What Do Your Dreams Mean? Do Dreams Matter?

Are dreams just drivel?

How often have you woken up from a strange dream and thought “what was that trying to tell me”?

You might head to Google and look for advice on what your night-time visions meant, where you’ll probably find that dreaming about teeth is telling you that you’re anxious and lack confidence, while a forest suggests that you’re lost. Falling supposedly means you have no self-control, and being chased signifies cowardice.
Reading this, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the brain is something of a bully, sending us disturbing, cryptic messages to remind us of personality shortcomings of which we’re no doubt already aware. Bizarrely, one of the more positive things to dream about appears to be death, which many analysts say is a sign of change, fresh starts and newfound independence.

Are our subconscious minds really this unkind, though? Do they need to traumatise us with visions of passing away just to tell us that we’re on to something new?

The majority of people do believe that dreams are “portals to the unconscious”, at least in the U.S. In 2009, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that more than half of Americans are of this opinion. The research was also carried out among Indians and South Koreans, with an even greater proportion (74% and 65% respectively) believing that dreams are trying to tell us something.

Of course, Sigmund Freud is largely responsible for this. His 1900 book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ remains a go-to publication for scholars of psychology, and Freud’s work has crept into many art and literature degrees too. His idea of ‘wish fulfilment’ drew a useful comparison between visions during sleep and what’s on the mind, moving on from earlier ideas of dreams being messages from deities or a result of the soul leaving the body.

Today, however, Freud’s dream theory is often thought of as crude, contradictory and somewhat phallocentric, with fellow German psychologist Hans Eysenck being one of its fiercest critics. Indeed, research shows that the subconscious mind is not as mystical as many people think, and that dreams are more likely to be a case of your brain simply repeating some of the thoughts and experiences it had the day before. In short, the mind knows what it’s doing and perhaps we should give it a little more credit.

From personal experience, I believe dreams can also be heavily influenced by what’s going on around you while you sleep. As an example of this, I once fell asleep on the floor after a party at university (something that’s more forgiving on the body in the late teens than the early thirties) and had all sorts of peculiar dreams about cows and meat during the night. It would have been odd and unexplainable were it not for the fact that the first thing I saw when I woke up was a half-eaten burger. While your sight is lost during sleep, your other four senses remain intact. In this case, smell and perhaps taste (since it was probably me who eat half of the burger) affected my dreams.

In other cases, dreams could be affected by what you hear while asleep. At about the same age, I thought I might have a knack for predicting news and world events, often dreaming about news the night before it was announced. I wasn’t really a psychic though, just someone who often fell asleep with the TV on and took in whatever they were talking about on BBC News overnight.

Basically, this suggests that the worse you sleep, the weirder you dream. The most strange and nightmarish visions are usually the result of an overly active mind and a disturbed sleep. By sticking to a schedule, getting a sensible amount of sleep, having a quality bed, and keeping technology to a minimum in the bedroom, your mind is less likely to rebel as your body recharges.

Author Bio:

John Murray has a keen interest in both psychology and sleep, for reasons varying between intrigue and downright laziness. He writes articles for HappyBeds.co.uk, one of the fastest growing online retailers of beds and mattresses.

The Sleep Blog does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Instead, this website provides general information for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider if you have questions or concerns regarding any medical condition or treatment.

The 7 Craziest Places People Have Tried to Sleep

When it comes to snoozing, you would be surprised at the places people have tried to, albeit sometimes successfully, sleep. When you think of sleeping you envision lying in bed, napping on the couch or maybe even as adventurous as falling asleep at your desk back in school. However, for some, when the sleep-bug comes calling anything becomes a makeshift bed. Here are 7 of the craziest places people have tried to sleep:

#7 – Baby’s Bed
We all know sleep is a thing of the past when the baby is born. Parents have been known to climb in the crib with baby in order to comfort their baby. Wouldn’t you think it’s easier to pull the baby in bed with you? This practice begs the questions; Is it to keep the baby in their own sleeping environment or were they just too worn out to walk back to their bed?

