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Dream Analysis

Aired December 13, 2005 - 18:00:00   ET


HALA GORANI, CNN HOST: The world of dreams. What happens to our minds when we're asleep? And what can we learn from our dreams?
Hello and welcome to INSIGHT. I'm Hala Gorani.

Most of us spend 1/3 of our lives asleep, but how much do we know about what happens during that time? What causes us to dream? No one really knows for sure, yet dreams have fascinated mankind, humankind, for thousands of years.

Tonight, a look inside our heads and the remarkable world of dreams.

CNN's Sanjay Gupta begins our coverage.


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The stark recurring image of a shadowy figure; tearing through the woods, running from something; or the nonsensical flash of images seemingly without meaning. This is how many of us live in our dreams.

ROSALIND CARTRIGHT, DR., RUSH UNIV. MEDICAL CENTER: In waking we learn to speak so that we can communicate with each other in longer, more logical, more verbal terms. In sleep, we're speaking almost poetically. It's much more imagistic, sensory, condensed, symbolic, if you like.

GUPTA: It happens during three distinct periods during the night called rapid eye movement or REM sleep. During each period of REM, our dreams become more involved, complex.

CARTRIGHT: At the end of night, you can have, you know, a great big full length feature. You can have a 45 to 60-minute REM period with many scenes and many episodes. And it would be quite exciting and very different from the first one.

GUPTA: Surprisingly, during those episodes of sleep, the brain's activity is just as active as when we're awake.

ERIC NOFZINGER, DR., UNIV. OF PITTSBURGH: The only difference is that we're unconscious. We're not aware of all of the processes that are happening in our minds and in our brains.

GUPTA: While we lie unconscious, we're dwelling in the most primitive parts of the brain, dealing with emotions that we may not always perceive when awake.

NOFZINGER: The brain is dealing with basic kind of instinctual feelings, fears, anxieties, motivation, sexual themes.

GUPTA: So that dream about taking a test naked could point to an anxiety about a challenge we're facing in waking life. And those dreams about running away or falling may signal feeling out of control.

NOFZINGER: As we understand our situations in the dream, it can help us to understand where we are in terms of resolving some of these conflicts in our lives, conflicts that maybe we weren't even conscious of in our waking lives.

GUPTA: Our bodies bear the brunt of those conflicts and anxieties. Heart rate and blood pressure soar during dreams. And the muscles seize up to prevent us from acting them out.

Are dreams more than a nightly flash of garbled images? Or can they be useful to us in our waking lives? Studies say understanding those nighttime forays may help with problem solving during the day, even memory. And REM sleep is linked to something called procedural learning. So your dreams could help cement your ability to play that complex music piece, ride a bike, or play chess.

But researchers say dreams go even deeper, helping us to figure out who we really are.

NOFZINGER: It's one of the few times when everybody can be an artist or everybody can be a musician.

GUPTA: A space where our truest selves and the ones we hope to be converge.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


GORANI: Joining us now is Dr. Deirdre Barrett, who teaches at Harvard Medical School.

Thanks for being with us.

Why do we dream? Essentially is this a way for our mind to deal with the stresses of when we're awake?

DR. DEIRDRE BARRETT, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: Well, I think in one sense we dream for the same reasons that waking thought occur, to think about our problems, to entertain ourselves, but because the brain is in such a different biochemical state, the dreams look very, very different from waking thought.

GORANI: Why do we have such a hard time remembering them?

BARRETT: Because the cholinergic system, one of the chemicals that is active in our brain awake, is switched off, and it's responsible for transferring short-term memory into long-term memory. So if you don't wake up immediately from a dream, it's lost forever. And even if you do, it's a more fragile memory.

GORANI: Now, do we all dream, we just don't all remember our dreams?

BARRETT: Yes. During rapid eye movement sleep, which occurs about every night, 90 minutes, we're having a dream. But, again, if we don't wake up from it, we're unlikely to remember it. And people who have lots of little micro-awakenings during the night may recall almost all of their dreams and other people none of their dreams.

GORANI: What can we do -- is there something we can do before we fall asleep to try to remember our dreams?

BARRETT: Yes. Generally, if you take an interest in dreams, people who take a short dream course or read a book on dreams, often, suddenly, without trying consciously, see their dream recall increase. But if you keep a pad and pen by your bad and just as you're falling asleep you remind yourself that you would like to remember your dreams, your sleeping mind will tend to wake you up with the dreaming memory more that way.

GORANI: I do remember that I did that one summer. Every day I would wake up and then write my dream from the day before. And then automatically, I started remembering the dream, and it was easier and easier to do that.

BARRETT: Yes. Generally when you just pay a little attention to them, your sleeping mind is also cooperating and interacting so that it does get easier.

GORANI: How long do we dream each night?

