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:
How many dreams, on average do you remember each morning/each week?
In general, is the overall mood of your dreams pleasant, disturbing, or neutral?
How often do you have nightmares?
Do you have lucid dreams (dreams in which you are aware that you are dreaming)?
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?