The results, published in 2018, showed few differences between healthy sleepers and insomniacs during quiescent (non-REM) sleep, but a huge divide during REM sleep, with around a third of the insomniac patients claiming to have been awake during that periodwhen their brain activity suggested that they were in fact lost in dreams. The healthy sleepers, in contrast, practically never said that they had been awake when awoken from REM sleep. From these results, the team hypothesizes that a healthy sleeper has vivid fantasies so obviously different from their waking state that it is easy to recognize that theyve been asleep. For the paradoxical insomniac, however, dreams are full of the rumination that they would be having if they were actually awake, making the two states indistinguishable: Their insomnia is really a dream about insomnia. Feige thinks this could arise from general anxieties that seep into the unconscious. Dream content is something that you take from your daytime experience into sleep, he says. If you go to sleep with positive emotions then its more likely that your dreams will also show these positive emotions. But if you go to sleep with worries, then its more likely that your dreams will reflect those worries. These three theories may all be true. The brief micro-awakenings, the localized conscious brain activity, and the misinterpreted dreams could work together to create your misperception; each may play a role in the experience. A greater understanding of these processes could offer tailored treatments for fake sleep sufferers. Feige, for instance, points out that cognitive behavioral therapy is already available to alter other types of recurring dreams and nightmares. It involves revisiting the events of the dream and rewriting the script with a happier ending. If paradoxical insomnia really is a ruminative dream, then a similar approach might help us avoid its reappearing in the future. A few months ago, I decided to try it out myself. During the day, Id try to reimagine the fretful nighttime state in which my mind is whirring with worries, and then imagine my thoughts slowing down until I was in a kind of meditative calmness, looking forward to the day ahead rather than agonizing over sleep loss. If my insomnia was really a dream, I reasoned, this could produce a more restful night. When I got into bed each night, I also gave myself something new to focus on: not sheep, exactly, but counting down from 1,000, which helps me avoid priming my brain with ruminations about my insomnia. Today I usually conk out at around 925. But the main difference is that I then stay asleep a lot longer. I cant say Im fully cured, but the periods of (perceived) sleeplessness appear to be losing their grip. Sometimes I still feel like Im skimming the surface of unconsciousness, but Im calmer about it. It feels like Im clocking around six or seven out of eight hours of good sleep, which is pretty normal. More than anything, the simple realization that my body can be asleep even if my brain is signaling something slightly different has helped relieve some of the anxiety in my daily life. My dreams today tend to be mundane but pleasant, without the incessant rumination that once haunted themand thats incredibly refreshing.
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