Psychological yoga: sleep well, dream well

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Article Date: 
Feb 18 2013, 1126

WE ALL dream. Perhaps, it would be too much if I say “even fetuses dream“ (as some dream researchers think, but have not been able to prove), but researchers are quite sure that an 18-month-old can talk about dreams. The rapid eye movement (REM) state of sleep is associated with dreaming. As the name suggests, REM is characterised by the rapid and random movement of the eyes. About 80 per cent of the sleep time of the newborns is in the REM state. As we get older, the REM state becomes lesser in duration. Adults typically have 20 to 25 per cent of sleep time in the REM state. REM sleep normally occurs close to morning. In old age, there is a slight reduction (around 20 per cent) in the REM state. Our early night dreams are shorter than the late night/early morning dreams. Dreaming increases in special circumstances, like when one is learning new skills. It's probably good for us to keep learning new skills and exercising our brain in that way.

We remember negative dreams more than positive, because negative dreams make a bigger impact. We tend to forget those dreams that don't have enough intensity to draw our attention. We remember fresh and longer dreams. A dream is like a memory skill. Its recall can be improved. Practice makes one better equipped for memory recalls. Those of us who live by natural body rhythms, and not by alarm clocks, are indeed fortunate.
One way to better memory recall is to let oneself wake up naturally from a dream.

We use metaphors to express our dreams. These metaphors are expressions of our feelings. Dreams are really poetry, says Patricia Garfield. If one dreams of an earthquake, it is quite likely that the person is going through something (like relationship) that is breaking up. The best thing about dreams is that you can carry out predetermined tasks, like doing something that you really want to do. You can fly like a bird in a dream.
Dreams after the trauma are obviously horror-filled. But researchers say, running away from such dreams is not a good idea. It helps to overcome post-trauma effect if the dream scenario changes gradually. Many women have anxiety producing dreams during pregnancy. Researchers say it is normal to have such dreams. It seems more the anxiety dream the woman has anxiety dream the woman has during pregnancy, the shorter and easier is the delivery. Researchers believe it is due to mastering the experience in fantasy.

Dreams are vital to emotional health.
Research shows that sleep restriction tends to make people less optimistic and less sociable. As we all have experienced, sleep deprived people feel more stressed, angry and sad. Mood disorder may cause abnormal patterns of dreaming. Resumption of normal sleep improves the mood dramatically. Sleep and dream researchers say that individuals who dream and remember their dreams heal more quickly from depressive moods associated with divorce. `Dream loss' is as important as `sleep loss' in the development of depression.
Thus, the medication used to sleep well should in no way suppress dreaming, writes Andrew Weil. This is important because many antidepressant drugs tend to suppress dreaming as well. The take-home message for us is to sleep as well as dream well. Even a `bad dream' may serve a vital function. Dreams give one a sense of the self. Dreaming has, thus, been called `a kind of psychological yoga' that contributes to emotional wellness.

(The writer is a biotechnologist and ED, Birla Institute of Scientific Research, Jaipur)