General

People Who Are Blind Indeed Do Dream!

A girl with her head tilted back and to her right. Her eyes are closed. The image is predominantly in browns and beiges.
“Dreaming…” by Rickydavid. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Research suggests that all mammals experience sleep. Sleep may look different across the species. The type and amount of sleep tends to be based on a species’ needs, environment, and whether they are predator or prey (Meadows, A, 2021). Sleep is vital for the human body to rest and recharge and contributes to a person’s emotional, mental, and physical well-being (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2020). Good quality sleep helps to support healthy brain function, and growth and development in children and youth. Sleep promotes cognition, memory, learning, and ability to problem solve and make decisions (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2020).

Dreaming is a fascinating component of sleep. During sleep humans cycle through two types of sleep: non-rapid eye movement (non-REM sleep) and rapid eye movement (REM sleep). Dreaming occurs during the REM stage of sleep, and dreams can include sensations that are vibrant and intense (Cleveland Clinic, 2021). The hippocampus, located in the temporal lobe of the brain, plays “…a central role in our ability to remember, imagine and dream” (Wamsley, 2020, Abstract). Research shows that dreams are based on experiences we have had during our daily events. Fosse et al. (2003) report approximately fifty percent of dreams involve one aspect of experiences people have while they are awake. Although sleep has been studied worldwide, more research is needed to understand sleep phenomenon. According to Payne and Nadel (2004), dream research has yet to confirm why we dream and what we dream about. Some research indicates dreams are the brain’s method to consolidate memory. This process involves the brain scanning and reorganizing recent experiences or sensations, and new experiences are linked to older experiences (Mutz & Javadi, 2020).

Vision may be a primary component of memory, but it is not the only component (Mutz & Javadi, 2020). Many people associate dreams with visual experiences. Some individuals may wonder if people who are blind can dream. If people who are blind dream, do their dreams include visual imagery? How are the dreams of people who are blind differ from those of people who have vision? Peters (2020) reports that people who are blind can and do dream. The author describes how REM sleep induces dream sleep in all people (Peters, 2020). Peters (2020) further argues: “As long as there are memories and sensations to connect them with, a person will dream whether they are sighted or blind” (Dream Sleep in Blind People, para. 5). Dream research is limited, particularly studies focused on individuals who are blind. Earlier studies suggest that dreams of people who are blind are varied and depend on when a person’s vision loss occurred (Kahan & Laberge, 2011). Kahan and Laberge (2011) note that people who have been blind since birth or who lost their vision under five years of age typically do not have visual images in their dreams. The authors further discuss how individuals who lost their vision after the age of five are more likely to experience visual activity in their dreams (Kahan & Laberge, 2011). Findings indicate a time during development exists where memory, cognition, and vision merge. Individuals from this population experience visual imagery that is vivid and recognizable as those of people who have vision do (Kahan & Laberge, 2011). As these individuals get older, however, their ability to see colour and experience visual images becomes less clear, and they may only experience visual activity intermittently (Meaidi et al. 2014).

Other researchers have studied the relationship between people who are blind and dream sleep. Bertolo, Mestre, Barrio and Antona (2017) explored whether people who are visually impaired experience visual activity and eye movements during REM sleep similar to people who have vision. The researchers sought to answer whether individuals who have been blind from birth experience visual imagery while they dream. Participants who were blind reported having vivid dreams that included visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic elements. Participants who were blind exhibited fewer rapid eye movements than participants who had vision (Bertolo et al. 2017). The researchers note a correlation between the eye movements of the participants who were blind and “visual dream recall” (Bertolo et al. 2017). Bertolo et al. (2017) argue that people who are blind experience visual activity during sleep and are able to have visual images in their dreams.

As a person who is blind, I do dream. I am fascinated with the human brain and the anatomy and physiology of the human body. I am interested in learning more about sleep phenomenon. Over the years I have personally experienced changes in my sleep and have had sleep difficulties. Despite these challenges I do dream. My dreams are rich in imagery and are intense. Like people who have vision, I experience a range of dreams that are packed with emotion, excitement, bizarre nature, and scary content. At times I am able to recall my dreams in great detail and other times not as much detail.

In conclusion, people who are blind do dream. Dream research is vital to knowing how and why we dream as human beings. What does blindness have to do with dreaming? Our dreams may be different in some ways from those who have vision, but we dream just as often and in the same way as others. May our dreams be larger than life and full of imagination!

References

  • Cleveland Clinic (2021). Sleep Basics,Retrieved April 14, 2021
  • Fosse, M.J., Fosse, R., Hobson, J.A., & R.J. Stickgold (2003). Dreaming and episodic memory: a functional dissociation?, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 15, 1-9. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Kahan, T.L., & S.P. Laberge (2011). Dreaming and waking: Similarities and differences revisited, Conscious Cognition, 20 (3), 494-514.
  • Meaidi, A., Jennum, P., Ptito, M., & R. Kupers (2014). The sensory construction of dreams and nightmare frequency in congenitally blind and late blind individuals, Sleep Med, 15 (5) 586-95.
  • Meadows, A. 021). Do All Animals Need to Sleep? Retrieved April 14, 2021
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (2020). Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency, Retrieved April 15, 2021
  • Mutz J, & A.H. Javadi (2017). Exploring the neural correlates of dream phenomenology and altered states of consciousness during sleep, NeurosciConscious, doi: 10.1093/nc/nix009
  • Payne, J.D. & L. Nadel (2004). Sleep, dreams, and memory consolidation: role of the stress hormone cortisol, Learning & Memory. Retrieved April 16, 2021
  • Peters, B. (2020). What Blind People See or Experience When They Dream at Night, Sleep Disorders, Retrieved April 17, 2021
  • Wamsley, E. J. (2020). Memory: How the brain constructs dreams, Innovation, Retrieved April 15, 2021
  • Bértolo, H., Mestre, T., Barrio, A., & Antona, B. 2017. Rapid Eye Movements (REMs) and visual dream recall in both congenitally blind and sighted. In Proc. of SPIE Vol (Vol. 10453, pp. 104532C-1). 
  • Schöpf, V., Schlegl, T., Jakab, A., Kasprian, G., Woitek, R., Prayer, D. and Langs, G., “The relationship between eye movement and vision develops before birth,” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8 (775), 1-6 (2014).