Waken up to your Dreams

Article taken from MSN health and fitness

By Robert Moss, PARADE Magazine

Here’s an open secret: Dreaming isn’t really about sleeping; it’s about waking up. Dreams wake us up to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. They can tell us what we need to know and alert us to actions we need to take.

Throughout history—from ancient shamans to the Bible to Freud—men and women have been fascinated by dreams and have pondered their meaning. Current research indicates that dreaming has a real, practical function but also that it can spark our imaginations in unexpected ways. Best of all, one doesn’t have to be especially “adept” at dreaming: The power of dreams is accessible to everyone.

New studies confirm that all of us have dreams—even those who never recall them—every night for 90 minutes to three hours, in four or five cycles. MRI images and PET scans show that specific areas of the brain are triggered at regular intervals, giving us dream imagery.

Until recently, many scientists dismissed the idea that there was rich meaning in dreams, believing instead that dreams were initiated by random firings of the brainstem during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. But evidence has been accumulating that dreams also can originate during other phases of sleep, when the higher visual and emotional centers of the brain are activated. This suggests that our dreams are not strange results of meaningless biological processes. Rather, they are produced by the part of the brain tied to motivation, goals and desires.

Dreams may even be related to survival itself. Antti Revonsuo, a psychology professor in Finland, theorizes that dreaming is central to human evolution. “A dream’s biological function is to simulate threatening events and to rehearse threat perception and threat avoidance,” he explains. That is, our dreams can warn us of challenges ahead and give us a chance to rehearse efficient responses—including getting out of the way. I once dreamed of a car accident on a hill east of Troy, N.Y. Several weeks later, driving on the same hill, I found my view of a curve in the road obscured by a delivery truck ahead. I remembered my dream and slowed almost to a stop—avoiding a head-on collision with an 18-wheeler.

Dreams also can alert us to dangers that are internal. They may tell us what is going on inside our bodies and what we need to do to stay healthy. Mary Agnes Twomey, a registered nurse in Baltimore, dreamed she’d traveled inside her body and found it was like a boiler room in danger of blowing up. Upon waking, she made a doctor’s appointment and learned she had an ulcer that needed treatment. Other people have reported dreams that alerted them to illnesses ranging from breast cancer to heart disease.

Whether or not you believe that dreams serve as warnings, studies suggest that they play a critical role in learning and memory.

“Dreams allow us to play and experiment with new conditions or find novel solutions,” says Richard C. Wilkerson, operations director of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. “They allow us to explore unusual areas of life and practice new behaviors.”

One fertile source of creativity is the ability to make new and unexpected connections—something we do all the time when we dream. In dreams, “connections are made more easily than in waking, more broadly and loosely,” says Dr. Ernest Hartmann, a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University who has written widely on sleep and dreaming. But he adds, “The connections are not random. They are guided by the emotional concerns of the dreamer.” In dreams you may gain new insights about personal relationships or develop exciting new ideas.


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