Hobos, bums and vagrants aren’t the only ones that take advantage of benches instead of beds. There’s something to be said for lying in the fresh sunshine and warm rays of the sun, even if the bench is a little hard. However, sleepers beware, this could very well be you if you are a restless sleeper.

Subways and Railways
Who hasn’t felt the urge to catch up on missed sleep while traveling? You can rest assured that if you fall asleep in public places like subways and railways you are likely to become a subject of many photos. Smile for the camera!

Doctors’ Offices
We spend so much of our time running here and there with late nights and early mornings that the second we stop moving and have to sit waiting we doze off. Doctors are quite used to seeing their patients asleep when the arrive to the room for your appointment. Ever wonder if the doctor came in already and was embarrassed when you didn’t wake up the first time so he left and tried it again?

You know that “too tired…must sleep NOW” urge that hits you at work. Some of us just take it to a whole new level. Hopefully, you have a safer place in mind than a muddy tire of a truck. At least this guy is all tucked in!

Envision warm clothes, the fresh scent of fresh laundry and nothing but time to kill while waiting for your loads to finish. If the vision didn’t put you to sleep it’s probably because you’re busy on your phone fighting sleep. Many of us snooze at the Laundromat every day, just usually not crashed out on the floor like this guy. Hopefully that floor was cleaned recently!

#1 Toilets
Nothing begs for a photo more than someone fast asleep on the toilet. This position with your pants to your ankles, bent over in prone position, drooling on the hamper is sure to make you the “butt” of every joke! Remember, Facebook allows you to delete posts (thankfully)!

We are a goofy breed for sure. If our waking moments don’t prove that, then our sleeping habits surely will. It goes to show that people will do almost anything to catch a few zzz’s when the urge hits!

The Sleep Blog does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Instead, this website provides general information for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider if you have questions or concerns regarding any medical condition or treatment.

Sounds like Sleep

This is a guest post by Dr. Erin Stair, M.D., M.P.H

During my training as a West Point cadet and Army officer, I was molded to function on no sleep. “Sleep is a crutch” was a common battle cry.  Sleep was for the weak, and real soldiers aren’t weak!  During one outdoor infantry training exercise, I remember being so sleep deprived that I woke up on top of a large rock, completely delirious, with my rifle pointed at my own platoon.  Then it hit me- sleep matters.

Now as a physician and public health consultant, I really know that sleep matters. I work with a lot of wellness clients who struggle with either falling asleep or staying asleep. In this country, good sleep is hard to come by. Approximately 50-70 million US adults suffer from sleep disorders, and insufficient sleep is shown to be associated with higher rates of both physical and mental illness.  To address these issues, at least 9 million Americans have turned to benzodiazepines and barbiturates. That means 9 million people are willing to endure troubling side effects, such as drowsiness, headaches, stomach pains, nightmares, constipation, or even a burning feeling in the limbs, just to capture a few hours of “medicated” sleep.  Most recently, a study published in The British Medical Journal showed that taking sleeping pills for a prolonged period of time is associated with a fourfold increased risk of death.  Such an observation begs the question, “Is the cure better than the disease?”

My philosophy as a public health specialist is to always try the most effective and least invasive approach available for a specific ailment, before turning to the big-gun pharmaceuticals. That said, what is really effective? And wouldn’t it vary from individual to individual?  I have advised my wellness clients struggling with sleep issues to turn off all lights, phones and computers; to sleep in a cool room; to not drink coffee after 4 pm; to empty his or her bladder before going to bed at night; to sleep alone if need be; to not watch TV; to do deep breathing exercises, etc. Some of these tips were definitely helpful for my clients, but a lot of people wanted and needed something more- especially something that would calm them and free their busy minds of useless ruminations.

