Some Questions You Might Ask: Dreaming Up A New Sleep Center Experience

This post is part of an ongoing series about what happens when an active dreamer goes in for a sleep study. Click here to read the previous post about my upcoming sleep study. Click here to read the first post in the series.

Apparently not everyone is as shocked as I am that a sleep study doesn’t necessarily involve an investigation of–let alone an interest in–the patient’s dreams. But when I went for my intake in preparation for a sleep study to determine possible causes of my fatigue and other symptoms, I was not only surprised, but also disturbed by the fact that the only time dreams were mentioned was in the context of sleep abnormalities. (Click here to read more on my first appointment at the sleep center.)

There are literally thousands of Sleep Centers, like the one I went to, across the US–and by all accounts, the number is climbing steadily. People come to these centers to address the epidemic of sleep problems suffered by millions of Americans. But no one is talking about the thing we spend more than two hours a night with: Our dreams!

After writing about the absence of any positive information about, let alone inquiry into, the patient’s (in this case my) dream life, I began to dream up what I’d like to see included in an initial visit to one of these centers. Granted, I’m no doctor–and yes, I am a dreamer in all senses of that word–so I’m not taking into consideration the unfortunate realities of the business side of medicine. Nonetheless, here’s what I wish I’d been asked, and why.

For starters, on the intake questionnaire, along with questions about whether the patient falls asleep on car rides, experiences balance problems, suffers from persistent itching, or pain on swallowing–I’d like to add these questions to the intake:

  1. How many dreams, on average do you remember each morning/each week?

  2. In general, is the overall mood of your dreams pleasant, disturbing, or neutral?

  3. How often do you have nightmares?

  4. Do you have lucid dreams (dreams in which you are aware that you are dreaming)?

  5. Do you have people in your close circle with whom you feel comfortable discussing your dreams?

Let’s look at what we could learn by adding just these five questions to a sleep study questionnaire.

  • Question 1: High dream recall could indicate that a person is waking frequently at night, whether they are aware of it or not. Because our short-term memory is deactivated during dreaming, some scientists suspect that we only recall dreams if we wake soon after the dream takes place. So high recallers could be suffering from a lack of deep sleep and frequent awakenings. At the other end of the spectrum, people who don’t recall dreams at all might not even be sleeping enough to enter REM (it typically requires about 90 minutes of sleep to cycle into REM sleep, where most dreams take place).
  • Question 2: The emotions experienced in dreams might correlate to waking life concerns. If a person is having a lot of negative dreams, there might be an unresolved issue in their life that is contributing to overall stress levels, which is proven to negatively impact health pretty much across the board. Such a person might benefit from joining a dream group or working with a dream therapist or a psychotherapist.
  • Question 3: Knowing that a person suffers from nightmares can unlock a lot of other information. For example, recurring nightmares can lead to insomnia, and treating nightmares with dream therapy (as opposed to medication) has been shown to not only cure the nightmare, but the insomnia as well.
  • Question 4: If a person has lucid dreams, we know that they are experiencing a hybrid state of consciousness that involves properties of REM sleep, as well as waking thought patterns. This might indicate that they are sleeping lightly. In addition, a lucid dreamer has access to great stores of healing energy that could be useful in gaining information about other health issues.
  • Question 5: Research shows that people who share dreams together tend to have strong relationships. Dream sharing indicates a level of openness and trust within relationships, and having this level of closeness in one’s life can help foster overall feelings of well-being and safety in the world. I think this question is more telling than is the standard query about marital status, which I think reveals very little about whether a person enjoys truly nurturing connections in their life.

Having people answer these simple questions or some like them could open up a helpful dialogue between health care professional and patient that would reveal a lot about the conditions in a person’s life that foster health and feelings of well-being.

In my dream of a truly helpful Sleep Center, along with pamphlets about Sleep Apnea and Narcolepsy, like the ones I was sent home with, people would also receive pamphlets about the healing potential of their dreams. This pamphlet could offer a few bullet points about how to improve dream recall, as well as the healthful properties of dreamwork. It might also list the web site of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, or other excellent and reputable sources of information about dreams, as well as referrals to certified dream therapists and dream groups.

