somewhat high proportion of Christianity words may reflect someone who knows Christian culture fairly well but is not an active practitioner of the faith.

Several features of these dreams—the high intensity, colors, happiness, flying, fantastic beings—make me wonder if this set includes at least a few reports of mystical dreams with unusual spiritual or existential meaning.

So how do these quasi-blind inferences fare once I explicitly take into account the facts that the dreamer is a successful psychotherapist who says, “I consider it to be a series in connection with the death of my father and a feeling of loss of soul”?

Not perfectly, that’s for sure.  I would not have predicted this was a series relating to the death of his father, based only on these word usage frequencies.  He does not use father-related words more than other family members, and the death references do not directly indicate his father has died.  There are 3 references to ghosts, but not explicitly to the ghost of his father.

I could be missing something, but at this level of analysis the manifest content of this series does not reflect the dreamer’s felt experience of the dreams.

However, the relatively high sadness frequency may pick up on this theme.  And the mystical themes I noted may underscore the sense of deep transformation he felt was happening during this period of time.  In that sense, the dreams may accurately reflect not the death itself, but the psychological consequences of the death, the still-rippling impact of his father’s loss on his experience of the world.

Again, I wouldn’t have come up with any of that just from looking at the statistical frequencies.  But knowing this series came during a period of mourning, I can see where the waking-dreaming connections emerge, and I’ll be curious to see if future studies discover similar patterns with people who have recently lost a close loved one.

Knowing that Bosnak is a psychotherapist with a successful practice makes sense of many features of his dreams—the high speech, friendly social interactions, happiness, and low physical aggression.  The high frequency of sexual references may relate to his professional work, and so might the unusual detail of his perceptual descriptions, indicating well-honed observation skills.

In chapter 8 of his book Bosnak describes his understanding of these dreams, which goes into much greater depth than a strictly quantitative method can provide.  His goal is to teach readers how to explore the deeper patterns of their own dream series.  I highly recommend that chapter, and Bosnak’s work in general, as an excellent resource in learning how to study large collections of dreams.

 

Transcription note: To conform to current SDDb upload specifications, I made the following changes to the dream reports as presented in Bosnak’s book: I removed all quotation marks, dashes, and italics, condensed each report into a single paragraph, and added the location of the dream and number in the series to start each report. Some degree of meaning is lost with these changes.

 

 

 

 

What’s In a Lucid Dream?

What's In a Lucid Dream? by Kelly BulkeleyWhat do people dream about when they have lucid dreams?  What’s going on in the dream when someone has the realization, “I am dreaming”?  Here’s another example of how the word search function of the SDDb can help get a research project started.  The database includes a set of surveys (Demographic Survey 2012) in which the participants were asked to describe a lucid dream.  By word searching their answers you can get a quick sense of the overall patterns of their dream content.  This information gives you an empirical context for deeper study of particular dreams and particular themes within the dreams.

 

I’m following here the same approach I described in the previous post with visitation dreams, with one refinement.  Instead of searching for reports of 25 words or more, I performed separate searches for reports of 25-49 words and 50-300 words, for both females and males (see links below).  This produced smaller numbers of dreams for each analysis, but it allowed more of an apples-to-apples comparison with the SDDb baselines I’ve been developing (described in posts herehere, and here).  I now have provisional baselines for word usage frequencies in shorter (25-49 words) and longer (50-300 words) most recent dream reports.  These baselines guide the analysis below.

To repeat the method: From the SDDb’s word search page I scrolled down the list of constraint values and selected harris_2012:Q1035, Lucid Dream.  Then I selected Female from the top line of the constraint values, in the line for Gender, Q922.  I clicked on “word search,” and then entered the appropriate numbers in the Min Words and Max Words boxes under “Limit Response Length”  (25 and 49, 50 and 300).  I clicked on “Perform Search” and received a set of dream reports with these parameters.  I then searched the given set for each word class and word category, one by one. I followed the same procedure for the male lucid dream reports.

The results of this analysis, which took me about an hour to conduct, can be easily summarized.  Compared to the SDDb baselines, lucid dreams tend to have unusually low frequencies of words relating to visual perception, color, emotion, characters, social interactions, and culture.  Lucid dreams have higher than usual references to awareness, effort, and physical aggression (relative to friendliness).  Females and males share these basic patterns, though the men’s reports included more flying-related words.

These findings, though preliminary, seem strong enough to formulate a working hypothesis that lucid dreams are generally characterized by low visual references, low emotions, high awareness and effort, and relatively high physical aggression compared to friendly social interactions.

If I were now given two sets of dreams and told that one is a set of lucid dreams and the other a set of most recent dreams, I believe this working hypothesis could help me tell the difference without ever reading through the dreams, just by performing a few word searches.

Of course, each individual report has its own unique constellation of content.  Some lucid dreams are filled with visual perceptions, strong emotions, and friendly social interactions.  Indeed, I think it’s even more interesting to study such dreams now we know they are rather unusual.

