Uninformed Comment

Can you read in dreams?

Posted in Psychology and perception by uninformedcomment on May 28, 2009

Can we read in dreams?

Years ago, I read somewhere something on the lines of:

If you’re ever unsure if you’re dreaming or not, try reading some text.  It’s impossible to read in dreams.

Since then, I’d sometimes wondered if that’s true.  Can we really not read at all in dreams?  I’d certainly had dreams in which books, newspapers and so on had appeared – if it’s true that I couldn’t have read them if I’d tried, then what would the text have looked like?

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to find out for myself.

It all began when I started spending a lot of time in Second Life, the online virtual reality social phenomenon thing, where the main method of talking to people was through text chat.  I’d done that sort of thing a lot before, mainly on IRC, but for some reason the use of text chat in SL started making appearances in my dreams.


Random sample of typical SL chat (names jumbled)

The first time this happened, I dreamed that I was chatting to a friend in SL , and everything they typed was complete gibberish.  I was startled and worried about them – it was as if they’d suddenly lost their faculties.    I woke up in shock, and was very relieved to realise that I’d been dreaming.

The dream kept happening from time to time for several months, and then one time I realised that I was dreaming – while still in the dream.  Since I can’t read what they’re saying, I thought, it must be one of those dreams.  And, as this kept happening, I began to observe, to study the text that I couldn’t read.  Why couldn’t I read it?  If I concentrated hard enough, could I make anything out at all?

The answer to the last question was “not really”.  At first glance, the text was normal letters, spaces, punctuation and so on – just meaningless – but when I tried to focus hard on it, I found that letter shapes were jumbled and illegible, especially in longer words.  Occasionally, I thought I could maybe make out a short word like ‘so’ or ‘as’, but they didn’t add any meaning even if “correct”.

I’ve attempted to depict here something like it; this doesn’t look very far off the kind of  thing I could see:


That’s not a perfect illustration, but trying to read it now does seem to me something very reminiscent of trying to read in dreams, to an almost eery degree.  It really doesn’t say anything at all, being just a jumble of modified partial letters, so there’s no point trying to decode it, and I believe that’s equally true of the dreams themselves.  It’s as if your subconscious mind is not only incapable of creating imaginary text, it’s also incapable of giving it any meaning at all.

I’ve not had the dream for quite a while now.  But if I should find myself  in a situation where I don’t know if I’m dreaming, I’ll be sure to look around for a book to read.

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23 Responses

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  1. Andrew Petcher said, on July 30, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    I think I know what you mean. I am sure that I have had dreams where reading has been involved but have been frustrated at not being able to make sense of it.

  2. scorpivs said, on August 1, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Maybe this is too much information, or
    not enough, but coming from one who
    has read in their dreams, I can tell you
    the clinical term for this is hypnogogia.

    • uninformedcomment said, on August 1, 2009 at 1:22 pm

      That’s neither too much nor too little; I’d not come across that word before. Thanks!

      I’d be interested to know how well you could recall, on waking, the precise wording of what you had read in the dream.

      • scorpivs said, on August 1, 2009 at 11:53 pm

        Thank you for your interest, and
        in response i can offer you, from
        my own recollection, the following

        Hypnogogia is a stage of sleep or
        a sleep-like state associated with
        trances, deep meditation, dreams
        or hypnosis; as in dreams, it does
        not always produce a sense of
        awareness and sensory acuity one
        may like or struggle to improve, but
        in some instances can be enhanced.

        Personally, speaking from my own
        experiences, I have found myself
        with a book, open in front of me
        and the print contained is legible
        from some feet away, and in such
        a dream, it becomes no less clear
        as I draw near, without focusing.
        If, on the other hand, I attempt
        too consciously to read, or begin
        reading before the text becomes
        legible, it generally ends with the
        same result as the common dream
        of running, but not being able to
        move the legs, and waking, usually

        As far as the material gleaned from
        “reading in my sleep,” yes, there have
        been the several occasions total recall
        is present on waking, yet not to get
        too many hopes up, it’s only bills with
        false balances, instructions to assemble
        something with no diagram, or the start
        of a story I promptly put back down
        because in real life, I find novels too
        grammatically imperfect and read only
        non-fiction. Either way, it generally
        makes about as much sense as the
        typical bedside tablet with a sloppy
        reference to “acoustic trashcan got
        painted” and the hamburgers will have sand.”

