The concept of dreaming at night is familiar with all of us. We’ve all dreamt up whole worlds that are far from the one we exist in, we’ve dreamt of being chased, being hurt, losing teeth, but, what about the dreams we have when we are awake?
Daydreams aren’t as easy to characterise as the dreams that we have at night. Everyone’s daydreams are slightly different because, unlike dreaming, that is controlled mainly by our subconscious, daydreaming takes place when we’re awake - we’re always completely aware that we are daydreaming.
What is Daydreaming?
Daydreaming is defined as “a series of pleasant thoughts that distract one’s attention from the present” by Oxford Dictionaries. This is a good starting point, but it doesn’t really tell us everything about daydreaming.
Daydreams are waking thoughts. You are aware of your body and your physicality in the real world, though you may, to some extent, lose the connection that you have to the world that surrounds you whilst being deep in a daydream.
The Different Types of Daydreaming
Daydreaming provides a place for your mind to wander; it’s a small indulgence that is a great escape for us all. It has been found that around half of our waking lives are spent daydreaming, which is unbelievable, but definitely suggests that it has some kind of value. So, what are the different types of daydreaming?
- Goals-Based Daydreaming
- Most of our thoughts are directly or indirectly related to our goals. Most of these goals are very basic - things like remembering to hang the washing out or call your mum.
- Future Daydreaming
- We plan ahead in life, whether it’s short term, like what we will have for dinner that evening, or more long term, like who you are going to marry in the future.
- Socially-Orientated Daydreaming
- We constantly think about the feelings, intentions and thoughts that other people may have.
We have all been told to stop daydreaming at least once in our lives... most probably by a school teacher as we wistfully stare of the window with our chin in our hand. Well, ignore that teacher!
Daydreaming can be a brilliant source of creative inspiration. Daydreaming gives us time to think about things in a mind-wandering space, rather than a focused approach, ultimately resulting in more breakthroughs!
So… Is Daydreaming A Good Thing?
Studies have shown that daydreaming may actually be a sign of high intelligence and creativity. Eric Schumacher, the co-author of a study into mind wandering, says that people with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering.
In the study, Schumacher highlights that mind wandering and daydreaming is often seen as a negative thing, however, in reality, this isn’t always the case. This is evident when looking at intelligent children, he states that “…while it may take five minutes for their friends to learn something new, they figure it out in a minute, then check out and start daydreaming.” Meaning that daydreaming can be a sign of intelligence.
A good way to see if you have an efficient brain is if you zone in and out of conversations when appropriate but can naturally tune back in without missing important points. So, it is evident that daydreaming in ways is a really good, healthy thing!
But…as JK Rowling highlights through Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live”, which Dr Eli Somer found out in his research into maladaptive daydreaming. Let us consider when daydreaming becomes a problem.
What is Maladaptive Daydreaming?
We have established that daydreaming is a normal and positive part of day to day life. But, when daydreaming becomes compulsive and starts to interfere with your life, it becomes a problem. This is maladaptive daydreaming.
Dr Eli Somer discovered maladaptive daydreaming in 2002. He published a paper describing some of his patients’ symptoms and results, such as spending so much time in their own minds that their relationships suffered.
Though maladaptive daydreaming is now identified as a strain of dissociative disorder, it is not yet officially recognised by the medical community. However, it does need to be acknowledged that daydreaming can become so maladaptive that it can look like a psychiatric disorder, but is not. This is because thought sufferers struggle to control their daydreaming, but they do not confuse their daydreams with reality.
Maladaptive daydreaming is very different from regular daydreaming. Not only is it addictive and hard to pull yourself out of, but the content of the daydreams is also very different. They can involve detailed characters and plots, and can be triggered by things like music and film.
Sufferers often mumble to themselves, smile and make facial expressions and perform repetitive movements whilst daydreaming, such as rocking back and forth and pacing. This behaviour tends to push these people further into isolation making them favour living in their own heads.
Sufferer Natalie Switala told The Wireless that she feels like both the addict and the dealer when it comes to maladaptive daydreaming. She states:
“My twisted logic is, ‘Why live life when I can dream it up so much better’...I’ve never felt the urge to travel because even climbing the Eiffel Tower is a million times better in my head”.
Maladaptive daydreaming can reach a point where it’s hard for sufferers to shut down their brains to sleep often resulting in severe insomnia. If you are suffering with insomnia have a read of our blog post for tips of how to treat the symptoms. But if you find yourself asking “why do I daydream so much” or you think you are suffering from maladaptive daydreaming, do seek advice from your GP.
So, Where Do We Stand On Daydreaming?
For the most part, daydreaming is a pretty healthy activity. It is proven to improve creativity, and you may have your big breakthrough of the day whilst daydreaming in the shower! It also can be evidence of an intelligent and efficient brain.
But, daydreaming can, for some people, be an addiction that can go on to affect relationships, day to day life and sleep patterns. If this is the case for you, please speak to your GP.
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