You have gained the ability to fly. You are running from a threatening figure lurking in the dark. Or, you suddenly win the lottery. These are the kind of scenarios that are completely plausible during dreams. Dreams can be entertaining, hilarious, or downright disturbing. Imagine if you could have only pleasant and beautiful dreams. Sounds too good to be true, right? According to recent studies, this might be possible.
Dreams are a universal human experience. Yet, they remain a puzzling mystery. Why do we dream? What factors influence our dreams? Can we control them? Do they have any special meaning? These are some of the questions scientists are still trying to answer.
What we know so far is that dreams are images and stories the mind creates while we are asleep. They can be very vivid and cause a wide array of emotions — happiness, sadness, or fear. Sometimes, they make sense, while other times they’re confusing and ridiculous. We experience vivid dreams during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase when the brain is most active.
Why Do We Dream?
Do dreams have any meaningful purpose? For thousands of years, humanity has tried to find one. For ancient Egyptians, dreams had specific purposes – they were another way of seeing the world. Dreams were so important that they hired expert dreamers to plan battles and make political decisions. The Greeks and Romans saw dreams as a way of predicting the future and connecting with the dead.
Jumping further in time, the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud believed that dreams were connected with the subconscious mind. Specifically, dreams had to do with our repressed fears and desires. Nowadays, many people believe the same. A poll by Newsweek revealed that 43% of Americans think dreams have something to do with unconscious wishes.
Some researchers think otherwise. The continuity hypothesis, for example, claims that dreams reflect our current thoughts, worries, and experiences. As the name suggests, dreams are just the continuation of our day-to-day realities. If this is the case, if you find yourself stressed out about your job, education, relationships, or the state of the world, you will have unpleasant dreams playing out at night.
The Connection Between Stress and Unpleasant Dreams
It’s no secret that unpleasant dreams are more abundant during difficult times. In fact, the covid-19 crisis has given way to a new phenomenon called “pandemic dreams”. According to a study by the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center, the pandemic has caused a 35% increase in dream recall. Half of those dreams are more negative than usual.
Yet, this is not something exclusive of the current situation. When studying the survivors of the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake, psychologists of the University of Rome found severe sleep disorders and nightmares. The closer the epicenter of the disaster, the more abundant such sleep disorders were. Ongoing research suggests that people closer to pandemic threats or threats or any type are more likely to experience negative dreams.
In this case, the solution might seem obvious. If a stressful state of mind leads to negative dreams, then peace of mind might help us dream positive and enjoyable things. This idea has been supported by a study from the University of Turku, Finland. As part of the study, participants recorded their dreams for three weeks and used an emotional scale. The results demonstrated that inner peace and harmony balanced mental states and brought more positive dreams.
5 Ways to Have Beautiful Dreams
There’s no straightforward formula for having pleasant and beautiful dreams every night. But, there are a few tricks to help you gain peace of mind and calm down the stress and anxieties that turn your dreams into nightmares.
1. Relax your mind
It’s not easy to relax, especially in uncertain and volatile times. Luckily, there are many mental relaxation methods out there to help you overcome stressful and anxious thoughts.
Meditation is an ancient technique that will not only help you relax but also improve your sleep and concentration. Many meditators have lucid and peaceful dreams. This was demonstrated by a study from the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory at the Université de Montréal. Compared to the control group, meditators had longer dreams and more friendly interactions with the characters in their dreams. This might be due to the meditator’s developed introspection and concentration skills. Many meditation techniques also focus on compassion towards others, which might justify the friendly encounters within dreams.
Focus your attention on your breathing. Start by breathing in deeply through your nose from your diaphragm. Then, exhale slowly from your mouth. Repeat these steps for several minutes. You will find that this is an effective and powerful way to minimize stress, bring down your heart rate, and relax.
What’s more relaxing than a day at the beach or a walk through the forest? You might not be able to be physically there, but you can always use the power of your imagination. Just lie down in bed and close your eyes. Now, visualize your favorite place or any relaxing place. Engage your senses. Think about how this place looks, feels, smells, and sounds like. A study by Oxford University found that visualization helps people fall asleep sooner than counting sheep or simply lying in bed.
2. Watch your diet
Conventional wisdom tells us that certain foods cause nightmares. A late-night meal signals the brain to be more active. How so? Digesting food stimulates your metabolism and raises your body temperature. Eating spicy chicken wings at 9 PM, for example, turns up your body heat. As a result, during REM sleep, brain activity increases and triggers vivid and often unpleasant dreams.
Before bedtime, avoid sweets, spicy foods, bread, pasta, alcohol, and heavy meals in favor of healthier choices. If you aren’t sure which options are best for you, don’t hesitate to consult a specialist.
3. Stick to a regular schedule
Many factors disrupt your sleeping schedule be it irregular working hours or sleep issues. If you experience one of those, you are probably not getting enough sleep or might wake up at irregular intervals. Naturally, this increases the risk of having nightmares. So, try to make your schedule as regular as possible. This will help your brain and biological clock get in sync.
This might not be an easy task. However, there are a few hacks to help out. For instance, avoid the use of electronic devices before bedtime. The blue light emitted from your smartphone’s screen tells your brain to keep active, even at night. Read or listen to relaxing music instead of checking your notifications. In addition, you can cut down your caffeine intake and make your bedroom as comfortable as possible.
4. Rewrite the dream
It’s normal to be affected by unpleasant dreams. Experts recommend “rewriting” the dream once you wake up. This should be fairly easy! Use the powers of your imagination to change or finish the dream in a positive way. You can do this in your mind or write it down on paper. Or, if you aren’t the creative type, focus on something different – your plans for the day or a positive memory. These simple techniques might ease your anxiety and cause a positive outcome next time you have the same dream.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you feel that your dreams are getting out of hand and affecting your well-being, it’s time to seek professional advice. Usually, nightmares are just nightmares. But, in some cases, it can be serious. When the content of your dreams causes you to sweat, shout, or be physically active while asleep, it is no longer a nightmare but a night terror. You should look for advice on night terrors if they become more frequent, compromise your safety, or cause excessive sleepiness.
Synctuition and Beautiful Dreams
By now, you already have a good idea of what dreams are and what you can do to avoid nightmares. If you need an extra hand, Synctuition is here for you. After listening to our beautiful audio journeys, our meditators are able to relax and get a positivity boost, perfect for having beautiful and unforgettable dreams. Some recommended journeys for better dreams are Breath & Relax, Fairytale, and Dream.