QuestionIs it physiologically possible to dream with someone?
Hopes&Fears answers questions with the help of people who know what they're talking about. Today, we wonder if we can dream together. Really.
We all dream, but it’s kind of a personal thing. Movies like Inception might show a group of people hooked up to a mysterious box, so that they can occupy and manipulate the same dream space at the same time. Most dreams share the same imagery, so why can’t people be naked in class or have their teeth fall out together? We turned to the experts to find out: is it physiologically possible to dream with someone?
PhD — President of The International Association for the Study of Dreams
As a researcher, I'm inclined to say that in the light of what we currently know, shared dreaming is not possible. Dream telepathy experiments have been conducted, especially in the '70s, but without systematic results. But there are other opinions, and it may be that there's simply not enough known about the physiology of sleep and dreams to indicate whether or not it is possible for people to dream together.
PhD — Department of Psychology, MacEwan University; Author, Control Your Dreams; Editor, Sleep and Dreams: A Source Book and Conscious Mind, Sleeping Brain
Well, you could, I suppose, measure two people while in REM and claiming to dream together and maybe find some gross correlates—mostly one has to move to a model of consciousness as nonlocal to the brain to consider the "reality" of such a question. There are of course various claims to doing it, but often from people who are close emotionally and pattern each others lives—the question "physiologically possible" constrains the answer.
The majority position in science is that consciousness is epiphenomena of brain processes, but there is sufficient evidence from various sources arguing that consciousness is not just epiphenomena, which is not to say that brain matter does not affect it, of course it does, but rather these ideas of nonlocal consciousness form around quantum mechanics in physics, digital physics, research into presentiment, group effects of meditation practice, effects of prayer etc. Within this framework the idea of two people dreaming together is acceptable.
— Humans are the only mammal that choose to delay sleep.
— Adults dream for about one to three hours every night.
— People who grew up watching black and white television dream tend to dream in black and white.
— The average person has about four dreams a night or 1,460 dreams per year.
— Newborns spend about one to three hours awake each day and about 14 to 17 hours sleeping.
— President Lincoln dreamed of his own death only a few days before being assassinated.
— Mary Shelley and Robert Lewis Stevenson said that Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came directly from their nightmares, respectively.
PhD — Psychologist specializing in sleep and dream medicine and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona's Center for Integrative Medicine
From a physiological perspective, there’s no evidence of that. Now, there’s no evidence for a lot of stuff. We in the last couple of decades overreacted a bit around the promise of brain research. There’s this blindside to science that if we can’t find something it doesn’t exist. So there’s no evidence in the data we have to date around REM sleep and the potential for shared dreaming.
But if you asked me if it was possible, I would say unequivocally, absolutely, yes.
We don’t have evidence for lots of things that are meaningful. We also live in a world where there’s a presumption that the primary unit for being is the individual, so we focus our scientific inquiries around the individual, the individual body, the individual brain, the individual psychology. There’s a shortcoming in psychology, certainly in medicine, if there’s a failure to acknowledge the role sociology, the social connection between people. There’s been anecdotal evidence for hundreds, if not thousands, of years that people can share dreams. One of the limitations of understanding this is that we, today, in our world, are suffering a silent epidemic of dream depravation. It’s quite possible that many, perhaps most, of the medical consequences, psychological consequence that we attribute to sleep loss, actually are the result of dream loss. Because most of what we call sleep loss is actually REM sleep loss. The psychological piece of that: there seems to be significantly less regard for that both in medicine and the popular culture. People kind of look at dream understanding as more of a parlor game, something you can do if you buy a dream dictionary at Barnes & Noble, you can interpret what apples and arrows and telephone poles mean in your dream. That’s just a lot bullshit. It’s a distraction.
When we approach dreaming from a broader perspective, and some of this is not new, in fact, it’s rooted in a lot of ancient traditions. Indigenous cultures, where there are shamanic practices, people routinely understand that dreams can be shared.
Psychologist and Bestselling Author of The Complete A to Z Dictionary of Dreams and The Top 100 Dreams
Fundamental answer, physiologically it does not happen. One of the reason it comes up in popular culture and going back tens of thousands of years in myths and legends, is that there is a pre-conception that the dream happens to the dreamer, that the dreamer is just lying there in some passive state, like a psychic receiver and you tune into some etheric wave and the dream is created. The reality is the reverse. You actually create the dream and you create everything that you experience in it. So, the first thing to understand is the dream doesn’t happen to you, you happen to the dream.
There’s a guy named Montague Ullman. He did quite a bit of a work on dream telepathy in the 1950s and 1960s. He wrote up quite a few experiments, along with a guy called Stanley Krippner, that this was something that was actually happening. There take on it was, there must be some communication, there must be some field that both people were in and experiencing this. But there has been a lot more work done on this and people have been trying to replicate the experiment without any success at all.
I have been working with dreams for about 35 years now, and in that time, I have worked with over 200,000 individual dreams, and a number of clients have reported to me that they have experienced the same dream sequence that someone else has. I’ve interviewed the dreamers independently, without any discussion between them, and they report things that would be really difficult to report unless there had been a shared dream experience. All the people that have reported that they have had a shared dream experience to me have one thing in common: they have both been through major emotional change, usually a trauma, in waking life and people who report this dream are usually quite closely connected in some way. They are very often siblings, and the time I hear this reported the most is when siblings experience the loss of a parent or a child, but mainly a parent. The nature of the dream they have, very often, is the parent who has passed away appears in their dream and will be in some familiar place that they associate with the parent. So there is a thing where two dreamers, or sometimes, three or four dreamers, share the experience of the dream; the dream narrative is very, very similar.
We all have dreams that are very, very common. We’re not having the same dreams, we’re creating dreams based on universal imagery. That’s one of the reasons that we seem to create or have the possibility of creating very, very similar dream sequences, which then are reported as dream telepathy.
Top 10 dreams
according to The Top 100 Dreams by Ian Wallace, "the dream psychologist"
Teeth Falling out
Unable to Find a Toilet
Naked in Public
Unprepared for an Exam
Out of Control Vehicle
Finding an Unused Room