BARRETT: Well, if you're sleeping eight hours, you probably have five REM periods and they're 90 minutes apart each time, but each one is longer. The first one is just a few minutes on up to if you're sleeping well, usually the last one will be 20 to 25 minutes.

GORANI: All right, Dr. Deirdre Barrett, we're going to come back to you. We have a few more stories regarding dreams in this special program of INSIGHT. And we'll see you in just a little bit.

We're going to take a break now. When we come back, dreams and creativity.

Stay with us.


GORANI: Now dreams can be so fantastic, so wild, that some people actually use them when they're awake as creative inspiration.

Heidi Collins has more on that.


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The fog. The floating figures. The dissonant sounds. The chamber opera "Rossa" unfolds like the fabric of a dream. This is not just a dramatic device. The scene literally came in a dream to composer Shirish Korde.

SHIRISH KORDE, COMPOSER: This is the opening sound that I heard. It sounds like a trumpet. And I -- there was another kind of music that I heard in my dream, and then this kind of gradual evolution of the images.

COLLINS: Using dreams to help him compose has been a gradual evolution for Korde. He always had vivid dreams, but usually just ignored them, until this particular dream about cranes.

KORDE: I do remember very, very vividly seeing formations of birds flying in different ways, at different speeds, diving. I also saw birds standing still and moving very slowly. The cranes were making certain kinds of sounds.

COLLINS: Those musical sounds became the "Tenderness of Cranes." The composition won two awards and took Korde's music to a new level.

KORDE: That piece, for me, was a breakthrough. That was the first time I accepted what my dream was telling me. I felt that it was fresher, that it was more natural and that I was allowing aspects of myself to come through.

COLLINS: Could our brain's nighttime adventures really be a portal to creativity? Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett says, yes. Dreams hold important potential.

BARRETT: They think so much more broadly, that for many kinds of creative tasks, they may give us some inspiration that we're not going to have awake.

COLLINS (on camera): What is the stuff of dreams made of? We may never know exactly, but what we do know is that all of us dream on average, four or five times a night. For many of us, it's the only time our imaginations are fully unleashed.

And that's not all. Some researchers believe dreams can be built- in problem-solvers.

BARRETT: Our waking state can get stuck in thinking that the solution happens in one particular way and dreams are better at relaxing and thinking outside the box.

COLLINS (voice-over): Architect Lucy Davis knows what it's like to be stuck. For one particular project, she started and threw out waste baskets full of designs.

Then in a dream two days before deadline, she found her answer.

LUCY DAVIS, ARCHITECT: I saw a person, kind of surreal, with arms up- stretched of in the shape of a Y.

COLLINS: That Y became the body of the house.

DAVIS: The next image was that of a spaceship out in the galaxy with arms like this and a prow, like a ship.

COLLINS: From the backyard, you can see the outstretched arms or wings of the house. And jutting out towards the pool is its pointed prow.

DAVIS: And then I was walking through a house with a spine of light - - a spine of clear-story windows, which runs right through the middle of the house and rafters that come up and cross.

COLLINS: Davis says the foundation for many of her buildings was laid in her sleep -- more than 30 designs in all, including her own house.

DAVIS: I feel like the designs that have come to me in dreams are some of my best designs, actually.

COLLINS: Davis is in good company. Some pretty impressive achievements in history have flowed from the river of dreams.

COLLINS: Billy Joel composes in his sleep. He dreams all of his tunes.

And Salvador Dali, he would wake up with bizarre visions that would become his paintings.

Mary Shelley's nightmare inspired her book "Frankenstein."

Science and technology have also benefited from the sleeping mind. Dreams reportedly played a role in the invention of the sewing machine, discovery of the benzene ring, creation of the periodic table.

But not everyone is convinced. Jay Allan Hobson, a Harvard research scientist, says don't count on dreaming the next big thing.

DR. J. ALLAN HOBSON, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: We have 1,000 or 2,000 dream reports in our files and I would say that there are no striking breakthroughs in any of them. That doesn't mean that these things don't occur, but they're rarissimo (ph). They're very rare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can use these dreams to get whatever you need.

COLLINS: Rare or not, more and more people are looking to dreams for personal inspiration; for practical solutions. At this dream workshop in Pennsylvania, people learn how to remember, even influence those illusive nightly visions. It's called dream incubation. Here's how experts say to do it.

BARRETT: Write down some statement of the problem or question in just a sentence or two. And then just as you're falling asleep to remind yourself, I want to dream about X. Keep a pad and pen by the bed so that when you remember a dream, it's going to get recorded.

COLLINS: Shirish Korde is a believer. He rushes to his music sheets and piano whenever a dream strikes a creative note.

KORDE: If it is really part of the continuum of experience, of being alive, then don't shut yourself off to what your subconscious is giving you.

