How to use your dreams to become a better you
If you’ve ever wondered why you dream and what those dreams mean, you’re not alone. Dreams remain one of the greatest unanswered questions in science. Over the years, researchers have suggested that dreams may be our internal FedEx depot for sorting memories or the IRS for on-the-run emotions, but the truth is they just don’t know for sure.
Scientific confusion hasn’t prevented us from mining our nighttime antics for creative insight into our inner emotions – not to mention premonitions.
Many people feel dreams predict the future but in reality, dreams are most likely a replay of the past. If you’re sleep deprived or under a lot of stress, vivid dreams may simply mean you haven’t emptied your brains junk folder recently and things are piling up. The graphic footage of your dreams may only be your brain’s way of telling you to get more sleep.
Despite our lack of knowledge about how and why we dream, science has a few insights on your dream life and how you can use them improve your waking life.
Why dreams turn to nightmares
Like sleep, dreams are fragile and affected by our physical and mental health. Depression and anxiety, for example, are often closely accompanied by nightmares. Certain medications can make dreams more colorful, complicated and/or disturbing. Consuming alcohol too close to bedtime may reduce time spent in REM sleep, which can lead to emotional and negative dreams. Marijuana also disrupts and reduces REM sleep and withdrawal has been shown to induce strange dreams.
After all is said and done, you might think nightmares are preventable by simply getting enough sleep and avoiding alcohol and medication. Wrong. Sleep is a busy time for the brain and study after study shows that the emotional parts of brain are engaged and active while we rest.
“[Dreams] are the result of the interconnectedness of new experience with that already stored in memory networks,” Rosalind D. Cartwright told TheAtlantic. “What is carried forward from waking hours into sleep are recent experiences that have an emotional component, often those that were negative in tone but not noticed at the time or not fully resolved. In this way, dreaming diffuses the emotional charge of the event and so prepares the sleeper to wake ready to see things in a more positive light, to make a fresh start.”
How to dream better
There are lots of reasons for wanting to dream better. Maybe your nightmares are frightening or maybe you want to have more vivid, engaging dreams to help you solve problems at work. Perhaps you want to remember your dreams or lean how to lucid dream. Whatever your reason for wanting to dream better, there are a few things you can do to help. Best news is that all of these are ideas are free and don’t require a prescription.
- Improve your melatonin levels – Sleep experts believe the higher your melatonin levels at bedtime, the better quality of dreams you’ll enjoy while you sleep. Adhere to a consistent sleep schedule, limit bright light at bedtime and snack on foods that improve your internal melatonin production.
- Keep a dream journal – Take a moment in the morning to record your dreams from the night before. Watch for patterns and changes in your dreams.
- Sleep cool – Waking up too cold or too hot can decimate a good night’s sleep. Optimal room temperature for sleeping is 60-70F (15-20C).
- Relax before sleep – The average person can fall asleep within 15 minutes of turning out the light. If it takes you longer than that, find ways to relax before going to bed, like yoga or reading a book.
- Talk to yourself – As you fall asleep, tell yourself that you’re going to dream and remember those dreams. This technique is known as Mnemonic Lucid Dreaming, which is a fancy AND natural sleep aid.
Follow these tips and you might find yourself getting more out of your dreams. Remember that both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Salvador Dali’s melting clocks were inspired by dreams. You never know what’s waiting for you in your dreams!