Quirks & Quarks

How long does it take to dream a dream?

The passage of time in a dream may be slower than it feels

The passage of time in a dream may be slower than it feels

Giant panda Jiao Qing takes a nap in his enclosure of the zoo in Berlin on March 7, 2019. (Photo by Monika Skolimowska / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT (Photo credit should read MONIKA SKOLIMOWSKA/AFP/Getty Images) (AFP/Getty Images)

This weeks question comes from Craig Smith and Sara Miller from Toronto,ON. They wonder:

How long does it take to dream a dream (relative to real time) ?

We went to research scientist Lia Turner who works in the Imagination Lab at Carleton University.

Turner explains that while dreams seem continuous, they are actually broken down into stages and interrupted as the brain moves through various parts of the sleep cycle.

"The first dreaming session lasts approximately 10 minutes, beginning about 90 minutes after you've fallen asleep. As the sleep cycle continues, the REM (rapid eye movement)  stages increase in duration, with the final dream lasting up to one hour"

REM is the part of the sleep cycle our most memorable and vivid dreams take place.

But the difference in the passage of time in a dream state and reality is a complicated problem to study says Turner. This is because our judgement in the time passed is subjective and our brain has neurotransmitters to facilitate the waking up process which remove the subjective ability to remember it accurately.

Some insight might come from a study by psychologist Daniel Erlacher, which asked lucid dreamers to complete a simple motor task in a dream state and report how long they believed it took them while being timed in reality.

On average, he found that it took participants about 40% longer in a lucid dream state. This may correspond to regular, non-lucid, nighttime dreaming, but there is no way to be exactly sure.


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