How Fever Dreams Work

Get Outta My Dreams

Her hypothalamus is on point.
Her hypothalamus is on point.
Peter Dazeley/Photographer’s Choice/Getty Images

Is there anything nice we can say about fever dreams? We've established that while fevers induce misery, they mean well. They're just trying to help. Maybe they overdo it sometimes and start to roast you from the inside out, but that's just because your hypothalamus is ruthlessly committed to nuking any and all invaders.

And we know that dreams are probably an important part of how our brain preserves our mental health. We need our dreams to help us process our emotional experiences into harmless memories. If we can't dream, we can become overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. So both of the components of fever dreams, namely fevers and dreams, have a purpose. Does that hold true in any way when they're combined?

Probably not. Fever dreams are essentially turbo-charged nightmares. While the occasional nightmare could be caused by nothing more exotic than an overly spicy meal, recurrent nightmares are probably caused by something else. If you've got some stuff you need to deal with and try to avoid facing it all day, it could very well bubble up during REM. And your dream machine might not be able to handle the bubbling. Some specialists believe that when your dreams are overwhelmed by intense emotions and can't convert them into safe long-term memories, they start cracking up and turning into nightmares [source: McNamara].

So fever dreams are probably just the result of your dreams having a breakdown under pressure from overheating. The only thing they're telling you is what the rest of your body is saying — slow down, relax, rest, eat well. If you don't, your febrile amygdala is going to continue to plague you with visions of headless cyborgs, geysers of blood, warped space-time, murder, dismemberment anddeath. So, you know, get well soon.

Author's Note: How Fever Dreams Work

The only fever dreams that I can remember are from when I was a kid. There wasn't much violence, just a lot of expansion and contraction. One second I would be shrinking to an infinitesimal dot, the next I'd be a planet-sized giant. They were horribly disorienting and weird, and, needless to say, I didn't enjoy them. At the same time, they were extremely interesting and vivid and they left me wondering if they weren't windows into other dimensions, other modes of experience.

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More Great Links


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