By the Weil Vitamin Advisor Editorial Staff
Maybe – just maybe – you aren't experiencing enough dreams.
"There is a sacred, mythic dimension to our nighttime consciousness. It must be restored if we are to be healthy, mentally and physically," says Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., sleep specialist with the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson.
"It goes far beyond the crude mechanics of sleep. Sleep and dreams can't be reduced to squiggly EEG tracings."
Why does dreaming matter? While mainstream science has relatively little to say about dreams, many traditional cultures held dream life to be vital. In some societies, such as the aboriginal people of Australia, it was seen as more important than waking life.
We fear dreams in modern America, says Naiman, because this culture has a deep fear of darkness. Nighttime, he says, naturally urges us to face our "personal darkness," or what some psychologists call the shadow self. In our superficial, "think positive" culture, acknowledging the despair, guilt, aggression or loneliness within ourselves does not come easily to most of us.
So we chase away the literal shadows with bright lights and glowing screens. We avoid the personal shadows revealed by dreams with alcohol and sleep-inducing drugs, most of which suppress dreams as a side effect.
By far the most common way we avoid dreams is simply by refusing to sleep long enough to nurture dreaming. Most dreams happen in the last two hours of sleep. Day after day of sleeping six hours rather than eight adds up to thousands of hours of stifled dreams.
But facing both the literal and figurative shadows, Naiman says, offers profound opportunities for physical, emotional and spiritual healing.
Dreams, he concedes, often are not pleasant, but they are not meant to be. They can be a way of working out - and through - the pain we carry in waking life.
On the other side of acknowledged, remembered, embraced dreams is "a sacred balance," says Naiman, and the potential for peace with our shadow selves. That means that falling and staying asleep is "an act of faith," that we must trust will take us to a better place.
How can you improve your dream life? Naiman says the first step is the simplest – go to bed early enough to get a full seven to eight hours.
Aside from that, try keeping a dream journal near your bed. Get into the habit of writing your dreams immediately upon waking. If that's too difficult, use a small recorder to verbally record your dreams for transcription later.And just as some pharmaceuticals have been shown to suppress dreaming and impair sleep, there are herbal remedies that have a long, noble history of supporting sleep, as well as promoting vivid, evocative dreams.
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