We all know someone who claims never to dream. Although the question has never to my knowledge been definitely answered by science, it appears that there are some people who rarely or never dream or never recall the dreams they have. At least this is what they tell us.
Stepansky et al (1998), studied dream recall in a sample of 1000 adult Austrians. They reported that 31 percent of this sample report dreaming 10 times per month or more, 37 percent report dreaming 1 – 9 times per month, and 32 percent report dreaming less than once per month.
To really be sure that an individual does not dream we would have to follow him for years and perform awakenings from REM sleep to see if he dreamed. If the individual never reported a dream after years of awakenings from REM sleep then we could reasonably conclude that either the person does not dream or that he lacks the ability to recall dreams or that he is a liar (for some reason he wants to conceal the fact that he does in fact dream).
While every human being so far as we know exhibits REM sleep, not every human being reports dreams. It appears you can have REM sleep with very low dream recall or possibly without dreams entirely.
There may even be groups of individuals who never recall their dreams or who do not dream. Just as there were pre-modern tribal groups who made dream-sharing a central part of their culture, I can imagine the opposite: a group of people who never cultivated dreams and who therefore never understood what they were
The ancient Greek historian Herodotus reported in book IV of his Histories that there once was such a group of people who lived many thousands of years ago in North Africa near the mountain called Atlas. “The natives call this mountain “the Pillar of Heaven”; and they themselves take their name from it, being called Atlantes or the Atlanteans. They are reported not to eat any living thing, and never to have any dreams.”
While dreaming may be a cultural universal, it is clear that some individuals recall few or no dreams over many years. These individual suffer no ill consequences from their apparent inability to dream. Dream recall apparently is not necessary for mental, physical or cultural health.
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