COLLINS: Heidi Collins, CNN, New York.


GORANI: Once again, here is Deirdre Barrett of the Harvard Medical School.

Now, do these people, who say they're inspired by their dreams, Dr. Barrett, really inspired by the dream itself? Or do they choose to be inspired by the images they saw while they were asleep?

BARRETT: In some cases, the dream definitely contains a chemical image, a mathematical formula, it really has the answer. Certainly in others, many of the artistic examples, one could choose to use or discard most of our dream images in creating art. But some of them clearly the breakthrough is there in the dream, not just in their thinking about it later.

COLLINS: And so how does that work, though? I mean, when that lady who said she designed houses and one of her better inspirations came from seeing a person with his or her arms up in the air, I mean, you could look at a tree and see the branches of the tree going out and think that would make a good floor plan, for instance.

BARRETT: Yes, but actually Lucy and Shirish both say some of theirs are very metaphorical, like that, but Lucy has also described walking through houses, looking at, oh, this is how I'd design the staircase, this is how -- much more literal things.

And Shirish, again, sometimes says that he is seeing colors and birds flying and converting that to music, but other times he's literally hearing the music.

And Billy Joel says that he hears all of the music in the dream.

GORANI: So is this something that was, for instance, experienced during our waking hours, that is then processed by the brain and consumed at the other end, once we wake up? Is that how it might work?

BARRETT: It certainly has to be something that people have been focusing on a lot awake. Usually the process is somebody that has a lot of advanced training in some area of sciences or the art, has been focusing on something but feels stuck to a certain extent.

GORANI: So it's revealed in our sleeping hours.

BARRETT: Yes, and so what dreams are probably best at is getting unstuck, because they think so outside the box in ways that we would just go, oh, well, that's not the way to solve the problem awake and dreams take all kinds of approaches.

So the preparation is done awake, but often the main creative breakthrough comes in a dream.

GORANI: A quick question on nightmares. Those can be inspiring as well, I suppose, in a way, but why are some people more prone to nightmares?

BARRETT: There are really two different groups of people who seem prone to nightmares. One group are sort of sensitive, artistic, they recall more dreams in general, more vivid dreams in general, and that group has a lot more nightmares than most people.

The other group are people who have had some very specific trauma and they're nightmares look very different because they're focused fairly realistically on just reliving that trauma over and over in their sleep. So those are two distinct different kinds of nightmares.

GORANI: All right, thanks very much. We'll speak with you again, Dr. Barrett.

Stay with us. When we come back, prophetic dreams.


GORANI: Welcome back.

Throughout history, people have claimed to see the future in their dreams. Can dreams really be used to solve mysteries?

CNN's Gary Tuchman met a woman who says she did just that.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bedtime is often a tense time for Shea Knorr (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are lots of times that I dread going to sleep at night and I get stressed out about it.

TUCHMAN: The Redman, Washington, woman, married with three children, says she has visions while she sleeps that sometimes come true, visions that are often nightmares.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm scared that I'll have a dream about something that I need to do something about and I'm not going to know what it is.

TUCHMAN: But she says she did know what to do on a fall morning last year. A 17-year-old girl named Laura Hatch, who is friends with her daughter had been missing for eight days. Shea Knorr (ph) claims she had a prophetic dream, a vision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was an intersection. It was just like a picture of an intersection.

TUCHMAN: She says she had the same dream two more times that night and then another.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the fourth dream was not of an intersection. It was actually of a little rabbit, the rabbit in "Alice in Wonderland," and he's just going, "Keep going. Keep going."

TUCHMAN (on camera): The rabbit was telling you that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, he was telling me to, "Keep going. Keep going."

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Shea (ph) and her daughter Beth-Anne (ph) got into the car that morning and drove to a busy corner in Redman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is it. This is the intersection where we turned (INAUDIBLE).

TUCHMAN (on camera): This is the intersection you dreamed about?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I dreamed about this same intersection three times.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But nothing was there. So, they continued to drive and then Shea (ph) claims a feeling came over her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And so as we get up here, is when I told Beth- Anne (ph) that, you know, this is the way Laura came.

TUCHMAN: They got out of the car and Shea (ph) started sliding down a steep wooded ravine; about 200 feet down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm holding on to the tree and as I hold on to the tree, Beth-Anne (ph) says, "Keep Going. Keep going."

TUCHMAN (on camera): And in your dream, the rabbit was telling you that?


TUCHMAN (voice-over): And then, by all accounts, they found what they were looking for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I hollered for my daughter, who was up at the main road and I told her to call 9-1-1, that we found the car.

9-1-1 OPERATOR: What color is the vehicle?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a blue 1996 Toyota Camry.