If we as a society were really serious about cutting medical costs and encouraging people to incorporate healthy lifestyles, then sharing information about dreams and the sleep-nurturing practices that contribute to having sweet dreams would be promoted as an economically sound way to encourage health and well-being.

Yes, yes, I know, we are a long way from living in such a world. But, I can dream, can’t I?





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Q&A: Can I choose to dream about a particular topic?

Q: I’ve often heard you say that dreams can offer guidance, they can help us heal, solve problems, and more. Can we ask our dreams directly for answers to the questions that are on our mind? Or do we just have to wait?



A: Dear Impatient,

Life is too short to sit around and wait for the phone to ring–or for the dream to serve up a custom answer to our pressing questions. So, yes, go ahead and ask. Tell the dream what’s on your mind.

I know, most people think dreams are purely random occurrences over which we have no control. But the practical reality is quite different. With even a little effort and practice, most anyone can learn to incubate a dream. The instructions I offer are quite simple:

  • Practice remembering your dreams by taking an interest in them. Start to record them in writing, drawing or even using the voice memos feature on your phone. Even if you don’t remember a dream, record anything at all you do remember, including emotions, a felt sense of having dreamt about a general situation or topic.
  • Once you’ve gotten to the point where you are remembering dreams on a more regular basis, you’re ready to try to incubate the answer to a specific question. Before bed set an intention: “Tonight in my dreams I will learn about …” “Tonight in my dreams I will see what’s in store if I decide to …” “Tonight in my dreams I’ll find healing for …” (Don’t bother with “Yes or No” questions, though. Dreams are better at showing you possibilities–rather than checking off an answer in a little box.)
  • Put a picture or object that represents your intention near your bed, or under your pillow or mattress.
  • Record your dream in the morning and review it for any ways it might connect with your intention. If you don’t remember any dreams, try again until you do.
  • Expect results! Don’t be wishy washy about this. Whatever dream you receive in the morning is the answer to your question, even if you don’t see the connection right away. Consult with a dream therapist or an interested friend to explore the dream and find where it connects to your query.

Incubating dreams by setting dream intentions is a way to focus your attention—a skill that is helpful both awake and asleep. Where our thoughts go our actions and energies go. Where our dreams go, so our consciousness follows.

Setting dream intentions makes us more conscious agents of our lives and our environments.

So, my impatient pal, don’t just sit by the phone. Dial up a dream and see what happens.

Dreamily yours,

Tz …


Want to learn more about your dreams? Contact me to find out about upcoming dream groups in western Massachusetts, or individual dream sessions by phone, Skype, or in person.

Have a Dream Question? Send it along! I’d love to hear from you.


To learn more about conscious dreaming, dream incubation, and/or how to use your dreams for personal or planetary healing,  contact me for an individual dream consultation. Learn more



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Birthday Dreams: A gift to me–and you

Each year on my birthday eve I incubate a dream to offer me guidance and wisdom for the coming year.

Today I woke with several dreams including this one:

I wonder what I could or should be doing with my time on planet Earth. I try to think from the perspective of the “After Life”; in other words, after my life is over, what will I wish I had done? As I pose this question, I open a door that leads into the next dream. I have entered a kitchen, ordinary but decorated with bright colors. I realize I should appreciate this scene with all of my senses, because being alive is a rare opportunity to see and touch and enjoy all my senses—because these are things that in the afterlife we presumably don’t have and can’t appreciate. So I look up close at the colors, patterns, and textures of dish towels and all the objects in this everyday environment. When I do so, everything comes into vivid focus—infused with life and energy—“as if” in a lucid dream! I feel warmth on my skin and the sensation is deliciously sensual when experienced in this state of ultra-presence.

End of Dream

This dream is a gift to me, and I offer it as well as a gift to you. Open your eyes to the ordinary wonders of your life today … and every day!



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Intake: What a Sleep Study Reveals about How Medicine (de)Values Dreams

In last week’s episode … um, I mean post …

Click here to read the 1st post in this ongoing series about my upcoming sleep study in which I hope to find out, among other things, if all that dreaming is making me tired—and if so, will the cure rob me of the vivid and abundant dreams I so love and cherish.

A hopeful entrance

When I parked my car in front of the Sleep Center I felt a surge of hopeful anticipation.

