Dream machines

Good morning! How did you sleep?

My mum always starts the day by asking this. On the surface it’s a polite enquiry about how you are, like greeting you with ‘how was your day’? when you arrive home in the evening. 

But there aren’t many answers you can give and the conversation doesn’t go anywhere afterwards (no offence mum!)

‘Good’, ‘bad’, ‘mixed’… that’s it. Depending on the answer, you get an extra pillow the following evening or move on to the what-to-have-for-breakfast chat.

As a way to start the day, it’s on par with chatting about the weather.

Except that for some people, occasionally, there’s another way to answer:

‘I had a great / awful dream’. 

Get the popcorn! 

Thanks to @ArmandKhoury for making this photo available freely on @unsplash


I’ve always been a vivid dreamer. It’s one of the most mind-blowing experiences I know. The way time and space behave in an alien way. How people who don’t know each other (or don’t exist) interact, and how, in the moment, it’s all entirely normal.

But speaking about it isn’t. No pub chat starts with ‘guess what I dreamt about last night’ and you’re unlikely to wow dinner party guests with what took place in your head whilst you were snoring.

But why not? Some of my most interesting memories are from this third of my life. 

Like the time I ordered a new toy from Amazon, a full-sized, tree-top adventure playground that folded up at the touch of a button into a tobacco tin. 

Or the time I went sailing with my (long dead) granddad and moored the boat on his front driveway.

But this kind of positive fantasy isn’t the experience most people have. A 2010 study in the journal of psychology reported that the most commonly reported dream themes are of ‘being chased, falling, flying, failing an examination, being unable to find a toilet’1.

So maybe that’s why we don’t talk about it. Dreams can reveal our insecurities, or maybe our greatest fantasies, and to open that up to the world would make us vulnerable. And perhaps, as a society, we’re just not ready for that yet.

Try it

So I decided to make talking about dreams a thing with my family. Both my kids and even my wife (who rarely dreams) now talk about it. We’ve turned into dream machines.

My children tell me the best stories, especially my 7 year old son. This week his whole year at school and all their teachers were kidnapped by ‘the baddies’. They were held hostage, his class teacher turned rogue, then some of the boys used their karate to free everyone, but not before the baddies gave out ice creams and sweets to the boys and let them watch TV.

I love it. It puts a smile on my face, entertains us all, gives us real moments of connection and, though I’ve no evidence to back this up, I’m sure it boosts our creativity.

So as much as I hated it, I’ve modified my mum’s question to get straight to the point.

‘Did you have any dreams’?

Give it a try.

*sorry mum, love you mum!

1 Michael Schredl, Petra Ciric, Simon GÖtz & Lutz Wittmann (2004) Typical Dreams: Stability and Gender Differences, The Journal of Psychology, 138:6, 485-494, DOI: 10.3200/JRLP.138.6.485-494

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