I have used different kinds of sound therapy programs before, mainly for people suffering from depression, PTSD and anxiety, and have had great success. I’ve used sound therapy personally and swear by it.  But I never tried a sound therapy program for poor sleep. I had the software and a great team of scientists and consultants, so I figured, why not?  Let’s give it a shot!  So I sent an email to some of my wellness clients and blog subscribers, asking them if anyone who had trouble falling asleep would be willing to listen to an auditory program for 2 weeks.  I was really surprised by the plethora of responses. By the time I sorted through the emails, I had a solid 41 volunteers: 23 women and 15 men (and 3 that preferred not to include gender information), between the age range of 21 and 64.

For the first week of the sleep exercise, I asked the participants to sleep like they normally would each night, and then complete and submit a 20-question baseline survey the following day.  (This was a very extensive survey, and if you are curious about what we asked, you can find the questions in our Sleep and Beats report.) During the second week of the sleep exercise, each participant was asked to listen to one of two auditory programs each night, and then complete and submit a 20-question survey the following day.  The two auditory programs were slightly different, but both were 60 minutes in length and contained scientifically-selected sounds arranged in very specific sequence. The scientifically-selected sounds included isochronic tones at different frequencies, relaxing nature sounds and binaural beats.   The science behind binaural beats is vast and fascinating and can be further explored in our Sleep and Beats report.  A binaural beat does not actually exist in physical space, which is why the more poetically-inclined scientists call it a “phantom beat.”  In order for our brains to perceive it, two tones of varying frequencies must be presented via headphones to each ear. An integrated auditory signal (the binaural beat) is produced and will have a frequency equal to the difference in frequency between the two tones.  It is theorized that when our brains perceive a binaural beat at a specific frequency, brainwaves with similar frequencies will be produced. This phenomenon is called entrainment.  The latest research shows that in order to be most effective, the binaural beats should be presented in a specific sequence. In other words, the auditory stimulation should create an external frequency that is the same as the brain’s current internal rhythm, and then subsequently create the desired frequency.  This method of delivery is called in-phase stimulation. Long story short, my team of doctors and I used auditory programs that created binaural beats with a frequency between 2-8 Hz.

Because the right headphones are crucial for the auditory programs to be effective, my team of doctors and I offered participants specialized headphones designed to be comfortable while sleeping or resting.  18 participants chose to wear the specialized headphones and 23 participants opted to use their own headphones.

All of the survey answers were collected and analyzed in Microsoft Excel and the statistical software, SPSS.

Results showed that, on average, 54% of participants experienced improved quality of sleep after listening to the sounds.  Even more impressive is that 64% of the participants who wore the specialized headphones experienced a significant improvement in sleep quality, compared to 46% of participants who wore their own.   We also looked at “perceived energy” as an outcome. 41% of participants who wore the specialized headphones had improved energy level compared to 21% of participants who wore their own headphones. Even more encouraging is that 94% of participants said they would recommend this alternative method for improving sleep quality to a friend.

My team of doctors and I also recorded the participants’ subjective comments throughout the entire exercise. The number one reason participants gave for trouble falling asleep was that they were worried about something. They also reported that the auditory program was very helpful for addressing that.  The number one reason participants gave for having trouble staying asleep was that they had to use the toilet. Unfortunately, the sound program can’t really address that issue, but perhaps not drinking so much before bedtime can.  (We’re not perfect.)

Since the results of the sleep exercise were so positive, the team at Blooming Wellness decided to offer the auditory sleep program with healing sounds, along with the specialized headphones, as a packaged deal through our website, Blooming Wellness.   So far, the feedback has been great and, really, it is exceeding our expectations.   Most importantly, we are thrilled to be helping thousands of people get a good night’s sleep.   As I said in the beginning, sleep matters.

Featured image courtesy of Sleep Phones (http://www.sleepphones.com/).

The Sleep Blog does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Instead, this website provides general information for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider if you have questions or concerns regarding any medical condition or treatment.