What's Behind the Sleeping Mind
By Patrick John
Did you dream last night? Even if you don’t remember it, the answer is probably yes. And you probably have recurring dreams, or dream about the same things as friends and family. Researchers think they know why we dream, and even what items in your diet make you dream more. I’ve had some pretty weird and vivid dreams lately (I still don’t understand the gas pump monster), so I started to really dig in to the whys and hows of dreaming.
If we are in REM, or dream sleep, scientists say more than 80 percent of us are actively dreaming. Age also factors into how much you dream: Elderly adults are in dream sleep only about 15 percent of the time, typical adults register about 25 percent of the time, and children are just over 50 percent. Also, if you’ve ever wondered if your dog or cat is really dreaming, studies say they definitely are.
Although we’re all different, the themes of our dreams are very similar. The top dreams reported are:
• Being attacked
• School related
• Being unable to run/move
• Thinking someone alive is dead/someone dead is alive
• Doing the same thing over and over
• Swimming/being underwater
I pored over many, many top reported dreams lists, and the dream about being naked in a public place didn’t even make the top 10. Recount, please!
As far as WHY we dream, there are multiple theories. Some scientists predict it’s your brain working with the rest of your body to heal and make repairs. That could mean interpreting your daily stress and problems and acting as a coping defense. Others feel it’s a way to etch experiences permanently in your memory, kind of like saving to a computer’s hard drive. Those who had the most REM sleep seemed to have better memory and recall. Last, it may be your body’s way to regularly test its own neural connections and keep your mental superhighways clear of obstructions. Many celebrities and musicians credit ideas to their dreams. Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, and a Beatle or two can thank their subconscious for creative works. Paul McCartney says he wrote the melody to “Yesterday” after he dreamt, woke up, and went to the piano to play it.
Most of us have noticed that things we ingest can seriously affect our dreams. Think about those crazy, really vivid dreams after taking NyQuil, having a few drinks or eating certain food items. Vitamins, specifically B vitamins, can dramatically increase your REM sleep and dream time. Ditto for Vitamin C and melatonin. Certain common herbs, including St. John’s Wort, valerian root, lavender, chamomile, peppermint, cinnamon and gingko biloba may help/make you dream more. Your sleep patterns are also commonly altered by alcohol, coffee (caffeine) and tobacco products.
If you have a hard time recalling your dreams or want to investigate what they could mean, put a pen and paper on your night stand and write down everything you can recall from the dream immediately after you wake up. A number of websites and encyclopedic dream books are devoted to dissecting what our minds come up with while we slumber. If you find an explanation for a gas pump monster, let