Dreams. When we think about or have to describe them, dreams are very vivid and in most cases in full Technicolor. Just reflect back to when you first saw the classic movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” and the difference between the black, white and shades of grey that depicted Kansas. And then ponder your thoughts about the glorious colors of the Land of Oz. But what if you had no visual reference point for comparison, that is to say, you have been blind since birth. What then? Do the dreams of the blind differ from people who have normal vision?
When Do Dreams Occur?
With normal sleep, it isn’t until you arrive at the second to last of five sleep stages that dreams will typically occur. Although in earlier stages, there might be dream imagery that floats in and out, typically it is the stage known as rapid eye movement (REM) that true—and cognizant for some—dreams appear. This stage occurs about an hour and 30 minutes after falling asleep and is characterized by increased brain activity (eyes move quickly back and forth) with body relaxation occurring at the same time. It is theorized that if you wake during REM or this ‘dream’ stage, you will recall what you were just dreaming. However, just because you don’t remember a dream doesn’t necessarily mean a dream didn’t occur.
The Dreams of the Blind
Without having had any visual experiences, how exactly do the dreams of the blind appear? Apparently, if a person became completely blind before the age of 5, their dreams will be devoid of any visual aspect. However, some blind individuals actually do have visual experiences within their dreams but not in a true sighted-sense. These experiences are abstract. For instance, these people believe that within their dream they can see. But if you ask them to describe what they ‘saw’ in their dream, it would be a mission impossible. They just know in their gut they were able to see. Like when you can’t recall details of a dream but only get the sense of what transpired.
What often also happens within the dreams of the blind is that the other senses are intensified. Their dreams have heightened sound, taste and sense of smell. And the same can be said for the hearing impaired but in the converse. Their dreams will be saturated with intense visual imagery.
In a 2013 study published in Sleep Medicine, researchers evaluated the dreams of the blind in terms of sensory content. Participants were divided into three groups: control sighted individuals, congenitally blind and delayed onset of blindness. Results of the Danish research demonstrated that blindness altered the visual/sensory composition of dreams and that onset and duration of blindness played a vital role. In addition, they discovered an increased incidence of nightmares in the congenitally blind subjects and attributed this interesting occurrence to a greater number of fear-invoking experiences in daily life.
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