Dream Deficit Disorder?

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog

The importance of dreams is often overlooked as a contributing factor of a good night's sleep. How can we take control of our health if we are not paying enough attention to our dreams?

— Tieraona Low Dog, M.D.

It’s widely known that many Americans sacrifice sleep for their busy lifestyles–running the kids to afterschool activities, spending long hours at the office, sneaking in extra screen time before bed, and in general over-scheduling, over-promising, and overworking. We prioritize others’ needs before our body’s need for sleep, and many of us sustain these stressful lifestyles with reliance on caffeine, alcohol, and sugar. We often hear warnings that missing shut-eye can have real health consequences including lowered immune function, irritability, and even susceptibility to weight gain. We know how important it is to get our sleep, but when lack of sleep also translates to a lack of dreams, another surprising piece of our health puzzle goes missing. According to a collection of studies gathered by Scientific American, when you miss out on sleep you are probably also missing out on REM (rapid eye movement). This sleep stage is characterized by intense dreaming, and during this period the part of the brain that stores autobiographical memory lights up. As scientists begin to unravel the mystery of why we dream, new theories suggest dreaming may be a type of “practice” for our emotions and reactions, or an attempt to process complex ideas and feelings. We might think of this “dream rehearsal” concept from a primitive survival perspective. Maybe we dreamt of being chased by a bear so that if we ever were actually chased by a bear, we would have a blueprint for how to react or not react. Dreaming through difficult situations and forming new memories of overcoming threats helps us learn to regulate negative emotions while we sleep. Without these powerful dream rehearsals, it stands to reason our instincts may not stay sharp for the struggles in our daily lives. While the predators in our day-to-day living may not be of the bear variety, we face difficult encounters with our coworkers, episodes of road rage, and sudden emergencies. Interestingly, being prepared to face these challenges may actually have less to do with consciously planning for the worst and more to do with renewing your energy each night with that restorative wonder called sleep. How can we ensure our brains have enough recovery and repair time every night? Practice good sleep hygiene (use your bed for sleep and sex only), go to bed at roughly the same time each evening, take steps to reduce stress by becoming more physically active earlier in the day, and always practice loving self care. Learn how to use melatonin and other herbs to encourage sleep if you have trouble winding down. Honor your body’s need for sleep, drift into your powerful dreamscape, and begin to wake more refreshed, prepared to take on anything that might come your way. SOURCES ScientificAmerican.com: The Science Behind Dreaming