November | In Your Dreams
A DREAM COLUMN
It feels relevant this month to discuss how food affects our dreams, as we’re nearly upon the #1 American eating holiday. Some people claim eating certain foods before bed gives them nightmares. The most cited culprit is dairy, cheese in particular, and the belief is pervasive enough that in 2005, the British Cheese Board funded a study surveying what participants ate before bed and then the correlating content of their dreams, with the conspicuous hope to clear the good name of cheese, once and for all. This highly biased study wasn’t conclusive (whoops), but the participants who did have upsetting dreams implicated both spicy foods and dairy (double whoops). Maybe no more nachos in bed, just to be safe.
Over the years, I have had repeated dreams with varying details but a similar “plot”: I find a kitten or a puppy and successfully convince my parents/roommates/spouse to let me keep it. These dreams feel extremely real and I always wake up excited about my new pet…until I realize after a few seconds that there is no new pet. Do I just really love kittens and puppies? Or is there something more happening here?
Nothing like starting your day with a little heartbreak. The part of your brain that regulates emotion, the limbic system, remains active during sleep, so that twinge of disappointment is indistinguishable from a “real” feeling. The same principle applies when you wake up mad at your brother because he forgot to bring your childhood hamster Marbles on the space shuttle, or whatever batsh*t tale your unconscious whipped up the night before.
One way to see if there’s something more going on here, as you say, is to start tracking these dreams. How frequent are they? When they do occur, what else is happening in your life? There might be a larger pattern, if you zoom out. For instance, if the dream keeps happening when you’re contemplating a life-changing decision — what to do after college, say, or whether to start a family — you might take comfort that your unconscious is more than willing to embrace new responsibilities. A pet is no small obligation. Or perhaps this dream crops up when life is feeling stale, and you’re in need of a shakeup, a small one. A haircut might do it. A really good haircut can change your life. F*ck it, get bangs. If you hate them, you can grow them out.
Animal pals often show up in dreams of those feeling lonely or isolated, and these days, that’s most people. Earlier this year, the Surgeon General declared loneliness a national epidemic, pointing to data that more than half of U.S. adults lack critical social connection. If you relate, dreamer, ironically, you’re not alone. There are plenty of tools that health experts recommend to help with loneliness. A quick Google will give you a long list: see a therapist, move your body, reach out to friends, cultivate your hobbies, get adequate rest, go out in nature, take several deep breaths, drink a glass of water, but start with just one small thing. It’s hard out here. If you’re suffering, hang in there.
But you do have a community of some sort. Important people from your life keep showing up in these dreams, and they provide a crucial element: negotiations. The other members of the household get a say. In another version of this narrative, you might keep the kitten without asking, or hide it. Instead, you always try to get them on board, hopefully with integrity and not manipulation. We like that approach. You can take it with you into the real world. If there’s a big conversation pending in a relationship in your life — a debate or a hash-out or a Discussion, whatever you want to call it — you can enter with confidence because you’ve done this before, and you got to keep the puppy at the end.
If you’ve ever woken up from a dream like, what the hell was that?, and would like to be featured in the next In Your Dreams, contact us at email@example.com with a detailed description of the inner workings of your unconscious mind. We're dreaming of hearing from you.