I was here to find out if I was eligible to participate in the sleep study my doctor was recommending, and while I’m not usually one to look forward to a medical test, this one was different. Here, I thought, I’d meeting with doctors and other professionals who are as interested in sleep and dreaming as I am.

But as I sat in the waiting area filling in my “Sleep Inventory” before meeting with the sleep doctor who would determine whether I’m a candidate for a sleep study, I was struck by the fact that not a single question on the sheet addressed dreams. The two-sided questionnaire asked what time I go to bed, what time I wake up, how long it takes to fall asleep, what causes me to awaken at night, what my bed partner tells me about my sleep patterns (whether I snore, kick, etc.), whether I nap, how much caffeine and alcohol I consume and what medications I take. Beyond that I was asked about everything from whether I doze off watching television or as a passenger on an hour-long car trip, whether I have difficulty chewing, whether I hear voices or see hallucinations during the day, and if I experience joint pain or balance issues. My vision of a sleep center as a place where sleep and dreams were being studied, valued, and nurtured, was quickly dissipating.

In spite of the fact that the average person spends more than 2 hours a night dreaming, not a single question on the two-sided single-spaced document addressed dreams

I mentioned this to the Registered Nurse who called me into her office to discuss the Sleep Inventory, take my blood pressure, look at my throat and discuss my sleep patterns. “That is interesting,” she said. But she didn’t seem particularly interested.

Dreams as symptom

The nurse now launched into her own set of questions, one of which finally referenced dreams: She asked if I dream when I nap. I told her that no, I rarely dream during my infrequent short naps, which are usually less than half an hour long. That was a good sign, she said. It’s normal not to dream during a nap, because it takes about 90 minutes to cycle through the first sleep stages and enter REM sleep, the period when most dreams take place. So, if I did fall directly into dreams at nap time, that could be a sign of narcolepsy, a condition where you fall asleep unintentionally during the day, she explained.

While on the subject of narcolepsy, she also asked me if my knees buckle or if I tend to drop things when I experience high states of emotion. Turns out, people who suffer from this condition often have high dream recall and report vivid dreams.

So, in this case, dreams were being raised only as a possible symptom of a possible health problem. When I asked whether my prolific dreaming could be contributing to my daytime drowsiness, she mentioned that my ability to recall so many vivid dreams might be linked to another problem: Sleep apnea. That’s because people with apnea wake frequently throughout the night, and these frequent awakenings, usually during REM sleep, aid dream recall.

Sleep Center v Dream Temple

I left the Sleep Center contemplating the fact that dreams had been invoked only as a symptom of sleep abnormalities. I couldn’t help but think of ancient times when there were sleep temples, not sleep centers, where people came to find healing and guidance in their dreams.

But here I am in the 21st century, forced to consider that my unusual level of dream recall, which I count as a gift, might also be indicative of a problem.

I have read stories about saints and mystics who had healing or prophetic visions, and who later learned they had a brain tumor or other illness, that was causing them. When the tumor was removed or the illness cured, the mystical experiences disappeared. And so, I have to accept the possibility that if the sleep study reveals a sleep abnormality, the cure–which on the one hand could restore my energy and mental acuity during waking hours, could rob me of the beautiful dreams of adventure, beauty, guidance, and connection, which I count among the great pleasures of my life.


And so, the plot thickens. Stay tuned to see what the sleep study reveals about my dreamy brain …

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But isn’t all that dreaming exhausting? We’ll soon find out.

An abundant dream harvest

When I mention how many dreams I remember each morning (3-5 is not unusual and my dream reports can run up to 2,000 words) people often ask me if all that dreaming makes me tired.

I quickly answer that no, my high level of dream recall doesn’t interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. To back up my claim, I’ve polled other prolific dreamers and they say they’re energized, not exhausted, by their abundant dream harvest.

But the fact is, I’m chronically tired. I’ve always assumed this is a result of the hectic pace of my waking life and not the seeming hyperactivity of my dreaming brain.For better or worse, I will now have the chance to find out once and for all whether all this dreaming is wearing me out. Later this month I’ll be going in for a sleep study to see if I have any sleep-related disorders that are causing my fatigue—and perhaps also contributing to my unusual level of dream recall.

