Everyone dreams. Not everyone remembers their dreams, but everyone dreams for most of each night. And everyone knows what a dream is. It’s those images and sensations and emotions that blur together while we sleep. It’s involuntary. But approximately 51% of people have at least one lucid dream. In lucid dreams, the dreamers are aware they’re having a dream and may have some control over the dream. If 51% have lucid dreams, 49% of people do not. Or do they? According to Neil Gaiman, a book is a dream that you hold in your hand. Is it really?
To understand the real-life parallels between dreaming and reading, one must first understand dreaming. Most dreams occur during what doctors call REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The visual and illogical basis of the dreams appears to help us solve some problems. Normal dreaming also appears to lower stress levels.
Your body undergoes many changes during sleep. Your brain is active, your eyes move rapidly(hence the name), your limbic system responds (it’s what controls emotions), and you go through a state of sleep paralysis. Yes, for a brief period you are unable to move your arms or legs. It’s believed that this protects the body from injury otherwise we might act out our dreams. (People who do act out their dreams? They may have a rare neurodegenerative disorder.)
According to the cognitive neuropsychologist, Dr. David Lewis, reading is more effective than any other method of reducing stress. It only takes six minutes to slow down the heart rate and reduce tension in the muscles.
When we are reading a book we experience a dream-like state. We concentrate and focus on the words on the page. We usually sit still. Our eyes and our brains are active. We have emotional responses to the words. The words paint pictures we can see, smells we can smell, and sounds we can hear. The rest of the world sort of falls away. We lose track of time. Anything that breaks through our concentration startles us. Often, coming back to the real world can feel as difficult as waking from a deep sleep.
Reading a book creates similar reactions that dreams create in our bodies. I would also say that a book is a lucid dream because we are aware we are reading. Therefore, that 51% who have lucid dreams is incorrect and Mr. Gaiman is correct. A book is a dream that you hold in your hand. Do you agree? What are you reading today?