The Importance of Dreaming
Posted by dorian on April 18, 2009
It’s dreams we miss, not sleep
We need to dream regularly as a vital release for our emotions, a leading psychologist says, like yoga for the soul.
It has become one of the most cherished neuroses of Western culture that we exist in a state of acute sleep deprivation, a dearth to which legions of casual complaints and magazine headlines testify. Nevertheless, the psychologist and sleep guru Rubin Naiman is equally disturbed by another deficit: namely, that 21st-century society is undergoing an epidemic of dreamlessness.
In tones of soporific calm, Dr Naiman, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Dr Andrew Weil’s University of Arizona Centre for Integrative Medicine, explains: “We are at least as dream deprived as we are sleep deprived.”
He says it is vital to dream. “An essential function of dreaming is psychological stretching, a kind of yoga for the soul: gently expanding, releasing, opening, and softening.” Like stretching a muscle, a dream can release emotional pain, tightness from earlier in the day – or even hurt from childhood. Dreaming provides “a poetic cushion” for our sharply literal lives, he says.
Modern lifestyles interfere with healthy dreaming. Overexposure to light at night suppresses melatonin and thus dreaming.
Many commonly used medications, including sleeping pills, also restrict our ability to dream, or the REM [rapid eye movement] sleep that yields it. Sleep apnoea, usually associated with snoring, can significantly diminish dreaming too. “And, last, but certainly not least,” Dr Naiman says, “we live in a world where the dream has become devalued. ‘Forget it,’ we say to a loved one who has a nightmare, it’s just a dream’.”
The majority of dreams flit by in episodes of between five and 20 minutes, four or five times a night. Nevertheless, during an average life span, this nightly couple of hours will add up to a good six years enmeshed in fantasy. From the 1940s to 1985 the psychologist Calvin S. Hall collated more than 50,000 dream narratives at Case Western Reserve University, Ohio. He argued that sleepers the world over conjure the same sort of visions. Universal motifs include: education, being chased, an inability to move, tardiness, nudity and humiliation, flying, shedding of teeth, death, falling in love with or having intercourse with random individuals, car accidents and being accused of a crime.
Anxiety is the most common emotion experienced and negative sentiments tend to be more prevalent (or better recalled). America ranks the highest among industrialised nations for aggression in dreams, while sexual themes occur about a tenth of the time.
Theories about the function of dreams differ radically from the notion that they are Nature’s own form of psychotherapy to their being merely the brain’s mode of dejunking. Dr Naiman’s take is a fusion of the practical and the poetic. “Dreaming plays a critical role in learning and the formation of certain kinds of memory. It also helps us to heal from emotional losses.
“Much of the depression explosion we witness today is associated with an actual loss of dreams,” he says. If we cannot sleep on it, so the evidence suggests, the “it” in question may threaten to overwhelm us.
How might such a deficit be rectified? Better sleep as a whole will conjure better dreams. Thus, the dreamless are advised to avail themselves of the potions born of Dr Naiman’s collaboration with Origins, the natural skincare company: products designed to get us back to what he terms “deep-green sleep”, that is, chemical-free repose in a nurturing environment.
Beyond this, it may not be too complicated. “The simple act of directing our attention back towards our dreams will encourage them to come out of hiding,” he says. Once they begin to flow, make a note of them and share them. “The bottom line is about befriending our dreams and remaining open to all they bring.”
Another reason that we turn away from dreams is that so many of them are, in fact, “bad”. One study suggests that about two thirds of the emotional content of our dreams is negative. But they are bad only when viewed from a waking perspective. “We are a wake-centric culture,” he says. “We presume that waking consciousness is it: the gold standard for our experiences, happiness, sanity.”
He says that youngsters should be encouraged to talk about their dreams. “So many learn that dreams are of little consequence in the adult world … so, although they may experience them vividly, they tend to avoid discussing them and lose interest.” Parents, he says, should ask their children about their dreams, as well as share their own.
So what he advocates is an embrace of deep-green dreaming? “Why not? Healthy dreaming and healthy sleep are reciprocal. I dream best in deep-green forests.”
Limit your exposure to artificial light
This includes television screens, because the blue component restricts melatonin and thus dreaming. Invest in some blue light-eliminating bulbs and glasses (www.lowblue lights.com) or opt for candlelight.
Avoid excess alcohol and dream-suppressing medications
But you must treat conditions such as sleep apnoea that may interfere with dreaming. Melatonin, which requires a prescription in the UK, is a safe way to rekindle dreaming.
Look at dreaming as a form of psychological stretching.
Keep a dream journal and discuss your dreams with your family and friends. Encourage children not to feel inhibited about sharing their nocturnal adventures.
Try to foster an awareness that you are dreaming when it’s happening
This is especially important when it comes to nightmares. Yield to the message of a nightmare rather than becoming embroiled in it.
Hannah Betts From the Times Online published February 28, 2009
image: Ophelia (1900-1905) Odilon Redon , French post-impressionist/symbolist 1840-1916
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * *
“to sleep, perchance to dream…” shakespeare must have known the importance of dreams. have you been dreaming regularly lately or not at all? according to research studies, deep good sleep is when you experience rem (rapid eye movement), indicating the occurence of dreams. according to this article, it’s not as important whether your dreams are sweet or sexy or nightmarish, the important thing is that you do dream. dreams can be revealing; cathartic. so here’s to wishing you dreams.. sweet ones!