Dreaming in Numbers
other | sleep
In 1998, Damien Catani started logging dreams in an effort to reconstruct his life after an intense teenage crisis. Seventeen years and more than 8,000 dreams later, Damien shares the surprise findings made during this quest to rationalize irrationality.
Dictaphones | Excel | Word
How foolish can you be to stand in front of a large audience and say I have a dream? I thought about starting this talk that way, but the truth is I had 7,475 dreams, so it wouldn’t really work. So too bad for the opening line, but since I’m here let me tell you a little more about these dreams.
First, why did I start to log dreams in the first place? I went through an intense identity crisis when I was seventeen, and I completely derailed off the life track I had been until then. I'll spare you the details, but in a nutshell, after a couple of years of self-destruction, I finally engaged in the reconstruction process and rebooted my life. I really didn't know who I was then and dreams played a central part in the reconstruction process.
I started to write them down all those I could remember to dig out my subconscious and run some sort of self-analysis. I was exploring my subconscious to know myself better, acknowledge my fears and desires, gain self-awareness, and ultimately rebuild the sense of self I had lost.
So how does dream tracking work? So first, I dream and then I remember I had a dream and I memorize one word per dream and I repeat and I repeat it so that it stays there. Three, I crystallize it by quickly recording or making a quick note on a Dictaphone or a notepad. And then finally, I take the time during the day to register it properly, and these last two phases would involve a tool.
And you will ask me why the intermediate the crystallization phase, it's just that it's very difficult to remember two or three dreams at the same time. So by crystallizing it, I empty my mind, and I'm ready for a refuel of dreams.
So in terms of tools I use for the crystalize phase, I went back to a basic notepad after using Dictaphones for a while. Notepads reliable, no memory, no battery issue and very easy to replicate which is key when you want to build a habit.
In terms of register phase like it went the other way around from manual to Word and Excel to building my own software, to really analyze and store the data in a consistent fashion.
So here, I won't insist in the content, and you probably don't want to know about it, so I'll focus on the numbers. Seventeen and a half years of dream tracking, about 7,500 dreams, 1.21 average dreams per night on average with a peak at 14. Longest streak of at least one dream per night 58, days the longest streak of no dreams at all 21 days.
So how to explain or influence the number of dreams we have per night if I just plot on the timescale the number of dreams I have is difficult to identify the pattern, except that I lost my USB key in 2008. Like rule number one of self-tracking, keep back guys.
So if I plot the moving average, now you can start to see a trend, so let’s dig into it. Is there a weekly or yearly cyclicality? Is there any correlation with other activity, momentum, or inertia? Can I consciously influence the number of dreams that I have through goal setting?
There is a clear weekly pattern. I dreamed the least on weekend nights, after which there is like a strong reaction like recovery. I peak on Sunday, Monday and I gradually go back down again.
If you look at the year, the same sort of pattern. I dreamed the least around the summer and the Christmas break which are like the weekends of the year. Then it peaks right after quite strongly and then goes back down again.
I track a lot of things, so I looked at the correlations. I was surprised to see that I remembered 12% more dreams on average when I drink alcohol and why things like sport or sexual activities don’t have a lot of correlation. But surprisingly the more I sleep, the more dreams I remember with an exponentially high variances for very long or short nights.
There is clearly inertia and momentum. There are 22% more chance not to remember any dream and the previous night I didn't remember any dream at all. And even more so there is momentum, so I have 56% more chance to remember three dreams or more at night if the previous night I remembered three dreams or more.
And to illustrate this momentum you know like here, you can see the long and frequent streak of at least one dream per night which show in blue, go hand-in-hand with the higher trend overall of number of dreams.
So let's now spice things up and add a little goal setting to the mix. So I have goals for everything I track, and when it comes to dreaming, my goal originally was qualitative. The goal was write down all the dreams I can remember at night. So if I have zero dream or ten dreams I check. It's a binary; I thought I had no control on the number itself
Then I had added a quantitative target, which was to remember and write down at least one dream per night on average, so let’s see the impact it had.
As you can see here, the result is mind-blowing. After introducing a quantified target, like my number of dreams that I remember like nearly tripled, which means that I internalized subconsciously this target that I had set consciously. I had the two targets running at some point for a while, and maybe I was afraid to not reach the goal, and when I stopped there was another search.
Last but not least, I received an email from Ernesto in November and the peer pressure, or positive sense of accountability created another 43% sustained search. You know, like my key takeaways, one, be mindful of inertia, play with momentum. Two have a goal, a concrete goal with a quantified target. Go for it and don’t forget safety nets and share with others what you’re doing.