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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During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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"We’re pretty sure that when you say no to something it’s because you don’t understand why it’s so important to us. Of course you’ll need to say 'no' sometimes, and if you do, let us know that you understand the importance of whatever it is we’re asking for. It will make your ‘no’ much easier to accept. We need to know that you get it. Listen to what we have to say and ask questions to understand, not to prove us wrong. We’re not trying to control you or manipulate you. Some things might not seem important to you but if we’re asking, they’re really important to us.❤️" 
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#neurodevelopment #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting

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