Am I Going Blind in My Dreams?

by James Wallace Harris, Thursday, January 12, 2017

For months now I’ve been noticing how my dreams are getting darker. Not psychologically dark, but dark like the night. Events seemingly take place at night, or the daytime feels like nighttime – like those old day-for-night shots in westerns. I don’t know if this is a new condition of my dreams, or they’ve always been dark. I can vaguely remember having some well-lit dreams, but I’m not sure. Memory is such an unreliable source of information. Do you dream about brightly lit places?


Last year I realized I had aphantasia, what some people call mind blindness. It’s the inability to recall visual memories when you close your eyes. I wrote “What Can You See That I Can’t” and “What Do You See When You Read?” I thought it was 2016 when I first discovered this condition, but I found an older essay, “How Good Is Your Visual Memory?” from 2012. What I wrote prefigured the 2016 discovery that the condition has a name. Last year I assume I had poor visual memory during the day, but my brain could generate visuals just fine at night in my dreams. Now I’m wondering if that was a false assumption. Or, am I changing, and my dreams are actually getting darker. I woke up the other night and wondered if I was going blind in my dreams.

Sometimes I feel like I live in a black and white world and crave color and brightness. Now this might be my own fault. In recent decades I’ve become an indoor person and even more of a bookworm. Maybe I spend too much time looking at black and white letters and not enough time at the full spectrum world. I also spend more time listening to music with my eyes closed thinking about what I’m writing, and that’s not very visual either.

I should say that I see color. And my daytime world is bright. I am very nearsighted, but my vision is healthy enough.

In recent months I’ve been getting out of the house even less. I used to walk and ride a bike for exercise.  I have spinal stenosis and in the last couple months my back, hip and leg pains have been reduced 90%. I learn that when I stopped walking or biking because of bad weather. I’ve been feeling better by not exercising outside. But that means I spend even more time indoors. Could this cause reduce light in my dreams? I’ve been wondering if my dream world is becoming darker because I don’t feed my mind enough light during the day. Maybe I should sit outside, or go on drives.

I’m also looking at art less. I’ve stopped going to museums and studying art books. Can art fuel visual imagery in dreams? I wish I could draw. I see websites like Urban Sketchers or bloggers like Peggy Willett and wonder if I paid more attention to the visual world if it would improve my visual memory, and enhance my dreams with better lighting and color?

I also have to consider aging. I know getting old means mental and physical decline. Maybe darker dreams and fading visual memory is just a side-effect of getting old?

The other night I had a beautiful dream. It was dark, and I was outside with other people. Someone pointed up and said there was a comet. I looked, and there was a greenish comet in the sky. I said, “That’s a good one. I never seen one so bright.” It actually looked very realistic, and not like astronomy photos. It was just a bright green head, bigger than any star, with a long triangular trail of faint green gas behind it. But even inside this dream I wondered why everything else was so dark.


12 thoughts on “Am I Going Blind in My Dreams?”

  1. Jim, I want to thank you for this post. My husband and I were just talking about something like this today. My dreams are increasingly gray and blurry. I have thought that reading dystopian books might be part of it, but I am increasingly aware of it. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but at least I know I’m not alone.

    1. Carla, keep me posted about how things are going with you. I’m going to experiment by doing more visual activities. I do wonder if my increased reading is affecting the vision generating portion of my mind.

      This isn’t causing me suffering, though. I talked to an old friend today, who said his dreams were more exciting than his real life. I said my real life is great, but my dreams are dull. I said I wouldn’t want to switch.

  2. Such an interesting condition, I’d never heard of it before. Even though the lighting in your dreams is lacking, are you able to see your surroundings? Clearly?

  3. “Ver-r-ry interesting…”
    I see personal parallels if not absolute correlations. Mid-60’s, compromised vision, back & lower limb issues reducing travel and time/activity outdoors, an increasingly sedentary life-style, and of course dreams that aren’t like the technicolor of years ago.
    Perhaps it’s a genetic predisposition that comes with the name James. Although Ms. Keith would have to let us know what her husband’s name is. And I’m guessing we don’t constitute a valid sample.

    Of course it could just be wear and tear on the hardware. Toss in a few degraded software packages and that might account for the symptoms. It’s also possible that data storage could be reaching it’s limit, and therefore reducing the amount and quality of data that can currently be stored and retrieved in a timely manner. I have certainly noticed that data retrieval times have suffered mightily in the last 10 years or so.

    I will make it a point to get out and at least spend more time on the landscape, at least as much as I can without having to hobble too far from the vehicle. Maybe taking pictures will be an aid to focus and memory. It won’t be a valid study, but if there are indications that memory and dreams improve with more outdoor experiences I shall certainly let you know.

  4. I’m sure you already know what interesting experiments you intend to make. Another little case study: when I realised that I too have aphantasia I began to inspect my visual experiences more closely. I realised that when my dreams include something vividly coloured, that’s a dream that I think about many times, and it recurs. That most of my dreams lack identifiable people (they were X or Y or Z). And that mainly I dream as I think, in narrative +2-dimensional awareness (like a map or plan) + kinaesthetic movements + abstract concepts. And usually greyish with exciting colour episodes. There, not intrinsically interesting, but perhaps you can add it to your database. Keep us posted!

    1. That’s interesting Rachel, most of the people in my dreams are identifiable. Also, I’ve noticed that my dreams are often like stories, although I’m not sure I actually hear a narrator, but I sense the plot. I don’t think I’ve ever sensed a map in my dreams.

      It sounds like you’re a keen observer.

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