The science of dreams
Want less stress in your life? Science says your dreams might help.
All of us dream, even if we don’t remember doing so. Most people dream between three to six times a night, with each dream lasting between five and 20 minutes. Around 95% of dreams are forgotten by the time a person gets out of bed.
Why we dream is complicated; there are many theories. While some researchers say dreams have no purpose and are simply nonsensical activities of the sleeping brain, psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s theory is that our dreams reflect unconscious imbalances we might be struggling with. Sigmund Freud said dreams are a window into our subconscious.
Dreams commonly happen in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep, when the brain is most active. This stage is important to our health – it stimulates the brain regions used in learning and is associated with increased production of proteins. In one study, researchers woke subjects just as they were drifting off into REM sleep. They found that those who were not allowed to dream experienced increased tension, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and weight gain, among other things. Ever think too much booze impacts your sleep? If you have a few too many, not only will your circadian rhythm be disrupted, you’ll often miss out on REM sleep, leaving you groggy and grumpy in the morning.
So, other than going easy on the Pinot, how can you sleep soundly and have sweet dreams? While we can’t have total control over our dreams, experts believe there are things we can do to influence them in a positive way. Try the following:
Surround yourself with scents
Pleasant smells – including rose, lavender and jasmine – have been found to give you rosy dreams. Try spritzing your pillows with a scent before you drift off.
Create the perfect sleep environment
A quiet, dark, cool environment is ideal for lovely dreams. Make sure your bed is comfortable with soft, breathable cotton sheets, and that your bedroom makes you feel relaxed and peaceful – ‘calm’ colours, such as blue and grey, can help.
Think happy thoughts
The more worried and anxious you are before bed, the more likely you are to have upsetting dreams – plus, the stress hormone cortisol makes you more alert, which may prevent you from nodding off. Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine (think a bath or any other relaxing activity), and try jotting down any worries in a notebook a few hours before bedtime so that, psychologically, you feel like you’ve dealt with them.