"Dreaming" isn't just sleeping: it's problem solving, meaning making, and a key to health
We spend a third of our lives sleeping – and if you’re not sleeping enough, you could be in trouble. The National Sleep Foundation compiled research that shows lack of sufficient qualitysleep is linked to:
But the thing we miss out on most is dreaming. Dreaming gives our brains the time and the space to process our everyday experiences. That process in itself is beneficial.
Scientists at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center recently published research that supports this perspective. They found that while we are sleeping, our brains are happily working, undistracted by the day to day busyness. In the sleep state the brain has the opportunity to track, file and integrate all of the information that was gathered throughout the day with what we already have stored away. In that tracking the mind can find solutions to tasks that may have stumped us earlier in the day.
It’s as if our brains are working hard to organize our thoughts – and that’s beneficial for our waking lives.
Dream research is looking how we can be more active in our “learning” or “problem solving” while we’re sleeping.The best way to accomplish this is through lucid dreaming; dreams where one is able to really be in the dream and manipulate or shape the dream.
A small exploratory study published in the International Journal of Dream Research looked at how lucid dreaming helps with creative problem solving. The idea is that lucid dreamers can be a part of the dream while the brain was trying to solve the problems of the day, which in this case was a series of puzzles. The results showed that lucid dreamers had an easier time than non-lucid dreamers.
Psychologists have begun to explore the possibility that dreams can be fuel for personal growth and healing. The self-organizing process that happens in dreams can be part of the process for understanding our life experiences. Dr. Stanley Krippner of Saybrook University suggests that dreams are our subconscious “attempts at making meaning.” The next step from solving puzzles for science is to use our dreams to solve the puzzles in our life. Figuring out the meaning of our dreams and how that relates to our real world experience is part the work in Dream Studies and Therapy.
Soldiers who return from war often report having constant nightmares about the violence they witnessed everyday while in battle. Dream therapy has been used to help veterans deal with the PTSD related nightmares. Dream therapist work in a number of ways, but the intention is to help them recall the dream and train them in lucid dreaming techniques. In the lucid dream they can take actions in dream state to change the outcome or even fight the inner demons that are bringing about the nightmares. It’s not for everyone but this technique has shown some success.
Lori Daniels, PTSD trauma therapist and Terry McGuire, trauma therapist, have been using this type of dream therapy with returning veterans at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The results look promising. A small research study published in 2006 reported a remarkable success rate of ending or easing the nightmares of PTSD sufferers.
These are two small studies that are showing positive results of the benefits of our dreams to provide us with healing. Even though many of us may feel that we could get so much more done if we stay up a little longer, we are missing out on a crucial technique for understanding our lives. That’s worth eight hours a night.
-- Makenna Berry