To sleep: perchance to dream: Ay, there’s the way to go!

Dreams have been a part of my life since I can remember. I am talking about the dreams you have when you are asleep, which some people remember and others don’t. Sleep is a part of everyone’s life.

Lately there has been much written about sleep and its importance to health on many levels. Our moods, our efficiency, our attention, all are affected by how much sleep we get. Sleep deprivation and gaining weight seem to be related. Driving while drowsy is considered as dangerous as driving while drunk.

There are many studies being done on the various conditions that deprive us of a good night’s sleep and therefore affect our health. Medical researchers are studying sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, snoring, sleep walking, even medications and narcotics that interfere with a proper night’s sleep, which is now determined to be between 8½ to 9½ hours a night. It has long been known that sunlight wakes you up, and when the sun goes down, one tends to lose wakefulness. This works for many in Costa Rica because the sun regularly rises around 6:00 a.m. and sets at 6:00 p.m. Many expats have adjusted their sleeping habits to these hours, which is good, because scientists believe that getting the morning sun helps one to sleep at night.

Hand in glove with sleeping are dreams. It is believed that everyone dreams, although some people don’t remember their dreams. People have been dreaming and talking about dreams since the beginning of time, but surprisingly little is definitively known about dreams. Different societies regard the importance of dreams differently. Western society knows only what it can prove scientifically about dreams. So far that is limited. But since we spend about two hours of our sleeping dreaming, it does deserve more insight.

Odors seem to affect dreams since the sense of smell is linked to that part of the brain that is also associated with dreaming. Logically, pleasant smells tend to make for pleasant dreams. I am sure aroma therapists would confirm this. There is also something called lucid dreaming, when the dreamer is aware that she is dreaming and therefore has some control over the outcome. Scientists, however, advise that we let our dreams follow their own course.

Freud and Jung seem to be the only researchers who have done any heavy thinking about dreams and they have different opinions. Both believed in the unconscious, but for Freud (generally speaking) dreams were a way to satisfy our suppressed desires, while Jung saw the unconscious as more spiritual and dreams as a means to help us live life well. (This is a wildly incomplete and superficial distillation of their beliefs).

Since the scientific method requires repeated and consistent results for any behavior or activity to be ‘proven,’ dreaming continues to elude them in terms of a theory.

I became even more interested in dreams when I learned that days before she died, my mother spent more time sleeping than being awake until one day they simply could not wake her up. She just went on sleeping, to my mind. That has made me think that perhaps as we get older sleeping is a more interesting state than being awake. In dreams you can be any age, do many things and have experiences that when awake your body and mind just can’t manage. It might be interesting to study.

Meanwhile, what got me interested in writing this was a dream I had this past week. In my dream I had hired a tutor for some child I was caring for. The tutor was a young man. He picked up a cone-like object from the ground and said, “We call this a glue.” “How interesting,” I said. “Why do you call it a glue?” He threw down the glue and said he no longer could tutor because I interrupted so much. I realized I had been interrupting. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Please continue and I’ll keep quiet.”

“No,” he said. “I’m done.” So I asked him how much did he want for his work so far? “Two hundred dollars,” he said. “But you’ve only been here fifteen minutes!” I said. He crossed his arms, sat back, and said, “Two hundred dollars.”

“You know,” I said. “All I have to do is wake up and poof, you are out of here.” And I woke up. Now that is something you can do in dreams but not in your waking life.

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