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Blog 6: Can dreams anticipate illness before symptoms appear?

1st May 2020

Dalena, the Dutch friend and colleague of mine, has been in touch with another colleague in the US- Patrick McNamara- about collaborating on our projected dream study during the Covid-19 lockdown. Patrick thinks dreams may pick up on faint signals of bodily disease- signs that haven’t yet reached our conscious awareness during wakefulness. When we have a full bladder while asleep, we’ve all experienced stressful dreams of looking for the loo but hitting problems which prevent us using it…

Dreaming of the loo- but there’s a problem…


….before the urge actually awakens us.  Needing the loo is a strong bodily signal but emergent disease may produce weak signals that only the highly tuned, associative state of dreaming can detect. A Russian psychiatrist, Vasily Kasatkin was the first to publish research into the theory that distressing dreams can anticipate physical illnesses. In his book Awakenings,  Oliver Sacks wrote about a man who  dreamed repeatedly of being frozen before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In their book, Dreams that can save your life,  Larry Burk and Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos report on a man dreaming of a black panther clawing at a place on his back before his wife pointed out a mole in that exact same spot. The mole turned out to be a melanoma.

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