Discover the Fascinating Link Between Sleep and Dreams

Woman with a sleep mask for sleep and dreams

"Sweet dreams, sleep tight," a commonly uttered phrase by parents to their children has a bit more scientific truth to it than people may realize.

The connection between dreams and sleep was a puzzling phenomenon to those in ancient times. Even today people are fascinated with sleep and dreams.

One writer had an interesting perspective on how sleeping would appear to those who had never experienced it:

Once a day, usually after dark, they would lie down on these special platforms and become unconscious. They would stop functioning almost completely, except deep in their minds they would have adventures and experiences that were completely impossible in real life.

Down through history, dreams captivated people's attention. The mystery surrounding the dream experience was both thrilling and perplexing for early civilizations. Take a look below at how people throughout time have understood the relationship between sleep and dreams.

Ancient Interpretations of Dreams

Some writers say that in the earliest days of civilization, the line between dreams and being awake was blurry for people. In other words, people were not sure which world was real and which one was the dream world.

One thing most everyone agrees upon throughout history is that dreams meant "something." Sometimes dreams meant good would happen. Other times they were interpreted to mean something bad would happen. But for many years, dreams were viewed as prophetic.

Egyptians and Dreams

The Egyptians felt dreams were meaningful and even constructed a special book of dream interpretations and examples referred to as the Dream Book. Dreams were categorized as "good" or "bad."  The Egyptians also believed their gods would reveal themselves in dreams to do one of three things:

  1. Require something of them;
  2. Warn them of some future doom; or
  3. Be with them during a ritual.

People who had lifelike memories of their dreams were considered special, and those who interpreted dreams were held in high esteem and called gifted.

Greeks and Dreams

One of the most significant contributions we have from the ancient Greeks, as it pertains to dreams, is the development of a book called, "Oneirocritica" (Interpretation of Dreams), by Artemidorus. This book was a direct result of influential teaching at that time by Hippocrates, who was the father of medicine. He was likely the first person to link dreams to the human emotions, thinking, and physical well-being.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed dreams were indicators of health and could point to illnesses and disease. Although, we do not view dreams as predicting or telling us what, if any, illness we may have, there is a correlation between dreams and health (more on that later); so Aristotle and Hippocrates were on the right track in their thinking.

Romans and Dreams

The Romans, for the most part, believed the same as the Greeks. The prophetic nature of dreams was not only believed by those in power but used to create laws which were sometimes not in people's best interest. Scholars, however, talked publicly about their views on dreams. They felt dreams were a result of people's inner desires, emotions, and thoughts, not a result of prophecy or gods.

Hebrews and Dreams

The Hebrews believed certain dreams were from God. One of the earliest recorded dreams was that of Joseph in the Bible who dreamed his brother's sheaves of grain bowed down to his sheaves of grain. His brother angrily interpreted this to mean that Joseph intended to reign over them. Later, Joseph interpreted the Pharaoh's dream, and according to ancient records, the interpretation came true.

Middle Ages and Dreams

During the middle ages, people held the belief that dreams came from an evil source. People believed dreams were a temptation from the devil to do wrong or go the wrong way. The powerful evil presence manifested itself in dreams and people were the weak victims. What a dreadful experience going to sleep must have been during that time of history!

19th Century and Dreams

At the beginning of the 19th century, people began to reject dreams as being nothing more than stress or a bad night's sleep. Some even felt a bad dream just meant you ate the wrong thing before you went to sleep (some people may still feel this way today).

But around the latter part of the century, Sigmund Freud came on the scene and brought back the significance of dreams.

We now have two trains of thoughts on what dreaming means. One is Sigmund Freud's analysis that dreams are in great part, our emotions speaking out while we sleep. Studies of the brain during the dream state reveal a lot of activity going on in the area of the brain responsible for emotions.

Other scientists believe that dreams occur when the brain tries to interpret the signals it receives during the REM stage of sleep, which is always when dreaming occurs. Random signals are fed to the cortex during REM sleep and scientists believe the cortex attempts to interpret it by creating a story.

The Connection Between Sleep and Dreams

So, how are dreams and sleep intertwined? Do dreams affect our sleep or does sleep affect our dreams? These are interesting questions because studies reveal that dreams are, in fact, good for our health. A sleep expert at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine states:

Good dreaming contributes to our psychological well-being by supporting healthy memory, warding off depression, and expanding our ordinary limited consciousness into broader spiritual realms.

Another study conducted by the Harvard Medical School found dreaming aids people in solidifying memories and remembering information. It follows that getting a good night’s sleep will ensure you enter the REM phase of sleeping uninterrupted and have a depth of sleep that will produce dreams. John S. Antrobus, professor of psychology and sleep research at the City College of New York, noted that if a person does not get quality sleep, he or she may not have any dreams at all.

Ensuring you obtain a restful night of sleep gives you dreams, and dreams produce better health, and better health brings about more restful sleeping. It becomes a positive cycle of quality sleep, good dreams, and good health. However, one factor could put a kink in the whole process. A bad dream certainly won't contribute to a positive sleeping experience, and chronic bad dreams lead to stress and other health issues. Still, there are steps you can take to promote good dreams.

It may sound simple, but try to think positive thoughts and visualize pleasant images as you unwind for bed. Have a cut-off time for stressful situations, including work, and try to stick with it.

In addition, research reveals our sense of smell is directly connected to our emotions. It is amazing how certain smells trigger a deluge of memories and feelings. Spritz lavender scented spray over your pillows and bed. Research points to lavender as akin to a calming tonic. Lavender's soothing fragrance relaxes the nerves and body and combats insomnia.

Another important factor in gaining a good night's sleep is ensuring you are comfortable. If you’re snuggled up and cozy all night long, then you pass through all stages of sleep properly and wake up well rested. Ready your room by making sure it is sufficiently cool and dark by turning off all screen lights.

Finally, invest in a quality mattress that best fits your needs.

Through science and research, we make new discoveries into the mysteries of dreams and unravel the connection they have with our sleep and quality of health. For more information on the best mattress to give you quality sleep, contact us today.

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