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This post is by Monica Velici of Sparta Health

Have you ever wanted an answer to a difficult, personal question? Perhaps you could not make up your mind about something, or you faced a challenge you did not know how to meet. Alternatively, have you ever wanted to go to sleep and just know that you are going to have a wonderfully enlightening dream? Or a healing dream that replenishes you emotionally? If you have answered yes to any these questions, you can benefit from being able to program your dreams.

Why do most dreams seem to occur in REM, and what is happening during that sleep phase that seems to produce dreams?

REM is generally the only time during sleep that most of the cortex is pretty much as active as it is when we are awake. During this phase, there are rhythmic bursts of activity in the brain stem. There is one school of thought that this rhythmic firing is the sole cause of dreaming and all the upper cortical activity is a simple response to that. It just does not look that way. It looks like the lower brain stem activity wakes the cortex up and then the cortex does a lot of organized, meaningful thinking once it is activated.

The thing that is very frustratingly not neat and clean is that every once in a while, when you wake somebody out of a non-REM period, they report something that looks pretty much like the elaborate narrative of a dream. This is especially common in people who have significant traumas and shift workers who have their sleep disrupted, so it may be that it happens primarily when something is not operating fully as it should be with the regular sleep cycle.

During dreams, are certain regions more active than others or does that depend on what you are dreaming about?

It is sort of halfway in between the extreme version of either of those. On average, there are several areas that are more active than they would be during the waking state. Those are parts of the visual cortex, parts of the motor cortex and certain motion-sensing areas deeper in the brain. That is probably related to why dreams are so very visual compared to other sensory modes or types of content and why they have a lot of motion and action in them relative to our waking experience. The parts of the brain stem that fire those bursts of activity are also active.

There are other areas that are less active on average during REM sleep. Those are the prefrontal areas, which have to do with the fine points of logical reasoning and where you might say censorship resides. That is not only for censorship of things that are socially inappropriate, what Freud would have meant by censorship of sexual and aggressive impulses, but also the impulses that say, "that's not the logical way to do things." That seems to be why even though we continue to think about all kinds of problems and issues in our sleep, and sometimes come up with creative, interesting solutions; their logic is less linear than our waking thought is.

So, how can we programme our dreams?

  1. Journal your dreams and their intentions - Keep a journal by your bedside in which you write a dream intention each night before sleeping. Your intention is literally what you want to dream about. In the morning, before you do anything else, write down any dreams you have experienced. If you do not remember your dreams, do not give up. As you drift to sleep the following night, program your mind by repeating an intention in your thoughts and eventually, you will start to remember your dreams.

  2. Use pictures to visualize your dream - Before you turn out the light at bedtime, look intently at a picture which represents a topic you wish to dream about. Study the details in the picture and when you close your eyes to sleep, visualize the picture inside your mind and continue to visualize its details.

  3. Set your brainwaves with sounds and music - You can alter the frequency of your brainwaves by listening to anything from binaural beats (brainwave entrainment) to music. For instance, if you want to experience a relaxing, soothing dream, listen to relaxing, soothing music. It will put you in the right frame of mind to achieve your aim. You can also listen to white noise, rain, ocean, or other water sounds, or simply concentrate on the pure sound of a single note of the frequency you want to adopt. Relax Melodies has over 100 soothing sounds, which you can mix and layer, including several binaural beats. You might discover that what you listen to finds its way into your dreams!

  4. Go to sleep with a pleasant scent - It has been said that smelling roses before sleeping can promote wonderful dreams, while the scent of rotten eggs, unsurprisingly, does the opposite result. Smells influence us in our waking time and are equally potent when we are asleep. While you will want to avoid unpleasant odours before going to bed, if a certain scent makes you feel great, smell it just before going to sleep or have an aromatherapy infuser running while you are sleeping. It cannot hurt and could produce a pleasant dream!

  5. Play video games! - People who regularly play video games develop experience in controlling virtual worlds. As a result, some discover that they are good at manipulating their dreams. Lucid dreams, those in which you are in control and aware that you are dreaming, may be enhanced by playing video games. The more you practice programming your dreams, the more likely you are to achieve success. Your brain will program itself to produce results.

About Monica Velici

Monica joined Sparta Health in February 2020 as part of the rehabilitation service support team. She has a degree in Psychology, an MSc in Clinical Neurodevelopmental Sciences, and a keen interest in dementia and mental health. Monica aims to become a fully accredited therapist.

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