What Your Dreams Really Mean
Rapid eye movement sleep gives you a better understanding of yourself.
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“In addition to sleeping well, you want to dream well,” says Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “People who don’t dream well are psychologically constipated, and that can contribute to conditions like depression and anxiety in daily life.”
In many ways, rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, when most dreams happen, is the brain’s prime time to process memories and dig into the psyche. Though the connection isn't completely understood, dreaming is strongly linked to emotional health.
With the right strategies, you can take advantage of what dreams have to offer and use them to improve your performance, solve your problems, and more. Here’s how:
They help you work through your feelings.
Consider REM sleep a gratis therapy session. “The experiences that we don’t process when we’re awake, we process during REM sleep,” says Naiman, adding that about two-thirds of people’s nightly reveries contain negative emotions like fear or anxiety. That’s healthy: It means you’re processing emotions or events you may have ignored during the day.
Dreaming represents an unconscious way for a person to work things out in their brain. In addition to having dreams, remembering them has also been linked to better mental health.
To improve your dream recall, buy a journal and keep it next to your bed. When you wake up, try to remember your last dream. Then, once you think you’ve grasped some of it, immediately write it down. Within seven to 10 days, you should begin to remember your dreams more frequently.
You might also consider consulting your doctor about taking B6 vitamins: A new study from the University of Adelaide in Australia found that people had better dream recall if they took 240 milligrams before bed.
They give you the chance to think outside the box.
People often have lightbulb moments while they doze. “Dreams throw all logic out the window and allow us to think outside the box instead going down the same path over and over again,” says Deirdre Barrett, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. She has spoken to several athletes who discovered ways to improve their performance while lying unconscious in their beds, like a tennis player who (literally) dreamed up a better way to serve.Practice dream incubation, which Barrett details in her book The Committee of Sleep. Before bed, write down your problem, visualize it, and as you drift off, tell yourself that you want to solve this issue during shut-eye. When you wake up, spend a few minutes reflecting on your dream. (Keep a pen and paper nearby in case you rise with a eureka moment.) When Barrett asked college students to solve personal problems in their sleep, about half woke up having dreamt of the issue and the majority of those people felt their dreams presented a solution.
They warn about your potential health problems.
The episodes that play out during sleep can bring hidden health concerns to the forefront of the mind. “When we dream, we’re getting some sensory input that’s ignored by day when we’re focused on other things,” says Barrett.
Researchers have found that many women dream of breast cancer before being diagnosed. Studies also show that idiopathic REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), in which people act out vivid, intense, and violent dreams, is an early predictor of degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia.
Another paper published in Sleep Medicine found that people with sleep apnea often have nightmares of suffocation, which disappeared in 91 percent of patients once they started using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
Still, dreams can't tell the future. “It’s more like an early warning system, a way of watching out for possible issues that can later be verified, or not, in waking life,” says Kelly Bulkeley, Ph.D., director of the Sleep and Dream Database.
Dreams’ meanings may be more metaphorical than literal. “You might have to dig a little deeper to find out what the cancer in your dreams means to you,” Naiman says. “When you develop a habit of regularly paying attention to your dreams, you’ll be able to better understand what they mean.” It’s worth a trip to the doctor if you suffer from RBD or your nighttime adventures have led you to notice a problem. If your dreams are alluding to some specific health issue, it may be time to schedule that long-delayed appointment with your derm.
Optimal health is an equilateral triangle of fitness, nutrition, and sleep. Furthermore and DUXIANA have partnered to bring you a series of articles helping you prioritize this triangle and optimize your performance as a result. Read all the articles at at Furthermore here and prepare for an awakening.