Dreams are wonderful mysteries. Scientists still don’t really understand why we dream or exactly what fuels these nighttime hallucinations. You can pretty much do anything in your dreams except one thing—read. 

If you’re the type of person who remembers their dreams, you can probably recall dealing with failed attempts to run or scream, but what about trying to read a sign or clock? It’s a small detail, but anytime your brain dreams up a situation that requires reading, it can’t actually perform that task. Why?

You can’t read in dreams because your brain isn’t “on.”

There’s lots of debate about why we dream in the first place and if we should try and decipher them for meaning. Whether you believe they offer insights or that they’re simply random electronic pulses, scientists have discovered that only certain portions of our brains are active while we sleep. While your brain is playing a scene with you flying through space, or enjoying a tea party with your favorite celebrity, only a few key parts are actually firing. 

“It’s actually not just the reading, but also writing and speaking, as the entire language area of the brain is somewhat less active,” says Certified Sleep Science Coach Chris Norris

With the language area essentially turned off, trying to read a stop sign or write your dream-self a note becomes impossible. It’s like trying to scream—you can feel yourself struggling and struggling with nothing coming out. Trying to read or write in a dream stays a jumbled, indecipherable puzzle. 

“Two parts of the brain that are responsible for language are less active while we sleep are Broca’s and Wernicke’s area,” says Norris. 

The Broca’s area is found in the left hemisphere and is responsible for speech production and articulation. The Wernicke’s Area is in the posterior superior temporal lobe and is connected to the Broca’s Area. The Wernicke’s Area is the section that deals with the processing of language, both written and spoken. With both of these sections shut down during sleep, it’s no surprise that interacting with language in our dreams becomes impossible. 

Can you read in your sleep while you’re lucid dreaming?

You might be thinking that lucid dreaming is a secret work-around for all this. Lucid dreamers are able to actually control their dreams, so theoretically, couldn’t they turn on the parts of their brains they need to access language?

Nope.

“It is given that lucid dream is the type of dream where you are aware that you are dreaming,” Norris says. “However, even in lucid dreams we are not able to read, as the parts of the brain that’s responsible for intellect shuts down.”

There’s no way around it: There’s no reading in dreams. At least we can still hold long conversations with our ex-janitors.