Sleeping and dreaming are as necessary to the human body as food and water.
One of the many problems we suffer in our modern society is sleep deprivation. Up until the invention of the electric light bulb in 1882, this was much less of a problem. Most people woke at dawn and went to sleep when it was dark. By 1925, most homes in the USA and Canada were electrified. Today, we have a multitude of issues that prevent city dwellers, and to a lesser degree people in small towns, from getting a good night’s sleep. The two main ones are light pollution and noise pollution.
When I was growing up in New Zealand, electricity was not cheap and my father was very regimental in ensuring it was not wasted. The government turned street lights off at 10 pm and most people went to bed early. Towns and cities were dark and apart from times of a full moon, the sky was ablaze with stars.
Today, we live in a 24/7 society. Street lights are kept on all night. It's called sensory pollution. The lights of most office towers are on all night. Advertising billboards, public transit, delivery trucks, and cars all contribute to the brightening of our nights. On overcast nights, the problem is doubled when all these lights are reflected back down by the clouds. Our brains are assaulted daily with information and flickering images from TVs, computers, smartphones, and tablets, all of which have to be processed. Most of this processing is carried out while we sleep. Hence, the importance of sleep.
Why We Need Sleep
For many years, the questions of why we sleep and why we need sleep went unanswered. Researchers knew that getting enough sleep was important to the human psyche but no one could figure out exactly why. Recent research now indicates a lack of sleep affects our emotions and our ability to make rational decisions. Long-term sleep deprivation can impact our health with such disorders as bipolar, depression, schizophrenia as well as forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s.
There have been a number of sleep experiments where volunteers were kept awake for lengthy periods of time. The current record holder is a 16-year-old student in the US who managed to stay awake for a little over 11 days. He had volunteered as the guinea pig in a high school science project. Although he suffered no apparent long-term effects, after two days he began exhibiting increased irritability, his speech became slurred, he exhibited the beginning stages of paranoia and began hallucinating.
This experiment alone provided proof that we all need our daily sleep fix.
Benefits Of Sleep
A very important role in sleeping involves short-term memory storage. Sleeping allows memories you experience on a daily basis to be moved into a more permanent location in your brain. Sleep assists us in organizing our memories for future reference.
Additional benefits of a good night’s sleep include the repairing of DNA that keeps body and brain cells functioning. It also gives us a chance to refresh our body’s energy supply, keep our brain healthy by cleaning up neurotransmitters, and to re-file memories in relation to things that we already know.
How does dreaming fit into all of this? REM sleep was discovered in 1952. REM stands for rapid eye movement. During REM sleep, our eyes move quickly in different directions, and we dream. That does not happen during non-REM sleep. When we go down for the night, the first part of our sleep is non-REM or shallow sleep. This is followed by a short period of REM, deeper sleep and when it ends, the cycle starts over again. Dreams take place in the REM part of our sleep. Scientists are still grappling with why we dream.
The Importance Of Dreams
The most recent research indicates dreams help us to create links between events of the day and memories that currently exist in the brain. The thought is that is our brain dredges up old memories and dumps them into our dreams. This is possibly why our dreams include people and places we have not thought of in years and are often jumbled and confusing. Dreams also seem to play an important part in our emotional lives as well. Unpleasant dreams often occur when we are going through traumatic times. However, the upside to this is that people who go through these “bad” dreams are better able to cope in their awakened state.
A common complaint from people is they do not remember dreams or do not have dreams. However, research has proven we all dream. Some people just seem to have better recall than others. Dreams are elusive and even upon waking up with a clear recollection of a dream, within a few hours, it has slipped away.
Training Your Dream Mind
There are many ways of becoming a lucid dreamer. Keep a dream journal. Have a notebook and a pen on your bedside table and immediately you wake up, write down the dream. It may take a while to train your brain to begin remembering dreams but consistency pays off. Before you nod off each night, repeat to yourself either aloud or silently a mantra such as: When I wake up, I will remember my dream. Also, keep in mind, drinking alcohol, coffee, tea, or any other stimulants before you go to bed will interfere both with sleep and dreaming. Also, turn off the TV and close down your smartphone at least an hour before you bed down for the night.
I kept a dream journal for a couple of years and it was interesting reading my dreams that had long dissolved. It is fun and can also be creative. Many inventions have been developed from dreams and many great ideas have sprung from them as well.
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