Dreaming LifeDreaming Life

Have you ever woken up on a Monday morning after a night’s sleep full of blissful dreams and wished you could stay in bed and continue living in your dream world for just a few more hours?

But that would mean you were lazy and unproductive, right?

In fact, dreaming can help to increase productivity.  You’ll be happy to know that dreaming is far from a waste of time. It improves memory, helps with problem solving, facilitates learning, enhances creativity and helps to reduce stress.

Scientists believe that when you dream, you transfer information from your short term to your long term memory.  This explains why we often don’t remember our dreams; to recall something, you have to move the information in the opposite direction – from long term to short term memory – and you can’t do both at the same time.  The best way to retain information is to get a good night of dream-filled sleep.

Studies show that getting some REM sleep (the stage of sleep in which people are most likely to have vivid dreams) before a memory test will help to improve your performance on the test.

If you don’t get enough REM sleep, you’ll have difficulty concentrating and retaining information.

REM sleep-deprived rats aren’t able remember how to find their way through mazes.

Dream researchers today think that dreaming helps you learn how to cope with the problems of waking life.

Some believe that when you dream, you create a virtual world where you can practice dealing with threats that you might encounter when you are awake.

Woman asleep and dreaming

Since all mammals experience REM sleep, it’s believed that we evolved to have the ability to dream because dreaming aids survival.

One reason that we sometimes dream about being chased by big, frightening animals or monsters is that our ancestors living in prehistoric times really had to learn how to avoid large predatory animals.

An interesting thing about REM sleep is that the younger you are, the more of it you have.  Foetuses in the womb and newborn babies have the most REM sleep of all.  Older people have the least. This makes sense if dreaming is about learning – the younger you are, the more you have to learn.

REM sleep improves performance on tests of creativity. 

During the day, as you learn things, your brain creates many different connections.  There’s a theory that when you are dreaming, these connections are pruned so your brain doesn’t become overloaded. One side effect of this process is that it causes dreams to be bizarre, as different memories and concepts become jumbled together during the housekeeping process.

As your brain form temporary connections between ideas that you would not normally connect in waking life, you may find yourself coming up with creative and innovative solutions to problems.
One of the greatest benefits of dreaming is that it can reduce daytime stress.

The amygdala, the region of the brain associated with strong and often negative emotions, becomes very active during REM sleep.  After REM sleep, activity in the amygdala decreases.  This explains why studies of dream reports show that most dreams have some negative elements to them.  – People are release fear, anger and anxiety in their dreams.

After you’ve had a stress-filled day, a good night of dream-filled sleep will remove much of your stress, and you will feel better able to cope in the morning.

People who suffer from depression have an excessive amount of REM sleep.  Scientists think this is because their brains are working extra hard to help manage negative emotions.


Remembering Dreams

If you spend some time thinking about the images and events in your dreams, you may find that they provide clues that will help you solve waking life problems.

Of course, in order to think about your dreams you have to be able to remember them.

If you have trouble remembering your dreams, consider keeping a dream journal.

Keep a pad and pen by your bed and before you go to sleep, promise yourself that you will remember your dreams and write them down.  Often, this will be enough to give your brain the message that dreams aren’t to be forgotten. 

Today, some people even set up online blogs devoted to recording their dreams.

If you can remember a tiny part of a dream – a brief image, a noise or a word - you can try free association, a method that was developed by Freud.

Just focus on that little part of the dream and let thoughts enter your mind freely.  Don’t try to control your thoughts. You may find that you begin to remember more and more of the dream, and you begin to understand what the dream means to you.