Everyone would agree that a good night's sleep is essential to health and productivity. But did you know a good night's dreaming is also pivotal to physical, emotional, and even spiritual well-being?
Studies reported by Scientific American have shown that dreams play an important part in memory and one's ability to process complex emotions. Additional research has found dreams to be an essential component of creativity and problem solving.
No one knows for sure why we dream, but theories abound: sorting out the day's activities, letting repressed emotions and desires surface, integrating new information into our existing data banks, cleaning out mental and emotional "clutter" from our lives.
"We tend to look at dreaming as a subservient type of consciousness, yet what we know about dreaming scientifically, and spiritually, is that it is much more than that. When people don't dream well, they have memory problems, and even increased depression. People who don't dream well, don't grow," says Dr. Rubin Naiman, internationally recognized sleep and dream expert and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona's Center for Integrative Medicine. He is also the author Healing Night: The Science and Spirit of Sleeping, Dreaming and Awakening," and the director of Circadian Health Associates.
In scientific research, psychologists found that subjects who were deprived of their dreams during deep rapid eye movement (REM) sleep experienced patterns that looked exactly like dream patterns seen in patients with clinical depression.
Dreams also promote emotional healing, and people who dream more heal quicker. Even nightmares can promote healing. A person works out trauma unconsciously, such as in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder nightmares," Dr. Naiman says.
In terms of physical benefits, dreaming can be called nature's Botox. It produces deep relaxation of muscles, including facial muscles, supporting the idea of beauty sleep that women so often joke about.
But in order to dream well, one must sleep well, and that is where modern culture has left a negative impact. So much so that Dr. Naiman has coined the word twired to describe the condition of being simultaneously tired and wired.
There are two main reasons why people are twired: 1) societal pressure to be productive and avoid getting left behind by those moving faster, and 2) physical and psychological hyperarousal, fueled by stress and anxiety. Hyperarousal produces racing brain waves, a rapid heart rate, over-heated core body temperature, and dysfunctional hormonal rhythms.