I had the strangest dream last night. I was standing on top of a high, wind swept cliff in a place that I knew in the dream to be Tobago (even though it looked nothing like Tobago), when I spotted an old friend of mine coming in to land aboard a small paddle boat.
Having not seen this particular friend in several years I yelled out to them at the top of my lungs, and then promptly jumped off of the cliff into the water in order to swim out and meet them. When I reached the boat, however, there was a small problem. The boat had transformed into a car and it was absolutely jam-packed with people.
“I’m sorry, but there’s no room for you,” said my friend and then continued driving down the sea, which had now transformed into a highway. This didn’t seen to bother me that much, because the next thing I knew I was at a restaurant many miles away from the seashore enjoying a strange meal of bananas and ham served by a waiter wearing a clown suit. Then I awoke...
What makes this bizarre little dream so strange, of course, is at the time of dreaming nothing about it seemed strange at all. While I was lost in the dream, it felt totally normal to live in a world where oceans can transform into highways, and boats into cars, and where I can instantaneously teleport from one location to another and find myself in the middle of doing something that I had no recollection starting (eating bananas and ham...of all things!)
These ghostly phenomenon where time and location can shift in a dramatic and uncertain fashion, and where logical reasoning itself can totally disappear are common features of dreams. For creatures that pride ourselves on our rationality, it’s a strange truth of human existence that we spend a huge chunk of our lifetimes asleep while living out dreams which often defy all logic and reason.
Yet the human body and mind are incredible things, and everything about our intricate bodies appears to exist for a reason. That we spend one third of our life asleep and rapt up in crazy dreams is not without reason. Although there is still much for us to discover, modern scientific research has been making great strides in understanding the nature of sleep and dreaming and it is becoming more and more apparent that these weird episodes that happen to us every single night seem to play a vital role in our physical and mental health.
The period where most dreaming takes place is known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep which is a stage of sleep where the body remains paralysed and the eyes dart about wildly. This REM stage of sleep usually occurs right before we wake up, and unless we make a conscious effort to recall our dreams right after awakening, they are usually quickly forgotten.
Even though new discoveries about the mysterious realm of sleep are being made every day, dreams seem to play two major functions – they help us to process our emotions and they help us to solve our own personal problems. With regards to their emotional role, dreamtime acts as a sort of overnight therapy, helping us to process all of our complicated emotions, and deal with the more painful aspects of our lives.
Dreams, it appears, are what help our minds to take the emotional “sting” out of painful past experiences while also enabling us to remember them. It is for this reason that we can recall traumatic events that happened to us in the past without feeling completely overwhelmed by the emotions that we would have felt at the time. According to sleep expert Matthew Walker, author of the wonderful book Why We Sleep, it is not so much that time heals all wounds, but that time spent in REM dream sleep that heals all wounds.
The second function of dream sleep is to help us to solve our problems. It is for good reason if someone tell you that you should sleep on a problem before making a decision, as our dreams can be a catalyst for great creativity! Our brains are incredible, complex machines which contain as many neurons as there are stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Our brains are able to solve problems by making new connections between theses various neurons, and when we sleep is when our brain is best able to attempt to connect these various neurons together.
This experimental firing of different neuronal pathways is what leads to great creative insights as well as the awareness of solutions to problems upon awakening. It is also why dreams are often so random, odd, and non-linear. Many famous artists and scientists have reported the sensation of waking up with a new idea for a project, or a solution to a complicated scientific problem that they had been struggling with for a long time.
Sir Paul McCartney is said to have awakened one day with the entire melody for Yesterday in his head, and the great scientist Mendeleev credits a dream for helping him to compete his greatest invention the periodic table. For all of their insanity, can be our greatest teachers.
So tonight I wish you a pleasant nights sleep and a night full of dreams. Who knows what insights await you tomorrow morning?
Warm Honey Milk
Warm milk has long been used as an aid to encourage sleep. While the reason for milk's soporific effects are probably more psychological than anything else, a warm cup of milk is still a great way to wind down after a busy day. Here is a simple, but delicious recipe for a warm cup of spiced, honeyed milk to help you get some good shut eye and a night full of healing dreams.
Ingredients (Makes 2 cups)
2 cups milk
2 tbs honey
1 stick cinnamon
2 cardamom pods
1 tsp vanilla essence
Pinch of salt
1. Pour milk into a saucepan, add cinnamon stick and cardamom pods and turn heat to medium low.
2. Right when milk is about to come to a simmer (you should see steam coming off from the milk), stir in the honey, vanilla essence, and salt.
3. Strain the warm honeyed milk into two cups and enjoy!