If learning about the patterns of ordinary dreams gives us new insights into extraordinary dreams, then learning about the patterns of extraordinary dreams gives us new insights into extra-extraordinary dreams.

Female lucid dreams 25-49 words: 113 total

Female lucid dreams 50-300 words: 71 total

Male lucid dreams 25-49 words: 60 total

Male lucid dreams 50-300 words: 29 total

 

Dreaming of the Dead: Patterns of Word Usage in Visitation Dreams

Dreaming of the Dead: Patterns of Word Usage in Visitation Dreams by Kelly BulkeleyHere’s a good example of how to use the word search function of the Sleep and Dream Database.   It focuses on “visitation dreams,” i.e., dreams in which people who are dead appear as if alive.  These vivid and highly memorable dreams have been reported in cultures all over the world, in many periods of history.  People today still experience visitation dreams with remarkable frequency (1).   As part of research I’m doing for a new book, I want to learn more about the basic patterns in visitation dreams.  I’m especially interested in their social and emotional aspects.  My hypothesis, based on cross-cultural evidence and the results of a 2007 content analysis study I did of mystical dreams (2), is that visitation dreams tend to be positive experiences, characterized by friendly interactions and low negative emotions.

 

Can I put that hypothesis to an empirical test?  Can I push the analysis of visitation dreams to a deeper level of detail and identify additional recurrent features?

The SDDb word search function makes this kind of research easier to pursue than ever before.  There’s a new set of dreams in the database, Demographic Survey 2012, which includes a question about visitation dreams.  On the word search page I scrolled down the list of constraint values to harris_2012:Q1030, Visitation Dream, and selected it.  I then selected “Female” from the top line of the constraint value list.  I clicked on “Word Search” again, and entered “25” in the Min Words box under Limit Response Length.  When I clicked “Perform Search” I had a set of 221 reports from women of visitation dreams of 25 or more words in length.  When I repeated this procedure and selected “Male” instead of “Female,” I had a set of 96 reports from men of visitation dreams of 25 or more words in length.

For both the Female and Male sets I searched for all 7 Word Classes and 40 Word Categories, one class or category at a time.  It took about 20 minutes to generate these figures.

The results both confirm and extend my initial hypothesis.  The visitation dreams have many more friendly than physically aggressive social interactions, and generally low proportions of negative emotions (3).  That’s a solid confirmation of previous findings, with some additional details to fill out the picture:

— The overwhelming majority of characters in the visitation dreams are elder family members.  For women, the most frequently used family character words are grandmother, mother, and father.  For men, the most used words are father and dad.

— Other than vision, speech, and some mention of intensity, these dreams have very few other elements of content: low non-visual perception, low colors, low emotions, low cognition, low nature, low non-family characters, low non-friendly social interactions, and virtually no culture references.

This quick exercise in using the SDDb’s word search function has taught me several things.  Visitation dreams do seem to be mostly positive experiences.  They very often include elder family members, i.e. well-known and personally intimate characters with whom the dreamer speaks and has friendly social interactions.  Evidently few other details matter; the dreamer’s focus is squarely on the appearance of the person who is dead but appears as if alive.  There may be some gender differences in which particular family characters show up  most frequently, but the basic patterns of content emerge clearly in both the women’s and men’s reports.

I’m sure I’ll find many more recurrent themes once I read through the dream narratives.  But already, after just a few minutes of statistical analysis, I have a good overview of the dreams that gives me an empirical context for highlighting further subtleties of significance.

 

 

Notes:

(1) In American Dreamers I cite a 2007 survey of 705 American adults that found 38% of the participants had experienced a visitation dream at least once in their lives (p. 32).

(2) “Mystical Dreaming: Patterns in Form, Content, and Meaning” (2009),  Dreaming 19(1): 30-41.

(3) These two sets are not perfect matches for comparison with the SDDb Baselines, since they include all reports of 25+ words, whereas the SDDb Baselines are for reports of 25-49 words and 50-300 words.  But the baselines can still be useful in evaluating the broad patterns of the visitation dreams.

My Worst and Best Nights of Sleep

My Worst and Best Nights of Sleep by Kelly BulkeleyIn the previous post I noted that my monthly average ZQ over the past 3+ years (August 6, 2009 to December 19, 2012) has regularly hovered around 90, with the highest monthly average being 96 and the lowest 86.  Now, looking more closely at the data, I can see that my worst and best nights of sleep varied quite dramatically from that median, in both directions.

