The 5 Weirdest Things That Influence Your Dreams

#2. Unpleasant Smells Lead to Unpleasant Dreams

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We all know that our dreams can be influenced by things that are happening in our sensory environment -- the aliens we're shooting at might suddenly begin shrieking the same sound as our alarm clock, or the supermodel we're making love to might begin to bark at us just as the annoying dog next door wakes up. But now research has shown that smells in our environment affect our dreams as well, but not in the way you'd think.

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"Sir, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave the store."

Scientists in Germany experimented on 15 subjects by pumping different smells into the room as they entered REM sleep. During the study, they wafted the odors of things like rotten eggs and roses across the noses of the sleeping subjects and asked them about their dreams after they awoke. It turns out that the unpleasant smells tended to trigger more negative dreams, as you'd suspect, but the dreams didn't have anything to do with the smells (the smell of something rotten didn't make them dream of zombies or fart monsters or anything like that).

The researchers believe that this is due to the effect that smell has on the limbic system of the brain, which governs emotion and behavior. This appears to be a hugely underrated factor in how our brains work, by the way -- we did a whole article a while back on weird ways you're subconsciously affected by smells and learned that manipulating smells is almost a form of mind control. According to one expert, our sense of smell alone has "direct access to the subconscious areas of the brain, which affects emotion, mood, and memory." Even when you sleep.

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"This smells great! Now, about that whole sleep thing ..."

So if you're suffering from chronic nightmares, maybe you should think less about the stress in your life and more about the whole farting roommate situation.

#1. Creative People Remember More of Their Dreams

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Everything on this list so far has hinged on one unspoken factor: whether you can even remember your dreams at all. All of these surveys and studies were based on people who could actually remember what they dreamed about, and some of us can't -- we just wake up with a vague memory of something unpleasant happening, and maybe that it involved spiders. Well, according to researchers, the more creative you are, the less difficulty you have in remembering your dreams in the morning. This may seem like an abstract and ambiguous category to try sorting people into, but the researchers looked at variables such as being "prone to absorption, imaginativeness, daydreaming, and fantasizing," and concluded that people who scored high on these factors tended to remember their dreams more often.

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"Two words: 'evil dick.'"

You might think that this is just a result of whatever chemicals those artsy types were putting into their bodies, but the results were adjusted for things like intake of caffeine and alcohol (which, as those of us who write for a living can attest, tend to spike harder as deadlines begin to dominate our lives). It didn't matter -- the creative types still retained their dreams better.

According to psychology professor David Watson, "People who are prone to daydreaming and fantasy have less of a barrier between states of sleep and wakefulness and seem to more easily pass between them." It sounds similar to the mechanism that lets gamers control their dreams -- apparently that whole bridge between your waking and dreaming mind is something that is built with practice.

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"I can't even differentiate between the two anymore. In my eyes, everyone burns."

So if, when trying to concentrate on a lecture, you find yourself inexorably drifting toward wondering how well the lecture hall could survive a zombie apocalypse, then you're probably more likely to remember what you dream about each evening (which, we suppose, is probably fighting a zombie apocalypse).



S Peter Davis is the author of Occam's Nightmare, a book about the history of weird ideas. You can find more of his work at Three Minute Philosophy.

For more things that affect you more than you realize, check out 6 Weird Things That Influence Bad Behavior More Than Laws and The 5 Weirdest Things That Influence How Your Food Tastes.

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