World of Dreams

November 1, 2016 in Dreams




(How to get a good night’s sleep, 28 October, 2017)



What with Guy Meadows’s book The Sleep Guide: How to Sleep Well Every Night and the 2017 Nobel Prize awarded to the scientists – Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young, the importance of sleep has been in the news recently. The key to a healthy mind is not, it seems, sitting on top of an Asian mountain, drinking yak’s milk as bells ring and monks chant mantras. Nope; you simply (a) switch off light, (b) put head on pillow and (c) close eyes, all as a prelude to eight hours in the land of nod. And not just occasionally, but every night – and if only it were as simple as that. Hurdles to sleep abound in our modern world. You may have to work – or play – late into the night. You might have young children keeping you awake, be coping with illness or the constant barking of a neighbour’s dog. Or you might be suffering from good, old-fashioned insomnia. Since very few of us control our lives entirely, all of these circumstances are difficult to deal with. What you must do initially, is see a good night’s sleep as an obtainable goal, not an indulgence.

Pool childminding duties with partners, relatives and friends; trading time is not begging a favour. If you have to work overtime for an extended period, then negotiate for extra days off of work. Tell your partying friends that you are taking time out to catch up on sleep. Bearing in mind the difference between constant disturbance and one-off events, take action against the noisy neighbours. It is all easier said than done, of course, but recognise now that you are entitled to a night’s sleep. Quality shut-eye is vital for optimum mental and physical activity. It should not be a privilege, available only to an elite few. Do not be taken in by the school that teaches that bed is only for the ill or terminally exhausted. See hyperactivity as the disorder that it is, not the virtue it has been painted as. But what about insomnia? Review your sleeping environment, removing all distractions to shut-eye. This could mean moving a television set or other electronic items from the bedroom – yes, I do mean that blue light. Get rid of photographs of relatives – pleasant though they are – and other images whose presence you cannot ignore. With the clutter vanquished, redecorate the room in restful pinks and lilacs, greens and mushroom brown. Buy the finest bedding that you can afford; pile the bed with pillows – lavender-scented are the most restful. Train your body to want to sleep. Take steps to ensure that your room is never too warm or too cold.

Develop a routine. Post 8pm, soften the lights and turn down the music – do not reach for that glass of alcohol. Even if you don’t feel sleepy, begin preparing around the same time every night. At about 10pm, take a warm shower and pull on that glam nightie or those swanky jammies. If you must read, choose a few pages of a relaxing book before shutting your eyes. Again, ritual helps here. Many an insomniac finds that simply turning out the light and lying still in darkness has helped improve the condition. This process will not render you a “wimp” or “lazy” but transform you into a well-rested, refreshed creature who has potential to realise his or her self through imagery received in dreams. Or simply get through the work day without nodding asleep over the computer keyboard.

(The importance of sleep, October 12, 2017)

Now and again, an event occurs, an event that shines a light into the darkness of human affairs. In this instance, the event just might halt humanity’s inexorable slide in the proverbial hand-basket to hell. On this occasion, it is the announcement that the Nobel committee has just awarded its annual prize for medicine to three US scientists who have discovered the genes that control our circadian rhythms – don’t you just love it when they do that?

The scientists – Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young – have established that Earth’s daily revolutions synchronize with a DNA “clock” that resides within every cell in our bodies, a clock that controls our wake and sleep cycles. The existence of circadian rhythms has long been established but formerly, “they” believed that this clock was just a small bundle of cells that resided in the brain. Moreover, “they” believed that if you fooled this minute area of the brain into believing that it was daytime, for example, by exposure to ultraviolet light, you could stave off the desire to sleep, indefinitely. But these scientists have thrown that theory out of the window. Like it or not, come sundown, other areas of your body shut down and prepare for sleep.

Paradoxically, you can fool the sophisticated brain but not the more primitive organisms that use downtime for repair and renewal. What is a puzzle to me is: why did the establishment take so long to make the need for sleep, official? Perhaps now we’ll see the beginning of the end of the 24/7 culture, the work days that last long into the night, the social roller-coaster that refuses to acknowledge life before 8 pm, and the constant peer-sneering at us wimps who actually need to – gasp! – sleep at night?

