Dreaming Well


One of my clients asked me this week about some dreams that she is continually having. She asked me to interpret them for her because she wanted to know what they meant. It seemed what she really wanted was to be able to fix them so they would stop. I told her that dream interpretation has been debated for many years. There are people who have said that when a person has a dream about food, it means that they are cultivating growth and plenty in their life. There are also those that have said that when a person has a dream about food it means that the person is craving, desiring…hungry for something. We could interpret a symbol in a dream many different ways. I tried to help this client focus on the bigger picture involved in the dreams so we could learn about her current health using the dreams as clues.
The science that we know is that dreams occur during the REM phase of sleep, the deepest part.  Dreams can last from a few seconds to 20 minutes and don’t necessarily follow our rules of time. It could be that a dream feels like it lasted seconds and you could be dreaming for many minutes or the reverse could be true. It could feel like you are dreaming for a long time and it might be a very brief dream. Most people dream in color, some report dreaming in black and white. People remember their dreams more vividly/detailed if they are awoken in REM sleep while dreaming. People can be trained to recall more and more details of their dreams by focusing on it and remembering immediately upon awakening.  Dreams can cause physical reactions such as sweating, crying, yelling, twitching, but usually people are still while dreaming. Everyone who enters REM sleep dreams, including other mammals.
There have been many theories of what dreaming is, some say that it is unresolved subconscious issues from the day that the person is still working on resolving. Some have said that dreaming is the time when the brain uses all of its capacity and creativity to generate solutions and problem-solving. Some say that there is a realistic starting point but dreams are random, absurd and unrealistic. Freud of course said that dreams are about anxiety and unconscious drives/needs. 
I think it is fine to believe whatever you like about dream interpretation, dream theory or meanings. I think the important part of dreaming is the changes in dream cycles as clues to what is going on in our sleep patterns which is very important for our health. We know that we need 8 hours of restful, uninterrupted sleep to feel our best. If we are waking often from dreams we are not getting that sleep. So the questions to ask are, has your dream cycle changed? Do you wake with feelings of nervousness, anxiety, sadness, or fear? Are your dreams repetitive? Is there someone in your dream that bothers you during your waking day? Are there problems/challenges/issues that continue to come up? What roles are you playing in your dreams? Are you having trouble falling or staying asleep? Once we have the answers to these questions we can know more about the overall sleep hygiene and therefore the overall health picture. Everyone that I have met that is very healthy sleeps well most of the time. And most people I have met who sleep well are also healthy. I think there is a close relationship between sleep and health. When a client is complaining of fitful sleep due to dreaming I want to know more about their overall sleep and health.
I would feel amiss writing this post without discussing the impact of foods on dreaming and sleep. I know as a culture we are used to fitful and interrupted sleep from alarms, cell phone beeps, TVs, difficulty gaining completely dark sleep environment.  But we must be cautious and avoid adding to the challenges of sleeping by eating the foods that make resting successful. The research says that there are a couple food groups that can predispose you to fitful sleep and powerful or intense dreams. Spicy foods are culprits, it is said they raise the temperature of the body and increase adrenaline and digestion. Sugar has a significant impact on dreaming and sleeping for many people. Caffeine of any kind (coffee, chocolate, soda, tea) also appears to impact dreaming and sleeping. Protein sources (because they incite action and energy in the body) and very fatty foods (because they can cause digestion problems) both have an effect on sleep.   On the contrary, there are a few foods that appear to aid in sleep length and depth. Carbs (oats, pasta, toast, crackers) appear to assist in helping lengthen duration and any foods containing tryptophan (milk, honey, eggs, turkey) appear to assist in falling asleep and staying asleep.    You want to really hydrate during the day, most of your liquids in the early morning, so that you can stop drinking liquids about 2 hours before bed. It is important to give your body it’s best shot at sleeping through the night without getting up to use the bathroom.
I encourage you to avoid getting fixated on the specifics of the dream for interpretation purposes unless it is obvious there is a clear message about something you must address during the day. I recommend that you think more generally about what your dreaming has to do with your sleep patterns and your eating patterns.    We know exercise and meditation has a positive influence on sleep depth and duration but that is a topic for another day, another post. For now, just pay attention and gather information about your sleeping and dreaming habits. That’s the best place to start slowly tweaking and altering to develop the sleep life you love.