        I don’t see how, but I hope it helps.

      • uninformedcomment said, on August 2, 2009 at 12:45 pm

        Ah, now that’s something different, something I’d forgotten the term for. I too have experienced hypnagogia (note the spelling) many times in the past, and I may write a separate piece about it; it’s a fascinating phenomenon. Watch this space.

        The dream-reading I’m talking about, though, has been during normal dreaming; the “lucidity” (or awareness of one’s dreaming state) arose as a result of the repetitiveness of the dream itself, which allowed recognition of reality.

        I’ve had lucid dreams in both hypnagogic and normal dreaming (with and without reading in both), and it seems to me that they’re very different states.

        (In case anyone’s concerned, I actually sleep very soundly normally, and don’t consider myself troubled by strange dreams very often. That I’ve twice covered dreams in this blog, and keep returning to the subject, is more an indication of my interest than of any frequency of experience.)

        On the subject of reading fiction, all I can say is that I too find bad writing too irritating to tolerate for long, which is why I’m quite picky about which writers I’ll read. I do love both fiction and non-fiction, find bad and good writing in both, and usually read both in parallel (though not at the same time, obviously). Another subject for a post, perhaps.

        As for whether your recollections help or not, they certainly do, and many thanks for your contributions.

      • Mitch said, on January 10, 2010 at 6:01 pm

        I’m searching “reading in dreams” this morning because last night i had the first dream I can remember in which I read something at it was legible. I was on a strange scavenger hunt through my old neighborhood, following clues that were written on a piece of paper. I distinctly remember reading sentences that gave me directions. I can’t remember most of them now, but I remember reading “walk through the guarded gates” and some other sentences. Then i remember these words written exactly like this, “asthetiic constiiable”. aesthetic constable maybe? not sure what that was but it was interesting and I was excited that i read something and could remember it so vividly.

  3. Gary said, on August 31, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    I can read in dreams I trained my self how its really weird you can feel the effects whilst being awake. I use lucid dreams to program my mind from the inside out its the most effective way.

    Try meeting your sub consciousness. It gave me advice that was the most practical in my life. And its a part of me and knows everything I have come across.

    Simply its a part of the mind you don’t know how to control so it controls its self. You can summon it at anytime when dreaming. Slowly I am becoming one with it. Then the world will know its(my) power.

  4. Bill Turlock said, on November 18, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    Remember the Three Stooges episode where Curly is trying to read a book, but it’s upside-down, and he reads,”Tri ikkety e say”?

    I dreamed about that once, and in the dream, I’d decoded what Curly was trying to read. Couldn’t remember what it was when awake, though.

    I am a “night-grinder” (I grind my teeth quite destructively in my sleep). The dentist wanted to make and sell me a bite guard for ~$200. Got one for $1.49 at the sporting goods shop instead. One night I dreamed I was trying to eat a slice of peeled apple but it was too tought to bite. When I woke, I found I been trying to chew the bite guard!

    Another time, I dreamed I had eaten a giant marshmallow. When I woke, my pillow was missing!.

  5. raqun said, on November 28, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Reading in dreams is possible.. just last week i had a dream where i read some text in English. I have to admit that it was difficult but i clearly remember reading the text. BTW English isn’t my native language.

  6. Ar12345 said, on May 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    I recently had a dream and I could very clearly see a guys name written on the bathroom
    Stall ! I myself believe that we can not read in our dreams but who can explain this! Why could I read that name? It was written several times but with different handwriting!

  7. Moïse said, on January 22, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    l must say that your dream text photo that you used is phenomenal. every time l looking at it, it looks like water moving in a pool. at first l thought it was a a moving picture until l looked close and realized that it’s actually an optical illusion!
    also, thank you for the article.

  8. anonymous said, on July 18, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    its possible to read in your dreams.

    a few days befiore the dream i read a book and then i stopped (this may have nothing to do with the dream).
    in my dream i bought two books from the library and went home to read them. the books were from the same author and one was a lot older than the other. i could tell because on the last few pages there was an authors note that said something like this:

    “i appologize for any childish statements or grammar misspellings, i was very little when i write this and i now see that it is not the great book i once thought it was”

    but it didnt stop there. i read a little into the old book and i saw whole pages full of words. i didnt read them all and they may not have made much sense, but they were words.

    heres one sentence from the book i remember.

