Dreaming may seem like just a blip on our sleeping radar, but perhaps there’s more to it than that. The Senoi people of the Malaysian region are noted for being free of “crime and mental illness, showing virtually no signs of neurosis.” Why? They spend a great deal of their lives ignoring material comforts and instead focus on their dreams. From childhood, they are encouraged to remember their nightly dreams and discuss them while the adults explain how a child should act or respond in a dream. They are taught to learn from their dreams and are encouraged to respond to them positively. For instance, if a Senoi child reports that he has been chased by a wild animal in his dreams and ran away, adults would encourage him to face his fear next time.
Maybe it would benefit us to take a page or two out of the Senoi people’s book. In this article, we are going to examine the phenomenon of dreaming, discover what dreams are, and how we can use them to our benefit.
Many of us wonder exactly why we dream, and though there are no definitive answers, experts have some theories. Some think our brains use the process of dreaming for managing and organizing data (through memory consolidation and learning), leaving the brain clear for the next day. Some believe it is our way of working through emotional challenges, and still, others believe it is the way our conscious mind can process our past, present, and future. Some say it is a sort of rehearsal space where the brain readies itself for real-world issues, and others say it is nothing more than electrical impulses and brain chemicals. Whatever they are, dreams are most often described as an array of images, feelings, and emotions, and we do most of our most significant dreaming during the REM stage of sleep.
REM, short for Rapid Eye Movement, is the period of sleep characterized by brain activity levels that are very similar to our waking brain’s behaviors. Although everyone dreams, not everyone remembers them. That’s because the processes that the brain uses to create lasting or long-term memories are not at work (or at least not at an optimal function) during sleep.
Techniques for Remembering Your Dreams
Fortunately, experts have learned that there are steps we can take to “remind” ourselves to remember our dreams. One such technique is to repeatedly remind yourself that you want to remember your dreams just as you are falling asleep. Let it be your last thought as you are drifting off. Keep a notepad and pen by the bed and when you first wake up, take just a minute to see if there is any feeling or image you can describe from your dreams and write it down in your notebook. Following these simple steps may cause an entire dream to come flooding back.
Techniques for Influencing Your Dreams
Influencing your dreams isn’t quite the same as lucid dreaming (when you are dreaming, but simultaneously know that you are dreaming) but with practice, you can increase your chances of having a lucid dream. But it’s important to note that we all require adequate amounts of healthy sleep if dreams are to be remembered or even manipulated in some way.
Interestingly, this brings us back to the Senoi technique of dreaming, which involves paying attention to detail. Dreams are not all that easy to control, but as we have learned, you can make certain suggestions to yourself before falling asleep. For example, before bed, we recommend saying these kinds of statements aloud to yourself:
“Tonight, I want to realize I am dreaming.”
“I want to remember my dreams.”
“Tonight, I will understand something familiar/consistent in my dreams.”
“Tonight, I will understand something different/new in my dreams.”
“Tonight, I will face fears/challenges/obstacles instead of running.”
Repeat the phrase a few times as you drift off, and your mind may be more likely to respond as you demand.. This heightened awareness is similar to that of the Senoi. Try to observe, note and act in positive ways in dreams, and you may find yourself resolving unrecognized conflicts, eliminating nightmares or getting answers to questions you might have. If not, it certainly makes for an interesting journal!