Whether it’s romancing a crush, pirating on the seven seas, or just experiencing a really great emotional state – some nights we don’t want to stop the story playing in our heads. Other nights are restless; filled with forgotten tests, missing pants, and being unable to scream. Dreaming isn’t just fun - it can be good for your mental and physical health. Wouldn’t it be nice to have more of the good dreams and fewer nightmares?
Dreams and Health
Dreaming occurs when you reach the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of your sleep cycle. Studies show that patients who spent more time in REM are better able to react to stressful situations. Dreams help us work through our problems, and remember information better. However, negative dreams linger in our consciousness into the next day and affect our behavior, making us more fearful.
Lack of REM sleep has been linked to depression, memory loss, illness, and weight gain. The body is less rested and ready to fight off problems. So there are a lot of reasons to try to get those dreams going!
Create a Relaxing Environment
To dream better, you need to sleep better, and to sleep better you should start with a relaxing environment. Make sure your bedroom is a place that soothes you and doesn’t create anxiety. If the last thing you see before you drift off is a pile of unfolded laundry, that anxious state can make it harder to slide into restful sleep.
If you’re up for redecorating, switch out busy patterns and energetic reds and yellows for subtle hues of blue, grey, and cream. This goes for your bed, too. Make sure it’s inviting and not too warm.
If you want to improve the mood but not spend too much, there are other ways to please your senses. Go for warmer lamp shades that block out the harsh blue tones in modern LED bulbs. Try some white noise like rain or ocean sounds to block out sounds that might keep you up. Scent is also a powerful way to unlock emotion. Smelling things that have a positive association can influence your mind.
Make your bedroom a soothing space using soft materials and subtle accents.
Take Care of Your Body
It’s nothing new to say that caffeine too close to bed will keep you up, or that spicy food can cause indigestion. But did you know that the type of cheese you eat might be giving you different dreams? A study done in Britain showed that people who ate blue cheese before bed had more vivid dreams. Just 2/3 of an ounce was enough. It used to be believed that cheese gave you bad dreams, but it’s more likely that it wasn’t the dairy, it was how much was eaten. Giving yourself an upset stomach means you wake up more, and that means you might remember those bad dreams better.
Don’t go to bed hungry, though. Have a light snack to avoid drops in blood sugar. You can also try taking vitamins and supplements. B6 and other supplements have been shown in some studies to increase the chances of lucid dreams. Just make sure to talk to your doctor first!
Pay Attention to Your Sleeping Position
Most people have had a dream about falling only to find themselves on the edge of the bed, so you already know that how your body is positioned can affect your dreams. For example, stomach sleepers are in the minority, but they also experience more erotic dreams than other positions. On the negative side, this is the unhealthiest sleep position, and people who tried sleeping face down had more nightmares of being locked up and unable to move. Even which side you sleep on can make a difference. Right side sleepers have more happy dreams than people who sleep on their left sides.
Back sleepers reported more vulnerable dreams, but sleeping at an incline also made a difference. Incline sleepers have more vivid dreams.
Feed Your Brain
It’s pretty clear that anxiety and stress give you sleepless nights, so anything you can do to ease those feelings will help you get more REM sleep. It’s probably also no surprise that in a study, 28% of people with depression reported regular nightmares – which is a huge increase from the general average of 4%.
What you put in your head, especially right before you go to sleep, has a strong influence as well. Don’t watch or read things that are too negative or scary if you don’t want bad dreams. Be kind to your mind!
Want to change how you dream? Musicians have twice as much music in their dreams as non-musicians, and about 25% of them dream of tunes they’d never heard before. You can even affect whether or not you dream in color. People who watched mostly black and white TV when they were children were more likely to have dreams in grey scale.
Learn to Control Your Dreams
Dream lucidity is the awareness that you are dreaming while you’re actually doing it. This can give you some ability to control the dream, giving yourself a better story or turning a negative into a positive. There are a few methods to get better at lucid dreaming.
Method 1 concentrates on awareness and habit. Keeping a dream journal can train your mind to focus more on the dream experience. Starting habits while you’re awake, like asking yourself if you are dreaming and telling yourself that you will be aware of your dreams, can make your subconscious do the same while you’re asleep.
Other people recommend waking yourself up regularly. Because REM sleep occurs roughly every 90 minutes, waking yourself in the middle of that cycle increases the chances that you’ll be having a dream. Then, be active for 30-60 minutes to wake yourself up enough to be able to concentrate on the dream before you go back to sleep again. The constant interruptions aren’t great for your health though.
Dreams aren’t very well understood, so there are a lot of things still uncertain. If you want to have better dreams, try out some of these tips and see what works for you. Or, at least get better sleep, since that will definitely be good for you!