Dream On Dreamers – Getting the Most Out of Dream Time

During sleep, the brain has a ‘to do’ list that makes the average fairy godmother look like a lightweight.

As well as keeping us alive, it finds creative solutions to problems, consolidates memories, works through painful ones, stimulates new insight, processes emotion and works on important unfinished issues. Dreams are a critical part of the process. Here’s how to make them work for you …

Dreams are the work of a busy mind sorting through the information it’s collected during the day – some of it consciously and some of it not – to process information, emotion and solve problems.

The adage ‘sleep on it’, didn’t make itself into everyday language by bribery or coercion. It’s there because there’s scientifically proven truth behind it.

Dreams can lead to rich insights and creative solutions because the part of the brain that controls rationality, logical decision making and deciding what’s socially acceptable becomes dormant during sleep.

When the gatekeeper is gone the dreaming mind is free from censorship and the rules that might kneecap creativity in waking life.

This is why we can dream ourselves flying to Malta and asking the pilot, Mick, ‘Excuse me Mr Jagger, but any chance of popping my jet on auto and jamming with us for a bit? Don’t be shy. I’ll start.’

This disinhibition is critical to thinking creatively because it allows new ideas to form.

As you could imagine, it could get a bit messy if limbs joined the party and acted out the dreams of an unrestricted mind. Fortunately during dreaming the neurons in the spinal cord are shut down so limbs can’t move.

This is done to ensure we don’t hurt ourselves or anybody else when we fight slipper-stealing ninjas, deliver a left hook to an ex (come on – who hasn’t wanted to go there) or hand over the ironing to Mr Wonderful who’s confessed his undying love because we fit the glass slipper – wait – the trackies (it’s a dream – who’d wear a glass slipper if trackies did the job).

Here are some important discoveries that were made while people were sleeping:

  • ‘Yesterday’ by The Beatles. One day in 1965 in a small room in London Paul McCartney woke up with a sweet tune playing in his head. He played it straight away, asked the fellas what they thought (they were keen) and then set about making sure he hadn’t heard it anywhere before.

    ‘I liked the melody a lot, but because I’d dreamed it, I couldn’t believe I’d written it,’ he said. Fast forward a few decades and that sweet tune is the most covered song in history.

  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. During a miserable summer in 1816 Mary Shelley and a group of friends went to stay with the poet Lord Byron. With the weather particularly moody, the friends were often forced inside where they told ghost stories.

    One night Lord Byron suggested a competition that involved everybody making up their own ghost story. That night, Mary Shelley went to bed and a story ‘haunted her midnight pillow’. The story was Frankenstein, and it’s genius is still celebrated today.

  • Robert Louis Stevenson dreamt the plot for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He became so adept at dreaming he could return to his dream the following night and dream a different ending.
  • Dr Otto Leowi had a hunch about the chemical transmission of nerve impulses but was struggling to come up with a way to test his theory. He let the idea slip to the back of his mind but one night in 1920 he woke up, turned on the light and scribbled something down. When he woke up in the morning, he remembered he’d ‘written down something most important, but … was unable to decipher the scrawl.’ The next night the idea came back – it was the experiment that would help him prove his theory.

    Thankfully at that time the world was free of funny YouTube clips to distract the brilliant from being brilliant, so Leowi was able to spend the next decade refining his theory. His work was critical to neuroscience and eventually won him the Nobel Prize for medicine.

  • The sewing machine needle. In 1845 Elias Howe was struggling to invent a machine that could stitch faster than other machines could spin and weave. He fell asleep one night frustrated and dreamt – so the story goes – of being tied up from his toes by cannibals and hung over a pot in preparation of being their cup-a-soup snack. Every time he tried to escape their boiling pot, they’d poke him with spears. He woke up from his nightmare and was at first struck with the high emotion of the dream. But, one thing he remembered was that the spears had holes in the points. Holes in the points. Get it? Nuff said.

Manipulating the Content of Dreams

Harvard researchers have shown that it’s possible to manipulate the content of dreams. 

Here’s how that works:

  1. Write down your problem – just a short phrase or sentence will do – and place it next to your bed. Keep a pen and paper nearby.
  2. Think about the problem for a few minutes before you settle down to sleep.
  3. Once you’re settled, try and think of the problem as an image. (The visual part of the brain is especially active during sleep, which is why dreams are so visually rich.)
  4. As you drift into sleep, tell yourself to dream about the problem.
  5. When you wake up, lie quietly for a short while. If you jump straight out of bed you’ll lose a lot of your dream content. Write down any trace of the dream that you remember. More may come as you write. If you can’t remember anything, pay attention to what you feel, the tempt the memory back.

 Dreams are the normal, natural, unavoidable work of a sleeping brain. They are not prophetic, mystical or magical. Nor are the the domain of incense burning Skytrain Moon Pixielar and the dreamcatchers she collects on her astral travels. They are as much a neural process as the thinking and feeling done during when we’re awake.

Without the shutdown of the rational part of the brain dreams are also surprising, creative and insightful – which is excellent and something we should make work for us.

See here for a how-to on understanding dreams.

The good news is that it is possible to harness the power of a sleeping brain and set it to work on a  particular issue … and you’ve gotta love anything that works like that while you’re sleeping. 

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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with a adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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