Dreams are funny things. Pretty much anything can happen while you’re dreaming. You might grow wings and fly. All of your teeth might suddenly fall out. You might even find yourself in bed with your celebrity crush. But one thing that almost never happens in dreams is reading.
When you really think about it, when was the last time you actually ‘read’ something in a dream? You might dream of reading a text message, a street sign, a newspaper, or even a book, but did you really?
Chances are, you didn’t actually see any letters. We might not notice at the time, but our reading comprehension is usually more of a ‘telepathic’ style when we dream. Rather than reading by recognizing letters, as we do in waking life, we absorb the information through our subconscious.
In fact, the inability to read or write something is often a telltale sign that you are dreaming. Have you ever tried to read the time on a clock, but the numbers were all jumbled up? Or have you tried writing something down on a piece of paper, but your hand won’t move the right way to form the letters?
These strange things happen because our neurological processors aren’t reacting the same way they do in our waking life. When this happens, we sometimes realize that we’re dreaming and wake ourselves up.
What’s Really Happening in Our Brains When We Dream?
When we fall into a REM sleep stage, the logic and language processing parts of our brain slows down. This affects not only our capacity to read but also our general language functions too.
Think about the last conversation you had in a dream. Did you really hear the words annunciated from someone’s mouth? Or was it the ‘telepathic’ communication style I mentioned above? Usually, meaning is conveyed, but not in the normal listening and speaking sense.
Language and Logic Shuts Down
The regions that process language and logic are found in the middle and backs of our brains. To understand a bit more about what happens while we’re dreaming, we have to look at two crucial parts of these brain regions called the Broca’s area and the Warnicke’s area.
The Broca’s area of the brain is responsible for verbal language output. The Warnicke’s area is responsible for comprehension, grammar, syntax, and structure.
In our waking life, these two brain areas work in partnership with each other, ensuring that we communicate effectively through reading, writing, and speech. But when we are asleep, the back and forth between these two regions is disrupted.
It seems that it’s the Warnicke’s area that is temporarily disabled as we dream, which directly affects how the Broca’s area functions. This is why people sometimes report saying and hearing strange, incomprehensible things in their dreams.
“Why has Sam left the chimney door open? We’ll lose all of the radishes if we’re not careful!” It’s as if the grammar and sentence structure work just fine, but the context of the words and their meanings is all mixed up
Despite scientists’ best efforts, the Broca’s and the Warnicke’s brain areas are still somewhat of a mystery. A lot more research needs to be done before they can conclusively determine what exactly is happening while we dream.
The One Percent
Interestingly, although the vast majority of people can’t read or process language during a dream, some can.
Studies show there’s a small section of the population, around just one percent, who do read in their dreams. And surprisingly, the majority of people in this group share a single profession; they’re writers.
Scientists believe this is because writers spend much more time thinking about words and language during their waking life than other people do.
And as we know, it’s the things we think about during the day that often appear in our dreams at night, even if they’re in our subconscious.
So we know that the vast majority of us cannot read during a regular dream state. But, there is another type of dream state in which it might just be possible; lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreaming is essentially being aware that you’re dreaming. But instead of immediately waking up, you stay in your dream state and can even control the things that happen within the dream.
During lucid dreaming, your language processing areas of the brain are not fully awake, but they are much more active. That means that reading while you’re dreaming is actually possible.
How to Practice Lucid Dreaming
There’s no sure-fire way to train your brain into lucid dreaming, but there are some tried and tested methods that can help.
Some sleep scientists suggest the Dream Test method. Essentially, this involves checking in with yourself regularly during your waking hours to ask one question: Am I dreaming right now?
To check if you are, try the following:
Read something: As we’ve discovered, most of us won’t be able to read words while we’re dreaming. Pick up a book, newspaper, or magazine. If you can read normally, you’re awake. If the words appear jumbled or they’re not there at all, you’re dreaming.
Look in the mirror: Most people will struggle to see their reflection in a dream. If you have an empty mirror staring back at your, or your face is blurred, you’re dreaming.
Look at your palms: This is another easy test to see if you’re in the waking world or the dreaming one. If your palms are smooth, or they look unfamiliar to you, you’re dreaming.
While these simple tests might seem a bit silly when you already know for certain that you’re awake, the point is to train yourself into a habit. If you do this on a daily basis for a few weeks or months, you may find that sooner or later, you’ll do it in a dream too.
Once you’re dreaming and you actually know you’re dreaming, that’s where the fun begins. You can choose to do whatever you want to in the dream, knowing that, since you’re definitely dreaming, there are no consequences.
And, strangely enough, you might find that you can dream read in this lucid state, at least a little bit. You have partially woken up, so your language processors are firing up enough to comprehend language, but you’re still not back in the waking world yet.
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to read anything substantial, and the words may always behave strangely, but lucid dream reading is still easier than reading in a regular dream state.
Conclusion: Can You Read in Your Dreams?
Of course, when we’re dreaming, our eyes are closed, which makes reading real-life books impossible. But scientists have found that only around 1% of people can even read imaginary ‘dream text’ while they’re in a regular dream state.
The closest chance we have of reading in our dreams is through the power of lucid dreaming. But if you manage to master the art of knowing you’re dreaming while you’re dreaming, you might choose to do something other than sit down with a good book.