    “who said a colonel couldnt fight dammit?”

    now that doesnt make much sense but it’s definately a statement made out of letters.

    the rest of the dream isnt as important. i read the other book halfway (THIS time it wasnt really reading, it was more of a movie; it was about three people who brought three fragments of an artifact toghether and unleashed a monster who turned everyone into zombies), and then the dream ended.

    so yes, you can read in a dream.

    • Robert Bell (Bobby) said, on January 9, 2014 at 1:36 pm

      Nonsense. I read in my dreams all of the time. And… I dream a LOT! There must certainly be others that experience this.

      • Michaela said, on March 23, 2014 at 5:33 am

        I absolutely do read and write in my dreams. I can often read as much as a scene and write a couple sentences at a time in my sleep. I can’t seen full pages of words–I can only see about the top part of a page in a book (everything is black except for the small section of sentences), but the words change logically so that the scene I’m reading flows as it would if I were reading while awake. I’ve been wondering how many others like me were out there!

  9. Areo Sonata said, on March 3, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    I JUST woke up from a dream where I was texting someone and I read the them just fine. I was reading out loud so it’s possible the words formed into what I was saying I suppose. The dream eventually got to a point where I was decapitating WoW style undead with a whip made of a vine.

  10. dreamntruth said, on April 23, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Just had an argument with my husband this morning about this. In my dream this morning, I read a text that “Rhys is on his way…universal statement. ” Now in the dream I couldn’t read what was in the … but I interpreted it to mean “He has a”. I know I read it but my husband said it’s impossible to read in dreams. I asked him then did I know Rhys was spelled that way bc that’s the Welsh spelling not American.

    Now I read a LOT in waking life but this is the first time I can recall doing it in my dreams.

  11. Sarah said, on August 15, 2014 at 9:13 am

    I read in my dreams, in fact, many of my dreams are subtitled, with scene descriptions, or with dialogue as the dream plays out like a silent movie. I m not hearing impaired. This began when I was very small and I was first learning to read and write. My dreams began to play out against a backdrop similar to the lined tablets we wrote on, the pages with the marked lines for writing at the bottom and a blank space for a drawing on the upper part of the page. I would also have dreams that took place against the dark backdrop of a felt board, but instead of felt pieces the action played out in a very brightly colored, stick-figure like animation, with dialogue in speech bubbles. As a child I was plagued with bad dreams, so many of those early dreams were darkly natured. I do not have bad dreams often now, at 44. I do occasionally experience a spurt of one or more recurring dreams from childhood.

  12. lizzie said, on May 6, 2015 at 7:52 am

    Hey.. But i read in my dream.In that i saw a board sort of thing in which many words were written starting from “A” like authorized , Albanian and there were so many of them. I dont remember the rest but at that time i knew i was dreaming and also remembered the fact that we can’t read in dreams and that’s why i tried to read that out and i was successful . what does this reveal about me?? Am i a genius whose rigjt and left brains function equally and together or this is just a myth that we can’t read in our dreams???

  13. Kalidam said, on May 31, 2015 at 12:28 am

    I was having a dream and I was told to type to prove how fast I could, so I typed my name, Kalidam, on the screen it appeared as “Ak lida ma” clear as day, even though I knew I typed ” Kalidam”. I tried again and it said “Lika mada” and I got mad that I knew I was typing “Kalidam” but it wouldn’t look that way on a screen. Thing was the letters said gibberish but they were clear perfect letters a computer would type I think that counts as reading in a dream, though it was gibberish it was clear letters, then when someone in the dream typed, the dream blurred out and I woke up.

  14. Nitin said, on November 26, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    I also read during dream yes it is bit difficult and took more time to read

  15. Lisa L. Harbison said, on July 16, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    I have just recently began to see and read words in dreams. It is strange as I have not had this happen before. And I also have the 11:11 phenomenon thing going on. Idk. Weird.

  16. Sarah said, on July 15, 2017 at 9:23 am

    I read a document in a dream the other night. My boyfriend had consigned for his ex’s car and i read that it was an F-150 white truck .8 could also read his signature.

  17. Trent Steele said, on October 28, 2017 at 3:32 am

    Impossinle? Woe ye naysayers! Textual missives have been recognized in thine own dreams.

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