Hope, a 19-year-old college student at the University of Texas, had just walked off a plane from a family vacation when she had a sinking realization: she had left her AirPods onboard.
She soon grew desperate. In an effort to get back her beloved earbuds before the plane left for its next destination, she climbed onto the wing. But she was unsuccessful, and the plane took off with her struggling to cling to the wing — still trying to retrieve her AirPods.
It was literally a nightmare scenario. “I woke up crying,” she said.
The whole ordeal had been an exceptionally vivid dream.
Hope, a design student who asked to be identified by her first name only, says she, like most people, has had stress dreams in the past. But this one — the only, so far, to feature her AirPods — affected her much more than other dreams.
“I was kind of startled waking up, just thinking, ‘Really wow, it’s that important to me I had a dream about it and I cried about it,’ ” she said. “It’s actually pretty funny that the only inanimate object that I’ve had that kind of stress dream with was my AirPods.”
She laughs about it now, but she’s still not quite sure what to make of it.
“I guess it kind of shows I find this thing important in some way,” Hope said.
She’s not the only one. I was recently startled awake from a strangely of my own that featured a desperate search for my lost AirPods. At one point, I was finally reunited with them only to have the horrifying realization that they were, in fact, knockoffs. It didn’t induce tears but the anxiety of the ordeal was enough to wake me up — and make wonder if I really was that attached to my favorite iPhone accessory.
When most people think about stress dreams, AirPods are likely not what comes to mind. You might think about dreams of being chased or failing a test, both of which are common themes that have persisted across cultures and generations, according to researchers.
Our growing dependence on devices could be influencing our dreams, says Guy Leschziner, a neurologist, sleep physician, and author of The Nocturnal Brain.
While scientists don’t fully understand why we dream, there is a strong connection between our dreams and our emotions, Leschziner explains.
“We know that normally during REM sleep — dreaming sleep — chemicals like noradrenaline are reduced in terms of the amount produced, but if dreams have a very strong emotional context associated with them, then it’s much more likely that we’re going to wake up and therefore remember those dreams,” Leschziner says.
“The fact that people are now having dreams about losing their AirPods or losing their iPhones,” he said, “is perhaps reflective of the emotional investment that young people in particular have in their gadgets and the fact that it’s part and parcel of their own identity and part and parcel of their everyday lives.”
This rings true for Madeline Wrangler, a freshman at the University of Texas at Arlington, who has owned AirPods for about seven months. “The dreams started pretty much immediately after I got them,” she says.
“I have a stress dream about losing them once a week. If I recently went traveling then it’ll usually be about losing them in the airport or on a train,” she said over a Twitter direct message. “Sometimes it’s about them being stolen off my belt loop or my backpack.”
“AirPods have a lot of value to me.”
She is sure her dreams are rooted in her real-world fears about losing her AirPods, something she says she thinks about several times a day. “It’s like worrying about losing your phone or wallet,” she said. “AirPods have a lot of value to me, not only because they’re expensive because my friends bought them for me.”
That may sound over the top, but maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising. AirPods are the best-selling wireless earbuds in the world. Once widely ridiculed, they are now seen as a kind of status symbol. It’s impossible to go out in public without seeing the telltale white sticks dangling from ears.
AirPods are also alarmingly easy to lose. Their size and lack of wires — the very qualities that make them so popular — are exactly the same things that make them so precarious. And replacements are expensive. A single AirPod costs $69 while a charging case will run at least $59 (more if you want wireless charging). It’s no wonder that we sometimes go to elaborate lengths to retrieve them.
That’s more than enough to lose a little sleep over.