The state of dreaming consciousness is a thriving research area, and scholars are always curious to better understand what is happening in the sleeping brain during dream states. What fills our dreams with ideas, people, places, and meanings? Why are they so absurd at one moment and then so clear and logical in the next? What about lucid dreaming, that phenomenon of becoming aware that one is dreaming and therefore in control of the contents? These questions have been the topic of countless studies, and a new contexts helps scholars better understand dreaming: hearing impairment. These researchers were curious to understand the relationship between waking sensory states and dreaming fabrications of sensation. Let’s take a closer look at what they found as a way to better understand what happens in dreaming consciousness more generally.
Dreaming and Sensation
When we are dreaming, our minds are simulating a new state of reality. That alternate reality can have many similarities to waking life, but there can also be surprising, puzzling, and funny differences. If you have ever had a dream of flying, you will know how unsetting it can be to wake up from that dream and realize that you aren’t able to fly in waking life. Although dreams of flying carry particularly meaningful symbolic and other content, other sensory states are taken for granted. The authors of a recent study were curious what happens when a person with a sensory impairment is dreaming. Do they dream with that sensory impairment in mind, or does that condition disappear during the dream? A study of 14 individuals with hearing impairment, published in Medical News Today, found that those participants tended to dream with hearing ability. Specifically, 80 percent of them gave no indication of having a hearing impairment during dreaming. They reported being able to speak in their dreams, and some even said they were able to hear in their dreams and understand spoken language.
In waking life, we know that those who have an impairment in one aspect of sensory ability tend to compensate with heightened awareness in other areas. For instance, those who have hearing impairment report better senses of sight, smell, touch, and taste. Researchers were curious to find out if that sensory compensation translated into dream life, as well. A study of 86 individuals with hearing impairment, published in Psychology Today, found that they tended to experience amplified color, vividness, and spatial depth in their dreams. They also reported heightened states of emotion, including hope and surprise. They even had higher rates of lucid dreaming and nightmares than their counterparts who did not have hearing impairment. These scholars were curious what this finding meant for the relationship between hearing and the other senses in waking life, as well. Though the standards of sensory compensation are difficult to measure and document, this parallel between dream states and waking life gave some evidence of a powerful connection between them.
Hearing Impairment and Treatment
With this information about hearing impairment in mind, we can learn a lot about the role of dream states and waking life. We can also learn about the connection between sensation and cognition, particularly the ways that sensory functioning is distinct from the meaningful experiences of thought and signification. Whereas hearing loss can contribute to limited sensory functioning in waking life, that experience does not always translate into the simulated reality of a dream. Future research can explore the connection between treatment for hearing loss, such as wearing hearing aids, and the dream states of those who wear them. If a person with hearing loss consistently wears hearing aids, are they more or less likely to have dreams with hearing ability? While scholars devise ways to disentangle these experiences from one another, we can look to the benefits of hearing aids in other domains. These devices not only enable better communication, but they can bring benefits for physical health, mental wellness, and cognitive functioning. If you are interested in these and other benefits of hearing aids, don’t hesitate to contact our hearing health professionals. We can give you further information about hearing aids and schedule you for a hearing test to find out if they are right for you.