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Steps you can take for healthy dreaming

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Steps you can take for healthy dreaming

Tribune News Service

Tribune News Service

Tribune News Service

Christina Wolter, Special to The Clarion

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What really is a dream? Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines a dream as “a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep.” I found this definition to be extremely intriguing, especially after finding the definition of “thought.” A thought is an idea or opinion produced by thinking or occurring suddenly in the mind. It is interesting to note here that dreams are, by their definition, not a product of logic or reason, but rather they come to pass in the mind during sleep.

Sleep occurs in two phases: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep contains three of its own stages. Stage one typically lasts 5-10 minutes and waking up during this stage is very easy.  Next, stage two comes along and is considered light sleeping. The heart rate becomes slower and body temperature decreases as the body prepares itself for the deep sleep of stage three. If you have ever heard of the body needing sleep in order to restore itself, stage three is the reason. In stage three incredible things happen. Restoration of the body occurs by the building of bone and muscle, the regrowth of tissues, and the strengthening of the immune system, which helps the body fight against diseases.

Next comes REM sleep where intense dreams are possible due to the brain’s increased activity during this stage.  REM’s sleep’s first period usually takes ten minutes. As the night rolls on, the REM stage takes up more time with the last one occurring possibly for an hour. Heart rate and breathing also increase. Interestingly, babies spend much more time in the REM stage than adults with a surprisingly high contrast of 50 percent versus 20 percent, respectively according to “Stages of Sleep: REM and Non-REM Sleep Cycles” in WebMD.

I would like to propose a “healthy dreaming” formula. This formula offers some precautions we can take to dream more safely, benefitting our health and helping improve our lives.
There are four factors to this formula. The first and most important key to dreaming healthy is to avoid abusing drugs or strong drugs that greatly affect the chemical balances in the body. Micheal J. Breus, a clinical psychologist who has authored books on sleep, relates the consequences of drugs and alcohol on dreaming, stating in an article in Psychology Today: “Alcohol disrupts the normal, healthy sleep cycle and leads to fragmented sleep.  Consuming alcohol heavily and too close to bedtime may alter and diminish time spent in REM sleep. Studies show that alcohol-dependency is linked to dreams with more negative emotional content. Marijuana also disrupts and reduces REM sleep. Withdrawal from marijuana and cocaine has been shown in studies to induce strange dreams.”

Factor number two to the “healthy dreaming” formula is maintaining a state of positive emotional health. This can be tricky due to the fact that not every circumstance life throws our way is one we can simply ignore and move on from. Carrying unresolved emotions into your sleep such as depression and anxiety will potentially harm you.

Breus informs us of the frequent link between feelings of depression and anxiety and having nightmares. He states in his article that the presence of nightmares may be due to the level of depression one is experiencing. He also points out that frequent nightmares are related with suicidal thoughts. Breus found that people experiencing depression or anxiety are more prone to have dreams with either stressful, disturbing, or frightening contents.

Number three to the formula is getting enough sleep. All of us have or will experience a lack of sleep at some point in time. However, if sleep deprivation can be avoided, this would be a major turning point in getting restorative sleep. According to David K. Randall, author of “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep” and former New York Times writer, sleep deprivation causes the brain to work harder to cycle through the stages of sleep.  As an additional benefit to getting enough sleep during the night, the caffeine struggle will be seemingly nonexistent because there won’t be a need for the already attained energy we were previously “lacking.”

Our final factor for the formula we are considering is not consuming excessive amounts of caffeine, especially before bed. According to a National Sleep Foundation article “Caffeine and Sleep,” caffeine hinders or delays sleep from occurring by blocking chemicals that cause sleep and increasing adrenaline production instead. Its effects on the body are seemingly immediate as well, taking only fifteen minutes for it to kick in. In addition to these things, it can take up to six hours for caffeine to deplete its effects on the body’s systems as well as result in anxiety. If caffeine amounts are increased, the risk for anxiety increases as well.

The dreams we experience during our sleep have the ability to present relevant information regarding present, past, or future situations. They may, in a sense, speak to us either indirectly through symbols such as colors and numbers or directly through certain “dream characters,” settings, or places. This newly presented information could cause the observant person to be able to resolve past issues, find new ideas, or heed signs of warnings.

Dreaming is a subconscious, emotional experience that seems to tap into a whole new realm. While dreams may seem insignificant at a quick glance, they are actually essential to daily life. Although dreams will not solve all of the world’s problems, they are crucial to helping the body remain healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally. Since dreams are beneficial to a healthy life, may we dream happily ever after.

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