I first noticed my regular dream cycles ceased in 2003. Star Wars Galaxies had just come out and I was spending countless hours online till 2 or 3 in the morning, then getting up to prep stages at Sony Pictures at 6 am. I was young and had the stamina, I guess. One thing that occurred to me during this early MMORPG period was that I stopped having nightmares. In the beginning I remember vividly being able to control what was happening inside of my nightly fantasies. If I had an encounter with a monster or some no-faced-villain chasing me I would instead of run, turn and attack them with an axe that somehow morphed into my hand. For months I could “wake” myself inside of a dream and take on superman like powers that made me Godlike. It sounds cliché, but I would stop, look down at my feet and say, “this is just a dream,” and poof I had the ability to change the outcome of my experience. I could do anything I wanted; fly, shoot amazing guns at cars that were chasing me or pick up an attractive woman that I would normally be too shy around (which in every case turned out to be my wife with different colored hair). I had heard the words lucid dreams, probably from a re-watching of Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, and every time I told someone my new found skill I would try to remember the exact terminology, but usually resorted to just saying, “it’s the coolest thing ever.” For several years I thought I was special. Then I stopped remembering my dreams all together. I started telling people I broke them.
As a kid I would look under my bed every night and have a waking nightmare at least once a month. Have you ever had REM Paralysis, where you feel like you woke up, but you can’t move? It’s freaky to say the least, and the memory of one can keep you up all night. I had night terrors and sleep disruptions for years, but now with age or maybe with my new found skill, I haven’t had a nightmare in at least 5 years. I came across an article about Jayne Gackenbach in 2007 about the time that I realized that my dreams had started to subside, or at least the memories of them did. It was also about the time that quirky well-educated researchers were telling us that Video Games may not be all that bad for us (Take that Mom and Dad.) She published an article that has been sited at least once a year since titled “Video Game Play and Lucid Dreams.” In her work and subsequent studies, she found that consciousness in sleep can be directly related to video game play, creating the benefit of lucid dreaming, i.e. I can now vanquish my nightmare monsters with flaming swords. She also found other benefits for me and other “high-end gamers,” included less motion sickness (more deep sea fishing trips), better spatial ability (rubric’s cubes tremble in my path), and vestibular integrity (I could now perform the devastating Karate Kid Kick while balanced on a stump). Thanks to Gackenbach’s studies I didn’t feel as special, but I did feel that I wasn’t alone, or at least now I could explain my circumstance.
Moving across two time zones and still staying up passed 2 hasn’t changed my sleep habits (although I do now wake up much later.) For the last 10 years I can count my bad dreams on one hand. The lucid dreams have become a distant memory, now I can’t remember the last time I remembered a dream. I wake up each day still tired of course, but without much recollection of what transpired in my slumber. My wife however fights with sleep, on some occasions I mean that literally. She struggles with a lot of mental issues, but most have been normalized through medication and therapy, at least to our “crazy” standards. She does still have night terrors though, possibly brought on by early childhood trauma. At least once a week, sometimes as many as 3 times a night she will slowly awake screaming. I can usually hear it or sense it coming (what I call “reving up” because it sounds like she’s imitating a car motor) and will wake her before the scream comes out. It’s a blood curdling scream if it reaches peak and I try to console her before the neighbors call the cops thinking I’m murdering her. If I don’t arouse her to complete consciousness she will go right back into her nightmare and eventual rev back up to a scream. She’s spoken with doctors and therapists and they usually tell her it’s daily stress. Most night terrors occur during weeks when she is unhappy at work, however the nightmares and work do not correlate in reverie, meaning she’s not being chased a round by a murderous boss or cut to death from overdue paperwork. She usually goes to bed watching something peaceful like Full House or Star Trek the Next Generation, but her morning frustrations catch up to her and cause the restless sleep. I thought it was normal for her condition, it wasn’t until she said “I wish I could just fall asleep like you,” did I realize I could help.
Now, I am no doctor, so please do not say what I am about to suggest is proper medical care for depression (The following may cause Broken Alarm Clock Syndrome and Turn That Off Outbursts). I find that nights where she unwinds playing a fast-paced video game have greatly decreased her night terrors. Compared with evenings where she watches a show or plays a mindless puzzle, the shooter nights have all but squashed her nightmares. Even nights where she plays after a long stressful day are more restful. It’s gotten to the point where I am begging her to play Fortnite or Plants Vs. Zombies with my son just so I will feel better about laying down beside her. She didn’t come to these games on her own. Thanks to my son’s spectacular first-person shooter skills that he acquired from his aging Obi-Wan-like father, we were able to introduce bright and colorful shooters to her. Unfortunately, she hasn’t had a lucid dream that she can remember but I’m hoping she will know it when she “sees” it. Maybe the somewhat violent shooters are allowing her to get out some aggression and therefore putting her mind at ease. Maybe her endorphins are raised, forcing her body to shut down to a lower REM level. Whatever the case, I’m positive the gaming is helping to keep her night terrors at bay. My eventual goal is to have the entire family squading up after dinner for a restful night’s sleep, but for now I’m keeping a watch on her stress levels and throwing a controller her way when I see the sadness emerging. I’m starting to wonder if I can write off loot crates as a medical expense.