Dreaming is Like Overnight Therapy

During the year that we travelled the world as a family, the quality of my sleep improved. You might question why I didn’t declare a more spectacular outcome, maybe to say that it was wonderful? After all, I had left a 25-year stint of the required morning alarm ring behind me. What could have possibly been keeping my best nights of sleep at bay? Surely I had no worries or stress.

When I left my corporate job at the end of 2016, I imagined the hard stop of daily work would open up a different quality of sleep. By simply not having to get up in the morning I assumed all the stress I had associated to the grind would melt away. Sure, it was nice to know as I drifted off to sleep, that I would not have to get up in the morning at a specific time. But that one fact was not enough to cause a huge shift in my overall quality of sleep. I still woke in the morning wondering why I didn’t feel fresh.

As time went on my dreams served up a rehashing of unfinished business. Past experiences from my career were mixed up in time, people were clumped together in odd arrangements and situations were played out that did not happen in real life. These dreams were sometimes more frightening than anything. I kept wondering why my mind was doing this to me.

“Binding errors” is one of those lovely scientific terms that mean pretty much what they sound like. Your waking brain is orderly, your sleeping brain is fragmented, and as with all broken things, the bits can get reassembled the wrong way. But “the wrong way” suggests that there’s just one way, and the genius of sleep is that it allows you to explore other, untried avenues. (How to Wake Up To Your Creativity)

During that time, I concentrated my efforts, first thing in the morning, by writing everything down from the night before in my journal. That practice was supposed to help me get all of the strangeness out of my head and on to the page. This mental flossing was also supposed to be helpful in order to improve creativity. (Can Paying Attention to Dreams Increase Creativity?) Looking back, I believe the practice helped, so it probably did, even if it was some sort of placebo effect. In reality, I think the key to moving past those strange dreams and getting a better nights rest, was time.

After an 18-month sabbatical or mini-retirement and returning to our home in Canada, I went back to corporate work. But, this time I was going to be different. I was going in with my eyes open. I put a high priority on my sleep. I wanted 8 hours every night. In order to make that happen, I needed to place limits on the number of hours I was prepared to work in a week, which I was successful in doing. But, my commute was long and I yearned for more than one day per week of working from home.

Be careful what you wish for!

There is no point in talking about weeks anymore. It has been just over two months of working from home now and will likely go on like this for another 2 months, at least. Thanks to the covid-19 pandemic nobody knows what the future holds. Instead of rushing back to normal, the highest level of caution is being taken in regards to social interactions. Working from home is part of the foreseeable future. This is what I thought I wanted all along.

With this change in my schedule, I thought the quality of my sleep would soar as no alarm clocks are required anymore. It’s funny how assumptions work. There is nothing in my past experience that should lead me to believe that the time and method of waking is the only factor which contributes to a great nights rest. I began to wonder What your dreams say about your health.

Before resorting to putting a worry doll under my pillow and hoping she would magically take away all my troubles in the night, I decided it was time to do some proper research. In 4 Ways to Use Your Dreams to Help Your Creativity, it became clear to me that I needed to stop worrying about how many times I woke in the night. I had viewed those episodes as a failure to sleep properly and believed them to be somehow damaging to a night of rest. By simply changing my frame of mind, I was able to put that thought aside and embrace the dream I was having while cycling awake, then readjusting myself to drift back to sleep.

As I have always found in life, I possess the power to make the changes I want. The timing also has to be right. I have to be ready to take action. Of course knowledge also plays a role. But more than anything, I need the right mindset. I realized the best way to have a better nights sleep and the dreams to go along with it was to make a few tweaks to my schedule.

  • Caffeine consumption late in the day is a problem for me. I don’t feel it in the moment by getting a tummy ache, but it does not make my sleep better.
  • Alcohol inhibits restorative sleep, can interrupt the circadian rhythm, blocks REM sleep, can aggravate breathing problems and can lead to night time trips to the toilet. Moderation looks to be the key with less alcoholic drinks in general, particularly into the evening.
  • Screen time in the evening is not good. There is no debate on this fact. If you want a better nights sleep, no electronics in the bedroom. This is really hard to do! But, I’ve slowly been putting a really good book by my bed which captures my imagination more than my iPad. (Has to be a GOOD book!)
  • A cool room, warm blankets, a good mattress and pillows, no sugary or salty bedtime snacks – all those little habits that don’t seem so consequential in and of themselves. I took note of them and experimented.
  • Physical exercise each day, even just a short walk – spending some time in nature helps sleep.
  • Meditation, or some other method to calm a worried mind is such a game changer. I am getting this through yoga, as a starter practice.

Which brings me to the last unlock, my thoughts before lights out. A good book helps to fix this and some fun ideas for the next day. What I choose to focus on in the last hour or so plays a big role in how relaxed and happy I will be during sleep and the quality of my dreams. Every now and then, I don’t mind it when my dreams help me solve problems, but I much prefer happy-strange times with friends and family.

See what kind of small changes you can make over the next few weeks to improve the quality of your sleep and hopefully the dreams as well!

“Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you.” ~Marsha Norman

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