 

The ZQ is the Zeo sleep monitor’s overall sleep quality score, a number that accounts for total amounts of REM sleep, deep sleep, and time awake during sleep.  Using this metric, I was able to identify the extreme ends of my overall range of sleep.  My lowest ZQ was 57, on November 9, 2009.  On that night I slept a total of 4 hours and 48 minutes, with 1 hour 10 minutes of REM sleep, 55 minutes of deep sleep, and 5 minutes in waking.  My highest ZQ was 127, on January 7, 2012, when I slept a total of 10 hours 59 minutes, with 3 hours 37 minutes of REM sleep, 1 hour 27 minutes of deep sleep, and 0 minutes in waking.

Here are the 16 lowest ZQ nights from the last three years:

57       November 9, 2o11

58       January 21, 2010; August 29, 2011

60       September 16, 2011; July 16, 2012

62       October 3, 2012

63       June 16, 2012; September 10, 2012

64       December 16, 2009; May 20, 2010

65       August 12, 2010; September 9, 2011; September 12, 2012

66       November 4, 2011

67       March 15, 2010; January 6, 2012

I still need to double-check to see that none of these low ZQ nights was the result of faulty technology.  But assuming they’re all valid records of a given night’s sleep, I immediately notice a few things.  First, there are no consecutive nights of very low ZQ.  The closest are September 10 and 12, 2012, when my children were in the midst of ending summer and starting the new school year.   Second, many of the lowest ZQ nights came in the late summer and fall of 2011, when my family was moving to a new city.  It makes sense that my sleep would be especially disrupted during that transitional time.  Third, the low ZQ on October 3, 2012 was very likely due to my anxious feelings the night after the first Presidential Debate of the 2012 campaign between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

I suspect that some of these low ZQ nights came before an early-morning departure for a trip, or following a late and stimulating social event.

Overall, it looks like nearly all the low ZQ nights have some direct connection to an unusual circumstance in my waking life.

Here are the 13 highest ZQ nights from the last three years:

127     January 7, 2012

125     November 21, 2010

123     November 22, 2009

120     November 23, 2011

119     January 8, 2012

117     November 16, 2011; January 9, 2012

116     November 22, 2010

115     November 23, 2010, November 24, 2010, July 15, 2011

114     October 21, 2010, January 21, 2012

My highest streaks are January 7-9, 2012, November 21-23, 2011, and November 21-24, 2010.  Not surprisingly, all of these nights of very high ZQ took place during vacations at the same quiet and beautiful oceanside resort.  No mystery there!  Late fall and early winter seem to be the prime times for high ZQ, though I’ll have to separately analyze nights on vacations vs. nights at home to see if the influence comes from the changing season (longer nights) or the fact of being on a holiday trip, or some combination of the two.

It looks like the biggest rebound from a low to a high ZQ night occurred on January 6-7, 2012, when I went from a 67 to a 127.  The first night was prior to an early-morning departure for a vacation, and the second night marked the beginning of that vacation.

Again, my overall impression is that the highest ZQ nights occured in direct relation to certain kinds of unusual waking life circumstances at that time.

Here, it seems, is another instance of deep consistency in my sleep patterns. My worst and best nights of sleep deviate by a comparable degree from my normal ZQ baseline of around 90.  My worst nights are 30+ lower than the baseline, and my best nights are 30+ higher than the baseline.

Next step is to look at possible connections with dreams….

 

1001 Zeo Nights

1001 Zeo Nights by Kelly BulkeleyLast night (December 19, 2012) I recorded my 1001st night of sleep data using the Zeo sleep monitoring system.  I first started using the Zeo on August 6, 2009, and have worn it 81.25% of the time since (1001 out of 1232 nights).  Most of the non-Zeo nights have been due to miscellaneous technical problems.  I was surprised at how quickly I acclimated to wearing the headband while sleeping, and I have worn it consistently throughout this period, even on the non-Zeo nights. I’m confident that my data, even though it excludes roughly 1 out of every 5 nights, fairly represents my sleep experiences during this time.

 

The stability of my sleep patterns jumped out at me when I first reviewed the data.  For more than three years the basic elements of my sleep–the amounts of REM, deep, and light sleep–have remained very consistent.  A typical night includes approximately 30% REM, 15% deep, and 55% light sleep.  These percentages vary to a degree, but I found the same fundamental proportions (something like 1/3 to 1/6 to 1/2) in nights of very short total sleep as well as nights of very long total sleep.

Using the Zeo’s aggregate sleep quality score, the ZQ, my monthly average has hovered around 90 for this entire period.  My highest monthly ZQ was 96, in November 2010 (a year of a particularly restful Thanksgiving vacation) and my lowest monthly ZQ was 86, in June 2010 (of time of moving houses).  My average ZQ was between 88 and 92 for 33 out of the 41 months for which I have data.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share more detailed analyses of this collection of data.  During this time I have also been keeping a dream journal (@500 reports), and naturally I’ll be looking at patterns of dreaming in relation to the Zeo sleep measurements.  Soon I should have all this material, Zeo + dream reports, available for anyone to study on the Sleep and Dream Database.

If you have any questions or hypotheses you think I should test with this data, let me know!