Time to study the situation

Here’s what happened: Like many women my age, I’ve become more forgetful than I was a few years back. My friends reassure me that having a tough time remembering the names of actors or where I put my keys simply comes with the territory of getting older. But my mother has Alzheimer’s disease, which has made me hyper-vigilant about my own memory, and I wanted a professional’s opinion. So, I made an appointment with a neurologist, and after a seemingly endless battery of tests the results were in. My brain functioning was deemed normal, with no signs of early Alzheimer’s or dementia. This news allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief—but I still wasn’t satisfied that the difficulties I’ve been having with memory are purely a result of getting older.

“Well,” the doctor asked, “how have you been sleeping?”

When I mentioned my vivid, and abundant dreams, along with the fact that I’m told that I talk in my sleep and snore lightly, the doctor raised the idea of a sleep study to rule out a mild case of sleep apnea or narcolepsy.

“A sleep study!” My eyes lit up as if I’d been told the answer to my woes was a trip to the Bahamas and my health insurance would cover the cost. I realize that for most people having sensors stuck to their head, face, and legs, and then going to sleep in a strange setting is not particularly appealing. But for a dream therapist like myself, this sounds like an exciting adventure. After all, anything that helps me understand sleep and dreams better, not to mention how my sleeping brain works, is my idea of a good time.

A difficult choice

“How will you feel,” the doctor asked, “if we find out that the remedy for your problems means you stop having all those dreams?”

I thought about this for a moment. It sounded like that O’Henry story where the woman sells her hair to buy her lover a watch fob for Christmas, and he sells his watch to buy her beautiful combs for her hair. What if the best thing about sleeping gets taken away from me so I can get a better night’s rest?

“I’ll manage,” I told the doctor. For one thing, I can’t be greedy; I’ve already had more than enough dreams for a lifetime. And besides, I could always fine-tune the art of Shamanic journeying in order to enter dream space in another way.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to finding out what sleep science can tell me about my dreaming brain.

Stay tuned for the results …



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(Dream) Practice Makes Perfect

Dreamwork Podcast CoverWhat would it mean to have a dream practice, the same way some people have a yoga or meditation practice? (Hint: You don’t need a sticky mat, but prepare to fluff up your pillow!)  Listen in to learn more:

IMG_4811This episode of my podcast, DreamWork, was recorded at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat in Nassau, Bahamas, during my stay there in November, 2014.



Want to learn more about your dreams? Contact me to find out about upcoming dream groups in western Massachusetts, or individual dream sessions by phone, Skype, or in person.

Have a Dream Question? Send it along! I’d love to hear from you.


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Music inspired by dreams: A Conversation with Ted Murray Jones

You won’t be surprised to learn that one of the highlights of my year is attending the International Study of Dreams annual conference. At these gatherings several hundred people from around the world–including neuroscientists, psychologists, mystics, and artists spend several days together attending lectures, workshops, and symposia examining the topic of dreams from various angles.

During one of these conferences some five years ago, a gentleman with a warm southern accent invited my friends and me to sit outside, sip whiskey, and read tarot cards. (Yes, that’s how we dreamers have fun.)

Sharing music, poetry, and dreams with Ted Murray Jones.

Sharing music, poetry, and dreams with Ted Murray Jones.

That was how I met Ted Murray Jones, who I later learned was a talented musician and songwriter from just outside Nashville. Over the years I’ve become a fan of Ted’s dream-inspired songs. Top on my playlist these days is his album: Life and the Hereafter, which I hope you’ll listen to — but first, listen to our conversation about dreams, music, poetry and inspiration, which was recorded recently when Ted was a guest on my podcast, DreamWork.

Dreamwork Podcast CoverMore about Ted Murray Jones:

In 2000, Ted Jones founded Dream Train Music and produced albums for Jonathan Singleton and Josh Smith. After recording the acclaimed “Poet, Soldier, Wise Man, King”, a collaborative effort with Jonathan Singleton, Sergio Webb, and Bruce Wallace, he embarked on his solo career with the RM Series. Ted is a philanthropist whose gift to the world is a fresh, clever, sublime interpretation of the joy, hope, pain, and sorrow of life that each of us is so familiar with. With each new album, Ted approaches his art with renewed vigor and unwavering devotion to his cause. Indeed, writing is the life force which drives this modern day knight on a quest for truth, beauty, loyalty, and elegant simplicity.


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