So much strange & crazy

One journalist's musings about the beautiful, bizarre world in which we live

Head in the clouds.

Two nights ago, I was one of several magicians flying around, trying to catch Voldemort-like henchmen that were closing in on our hot air balloon. We conjured a net, but one magician decided to create a net of mines. We argued about how that would kill both the evil-doers and us, but I fell from the sky before the discussion ended. On landing, I decided to redo that whole scenario.

Last night, there were demons in my purse. A friend was supposed to walk beside me until we reached a place to get rid of them. Instead, she decided to watch television and the demons started acting up. They started attacking me.

This morning, a few Ottawan friends came to visit me. We were walking through a green, green jungle…

And I forget the rest.

Since arriving in La Paz, I’ve been woken while whimpering, crying and boiling up to a scream.

I wouldn’t say nightmares are rousing me from slumber, but neither would I say they are rainbow-filled happy dazes. And I have never had so many of these crazy nighttime adventures in a row.

They’re something I like to call “vividreams.” They’re colourful, and they feel like they’re real. Even hours after I wake, I am still affected by them. It took until this afternoon, for instance, before I could get close to my purse without hesitation.

It’s not just me. Not only has my travel partner experienced these wild dreams, but this person, this person and this person seems to have experienced the same thing at higher altitudes.

What is it about high altitude that affects the brain in this way?

I couldn’t find much on the topic, other than people’s personal experiences. I liked this letter though, from Jill Abery in the Sept. 18, 1986 edition of New Scientist:

Reading Stan Armington’s Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya, I gathered that vivid dreams are common at high altitudes, as also is a heightened sensitivity to alcohol. Presumably these are both symptoms of oxygen starvation of the brain, the dreams being a nocturnal form of hallucination.

We were disappointed not to hallucinate a yeti, or better still to actually photograph whatever tore to pieces a yak at one of our camping sites.

Well, I for one wouldn’t like to come across either of these things in my mind.

But I don’t really mind these vivid dreams. They certainly make a day interesting.


One comment on “Head in the clouds.

  1. Tony Brunjes
    December 16, 2011

    From here:

    Periodic Breathing

    Periodic breathing (Cheyne Stokes breathing, or PB) is common at high altitude and becomes more frequent with increasing altitude. Periodic breathing involves alternating periods of deep breathing and shallow breathing. Typically, three to five deep breaths will be followed by a couple of very shallow breaths or even a complete pause in breathing. A pause in breathing like this usually lasts around 5 to 15 seconds and is called an apnoea. Apnoeas may end with a gasp that sometimes wakes the individual or their sleeping companions! People may breathe this way for most of the night.

    During apnoeic phases, oxygen levels drop and heart rate slows. Oxygen levels and heart rate rise again when breathing resumes resulting in cyclical variations in heart rate and the amount of oxygen in the blood.

    Low oxygen levels overnight are likely to disturb sleep but PB may also contribute to arousals: periods when you almost or completely wake up. Arousals are more frequent at altitude, but they can occur even in the absence of periodic breathing. Perhaps surprisingly, although PB may disturb sleep, it doesn’t seem to make the other symptoms of acute mountain sickness worse.

    Why does periodic breathing happen?

    At sea level the build up of the waste gas, carbon dioxide, in the blood controls breathing. If you hold your breath, carbon dioxide levels rise and create the urge to breathe. At high altitude, the body senses low oxygen levels and this becomes the main drive to breathe. Breathing faster and deeper at high altitude leads to a profound reduction in the carbon dioxide levels in the blood. You can read more about the effects of breathing harder at altitude here. During sleep at high altitude, the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood can drop very low and this can switch off the drive to breathe. Only after the body senses a further drop in oxygen levels do you start breathing again. During the apnoea carbon dioxide levels rise but levels fall again when ventilation resumes, continuing the cycle.

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This entry was posted on December 14, 2011 by in Travel Tales and tagged , , , .
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