Somehow, I doubt it. 24/7 is so culturally and technologically entrenched that it will take a complete wiping out and starting over again of humanity to breed a creature who sees sleep as a good thing. The best we can hope for is that the Nobel committee’s decision will open a dialogue about the chronic sleep deprivation of the majority of people, about the devastating price we pay for career progress – as opposed to professional excellence – and publicise many more shocking cases like that of the late Miwa Sado, the young Japanese reporter who died of heart failure following 159 hours of overtime. And maybe so-called leisure activity will come to mean just that, a pursuit of genuine spare time – dancing, painting or whatever – and not something you struggle to do late at night following a ten-round day in the office.  And we may, just may, bow in homage to the wonderful, creative and life-defining activity that is dreaming.

(Time-hopping in Dreams, September 29, 2017)

Just imagine being able to travel through time, to gain insights into history and to take a peek into the future, especially your own – imagine the world of power and wisdom at your fingertips. To travel through time has ever been a sci-fi fantasy, inspiring HG Wells to write the Time Machine, and Hollywood to make the Back to the Future movies. However, it is the one invention that has always evaded the ingenuity of real scientists. In spite of all of the technological marvels of the modern world, we still cannot scupper time. The conundrum is that we are bound to Earth’s gravity and gravity is a distortion of time, keeping us on the 24/7 roller coaster. What do we do about this?

Oddly, we do scupper time; we do it every time we walk from one side of our living rooms to the other – and most journeys are generally longer than that. Essentially, all travel is time travel; gravity is a weak force and we cast aside its barriers with every walk in the park. The physics are too complex to spin out here, but at every point on the globe it is a different time, at every moment of the day. Think, then, the power of getting onto an aeroplane and emerging on another continent and time zone, three hours later– but sod Ryanair; there is another way to travel through time.

Like the majority of sleepers, I have experienced time travel in dreams. I have met and spoke with dead relatives. I have sat at the desks of the various schools and colleges that I have wandered through in my learning endeavours. I have dwelt in stone-age villages, medieval castles and in awe-inspiring futuristic environments. More than once, I have had that heady experience of being everywhere and in every time, all at once. Like Puck, I have felt like shouting “I’ll put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes” on awakening. Maybe it was a dream like this that inspired the Bard to write the line?

When analysing a dream that has taken you outside of the present, look at all of its symbols carefully. First, listen to what your dead relatives are saying. According to your own databank of archetypes, are the symbols “good” or are they “bad”? Is the dream telling you to look to past experience for guidance or to seek a solution elsewhere? What can you learn from stone age/medieval/Renaissance society? In earlier columns I wrote about everyday inventions and creations whose origins lay in the dream of their creators – maybe that odd item or system you dreamed of is the key to your own future?

(Pursuit, 7 September, 2017)

Fewer things are more terrifying than the feeling that is dream-time pursuit. You are in some place, usually dark, when you feel that someone – or some thing – is following you and that intends you harm, begins. Sometimes, you can see the subject and sometimes not; whatever, you know that you have just got to get away. You try to run but for whatever reason, you are rooted to the spot with legs that just will not work. Or when you attempt to move, the ground turns all soft and wobbly, lacking the tension that would allow your feet to move freely and quickly. Or you are actually running but whatever is in pursuit is gaining upon you, however quickly you move.

You will do anything, go anywhere, to get away from it. You will jump from a cliff or out of a 5-storey window, just to escape whatever horror. Luckily, you are only in a dream. And that is what you have to tell yourself when you wake up – that it is only a dream. For the majority of people, pursuit phantasmagorias are one-off events. For a smaller number of people, the pursuit dreams recur, often with the same sequence of events. If this is your experience, then explore your life a little. It could be that someone at work is bothering you. Or an unwelcome suitor is foisting their attentions upon you. Your dream may even be about the person that is causing you pain. If this is so, then practical intervention, no matter how unpleasant, is the likeliest manoeuvre to solve a problem like this. Try confronting the pursuing subject in your imagination before doing so in actuality.

Remember, a decent night’s sleep is a birthright, not a luxury, and your waking hours will be happier, too. Whatever happens, do not mention to the pursuing subject that they are entering your dreams. You will likely come across as silly and hysterical, and give the subject an oeuvre for even more unwanted attention. I have explained before and do so again that dream analysis is a tool to help you in your waking hours, and not an entertainment spectacle for anyone else. If your pursuit dreams have no apparent cause but continue to recur, then you may require medical help. Fortunately, treatment for sleep disturbance is very efective.

(Mary Phelan, 2017)