OPERATOR: Do you know if there's any injuries? Do you know if there is someone inside?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. But she's been missing for a week. Mom, is she in there? We don't know. I can't hear my mom.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Trapped in the wreckage, Laura Hatch, badly hurt and dehydrated, but alive.

The seventeen-year-old has since recovered. She stayed out of the public eye, appearing only once on television, on a talk show in Seattle.

LAURA HATCH, RESCUED FROM CAR: I don't really remember being rescued. I'm not sure I'd want to. My condition was really poor at that point. I mean, when I got to the hospital, they were still completely uncertain if I would live.

TUCHMAN: The rescue and the alleged vision and dream got plenty of attention all over the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Keep going, keep going.

TUCHMAN: The local sheriff's office says it's incredible Laura Hatch survived the accident, but Sergeant John Erkheart (ph) says there is substantial skepticism about Shea's (ph) dream claim.

(on camera): Is it the professional opinion of the King County Sheriff's Office that a dream could help locate a missing person?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sheriff's office does not believe and does not use psychics in their investigations. We have found in the past that they are of no value.

TUCHMAN: As far as the authorities go, this case is closed. There is no allegations of any crime, so, there is no police investigation about what is true and what might not be true.

(voice-over): Most experts do say so-called visions are usually deceptions or coincidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are lots of reasons to be skeptical. I mean, there's no proof that they exist. There are lots of anecdotes and people will not be dissuaded by anything I say about the validity of an anecdote.

TUCHMAN: But a retired New York City murder detective, who has written several books for police officers, says he used visionaries when he was on the force, saying one person correctly told him previously unknown details about the savage beating of a nun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think if the chief of detectives knew what I was doing, I'd probably of lost my command, but I didn't tell him. But that's why I'm a good murder cop.

TUCHMAN (on camera): You can understand how there are people out there, not just the police, but people out there who are watching this and saying, this is just a bunch of --


TUCHMAN: -- gobbledy-gook.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I understand. In fact, you know, there are people in my family that don't understand it, you know, and I respect that. There are lots of times that it scares me.

TUCHMAN: But you don't doubt it for a second?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't doubt it for a second.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): She keeps a daily dream journal. Most of the dreams make no sense to her.

(on camera): What did you just write down about what you dreamed last night?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I was dreaming about a water tower. About the water tower.

TUCHMAN: Shea Knorr (ph) says she feels the burden to analyze all of them in case there's another life to save.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Redman, Washington.


GORANI: Once again, here's Dr. Deirdre Barrett.

What do you make of this, Dr. Barrett, of the Laura Hatch case? Is it possible to have visions?

BARRETT: Well, certainly any of us that deal with dreams hear a lot of these anecdotes, and it's really hard to know what's going on.

In a case like this, where she knows the young woman, I didn't really hear in those details, you know, how much she may have known about the disappearance, there is certainly a chance that one's intuition is simply working better asleep and letting hypotheses get through that wouldn't.

It's certainly an area that deserves more research, but the jury is very much out.

GORANI: Yes, because skeptics would say, look, you know, we only remember those visions that actually came through, and we might choose not to remember those hundreds or thousands that ended up yielding nothing.

BARRETT: Certainly, if you dream about someone that you haven't seen in 20 years and they call you the next day, you're going to remember that and tell that story, and all the times you dream about somebody you haven't seen in 20 years and you don't happen to hear from them, you're not.

So people do underestimate the nature of coincidences, but it's still intriguing to see if our dreaming minds are doing something our waking minds can't.

GORANI: Can our dreaming minds help us, if not predict something, solve problems?

BARRETT: Certainly, sometimes just things that we're tuning out of our waking consciousness get through in dreams. I mean, certainly not in the supernatural sense, but just certain forms of intuition, you know, may get listened to better asleep than awake.

GORANI: And some, I guess, some law enforcement officials, many would say they would never use, but some law enforcement officials use psychics and use people who say they have visions in dreams.

BARRETT: I would think in trying to solve a disappearance, they would look at it and check out almost source of information they get, regardless of what they think the likelihood is.

GORANI: All right, for all of our viewers who might be ready -- we're seen all over the world, so we have some of our viewers ready to wake up, others ready to go to sleep, what can they do to try to use what they dream of tonight tomorrow? How can they use that kind of information tomorrow?

BARRETT: Well, first of all, just to remind themselves they want to recall it, as they're falling asleep, and when they first wake up in the morning, to just take a moment, to see if there is a bit of a dream there, and sometimes more memory will come back. And then just to think for a moment about what in my waking life does this seem related to helps tell you what the dream is about.

GORANI: All right, thank you very much, Dr. Deirdre Barrett, of Harvard Medical School, and an expert on dreams and sleep. Thank you for joining us on this edition of INSIGHT.

And thank you all for watching. I'm Hala Gorani. The news continues.



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