Are you a lousy sleeper, but a consistent dreamer? Do you lie awake in the night, but once you sleep, thrill to your dreams? Might your REM (dreaming) sleep help your health though you’re fretting over too few zzzzs?
My responses to the questions above? Yes, yes, and I hope so. And according to a Time article on the importance of dreaming, might I — and those of us in this situation — dare to feel slightly relieved? Might scarcity of sound sleep be less deleterious to our long-term health than we otherwise think?
Now, I am not downplaying the critical need to sleep a sufficient amount. And I continue to call attention to the fact that we are foolish to boast about living on only a few hours a night. If anything, the steady stream of articles on sleep deprivation in recent years should convince us that dismissing this issue’s vital role to health is wildly misplaced.
Here is the situation, per a 2017 report in Forbes. 70 million of us are impacted in terms of sleep disorders, and the list of medical concerns is long and serious.
Facts, Myths, and Dreaming Discoveries
As for dreaming? From pleasurable fantasies to terrorizing nightmares, a growing body of research in recent years has provided fascinating facts on dreaming — for example, there are age and gender differences in the nature of our dreaming — from content to whether or not we dream in black and white.
As for points on the powers of dream, Time tells us:
Some experts even believe that it’s actually a lack of REM sleep and a lack of dreaming — rather than just poor sleep in general — that’s responsible for many of the health problems Americans suffer from today. Here’s what scientists know so far — and what they suspect — about REM sleep, dreams and what happens when people are deprived of both.
Recurring Dreams With Recurring Themes?
My dreams? They often present recurring themes… I’m looking for a new place to live, I’m wandering, I’m socializing (the other night, somewhere in Europe in French)… For much of my life, I recognized people in my dreams, though they frequently didn’t have discernible features. (This is no longer the case.)
I frequently shape-shift in my dreams (so cool)… I’m taller, thinner, younger, or look nothing like myself at all though I am myself, and occasionally I am even plopped inside a male character — always fascinating — and experiencing how the world responds to me as a man.
Lately, I’ve dreamed myself in Paris, New York, and frequently visiting with friends I rarely get to see.
I dream myself on trains, planes, and automobiles, but more often than not — walking or dancing — and usually in an urban environment.
To my delight, a few nights ago I was surprised (in my dream) to bump into my best friend from my single days (twenties and early thirties) — she looked stunning, she was full of mischief, she gave me a huge hug (so nice!) and we visited until I woke up.
Emotional Benefits of Dreaming
While some of my dreams are disturbing, for the most part, those are rare occurrences. Instead, they are, like those I mentioned, more typically enjoyable, motivational, occasionally sexy, and frequently informative. They seem to serve my creative bent, and even help to heal old wounds.
From time to time, one of my (now deceased) parents pops in, and we engage in conversation as like-minded adults. This may offer a sort of rational and satisfying step to clarifying otherwise unresolved childhood issues.
I also find myself problem-solving in my dreams — able to identify technology solutions that eluded me when awake (arriving at a structural or related language solution to do with my writing), and acting out dream scenarios that bolster courage for some action needed in my daily life.
I’m calmer, braver, more solid when I awake.
Aging and Sleep, Natural Sleep Aids
We also already know that for many, hitting middle age or older means a change in sleep patterns — there are some steps we can try to improve our sleep — but for me, this has been a nagging (and dragging) issue off and on for more than 20 years.
As for those factors within our control that I’ve attempted, they include:
- No eating late, but no going to bed hungry
- Exercise and fresh air during the day
- Temperature control in the bedroom (cooler is better)
- Light (no lights from devices!)
- Relaxing activities before bed (slow breathing, reading)
Some of these help — a little — for a while. I tell myself the situation would be much worse if I didn’t pay attention to these items!
Good News? I’ll Take It!
Of course, what I didn’t realize — that I know I experience REM sleep through my prolific dreaming, and this may be good news. So I’ll take it! And I wonder if others who don’t sleep enough might feel the same.
If I write about sleep issues often — and I do — it is not only because this is a thorny issue for me personally, but precisely because it is such a persistent, significant health problem in the U.S., and it takes a staggering toll — with impacts on health that include increased probability of Alzheimer’s, Type 2 Diabetes, heart health, obesity, memory, healing, and more. (We’re also crankier and more accident-prone.)
So when there is news or new insight on the subject? My virtual ears perk up.
Time’s article includes a number of interesting theories as well as facts:
… During REM sleep, there is more activity in the visual, motor, emotional and autobiographical memory regions of the brain…
Several studies in recent years have suggested that REM sleep can affect how accurately people can read emotions and process external stimuli.
This last? That has to do with reading people — an important skill in our relationships, our work, and even with strangers.
Anyone for a Superpower?
So… might dreaming in some way be sleep’s superpower?
Beyond its ability to impact mood for someone like me — waking from a pleasant dream is energizing and smile-generating — might dreaming act as a counterweight in some small measure to struggling with 20 rather than 40 winks?
After years of living with sleep issues, has prolific dreaming granted me a super-spirited cognitive capacity with which I can still manage to fly?
I can certainly hope so. Or, perhaps I should say, a woman can dream…
What about you? Do you sleep too little but dream a great deal? Do you struggle with sleep and swear by a “natural” remedy? Are your dreams filled with adventure and pleasure, helping you make it through long or tough days?
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