Dream Content and Procedural Learning in Vipassana Meditators and Controls

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Abstract

Vipassana meditation is characterized by observing bodily sensations, developing emotional and attentional stability, and promoting prosocial qualities. Whether these characteristics are also reflected in meditators’ dream content is not currently known. Evidence relating dream content with sleep-dependent learning is mixed: Some studies suggest that dreaming of a task is beneficial for improvement, whereas others find no such effect. This study aimed at investigating whether meditators have qualitatively different dreams than do controls, whether meditators incorporate a procedural learning task more often than do controls, and whether dreaming about the task is related to better postsleep performance on the task. Twenty meditators and 20 controls slept for a daytime nap in the laboratory. Before sleeping and upon awakening, they completed a procedural learning task. Dream reports were collected at sleep onset and upon awakening (REM or N2 sleep). Dreams were then scored for qualities associated with meditation practice and for incorporations of the procedural task and the laboratory. Meditators had longer dreams, slightly more references to the body, and friendlier and more compassionate interactions with dream characters. Dreams of meditation practitioners were not more lucid than those of controls. Meditators did not incorporate the learning task or laboratory into dream content more often than did controls, and no relationship was found between dream content and performance on the procedural task. In control participants, in contrast, incorporating the task or laboratory in REM/N2 dreams was associated with improvement on the task, but incorporations at sleep onset were associated with slightly worse task performance.

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