In my work as a therapist, I have long had an interest in working with dreams. Dreams provide a direct route to the emotional brain; often showing us at night aspects of the underlying emotional reality of our lives that we are simply too busy to acknowledge during the day. They have a way, in my experience, of penetrating to the heart of things.
During the lockdown, many people have been finding that they are recalling their dreams more frequently, and also that their dreams are becoming more vivid. I think there are at least a couple of reasons for this:
- Firstly, during the lockdown, life has quietened down for many of us. When we have less to do, we tend to notice our inner-life more, including our dreams. I have spent a significant amount of time on meditation retreat over the years – I always notice on about day 3 of a retreat, my dream life becomes far more noticeable; I seem to be dreaming more, the dreams seem wilder and more intense, and even feel more ‘real’ somehow. I think many people on lockdown are experiencing something similar. In a way, the lockdown is a kind of enforced mass retreat – with less going on in our outer lives, we are pushed into contact with our inner selves.
- Secondly, this is, understandably, a time of considerable anxiety for most of us. Increased anxiety often leads to broken sleep. Interestingly, when sleep is broken, we tend to spend longer periods of time dreaming. Our brains actually really seem to need to dream – so if we wake up and miss periods of sleep when we would usually be dreaming, we will have longer periods of dreaming when we go back to sleep. The effect is even more intense if we miss an entire night’s sleep – we will dream much more than usual the next night. Any dreaming time we miss, our brain will try and catch up on as soon as it has the opportunity. This is a phenomenon called ‘REM rebound’ for those with the time and curiosity to find out more with a bit of internet searching! As we are dreaming for longer periods of time after we have lost sleep, we tend to recall more dreams from those periods.
So at this time when many of us are dreaming more often, and more vividly, and also have more time on our hands, it seems to be a great opportunity to get to know ourselves through our dreams. Below are some suggestions for doing this:
- You can share your dreams with family and friends who you trust not to be judgemental, and who are interested in doing the same with you. Enjoy telling the story of the dream to each other. Even nightmares can be enjoyable to tell sometimes; after all, many of us enjoy a good horror movie! Dreams have a way of responding to our interest in them too…the more we tell them, the more vividly we dream, and often, the more the dreams seem to relate directly to the questions and conundrums of our daily lives. I find also that this simple practise of telling our dreams to each other regularly can connect us to ourselves more deeply, allow us to feel our emotions more fully and freely, and increases our sense of being vibrantly alive.
- You could keep a dream journal. In order to remember dreams accurately, it is really useful to have a pen and paper (or an electronic voice recorder, if you prefer this to writing) by the side of your bed. When you wake up, before you even move – as this seems to disturb dream recall – ask yourself ‘was I dreaming?’. Write down anything you remember, even if it is a single image. You’ll find yourself recalling more and more.
- If you have artistic skill (and maybe even if not!) painting your dream images can be a really powerful way of connecting with them, sensing their symbolic and emotional resonance for you.
- You could discover lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming involves developing the skill of realising that you are dreaming in the middle of the dream. You then have some control as to what you do. Do you want to fly? Walk through a solid wall? Do you want to stop running away from a monster who is chasing you and ask it if it represents a part of you, a part that you are running away from acknowledging in real life? Lucid dreaming is pretty exciting. There’s lots of info about how to do it online as well….
- You could discover dream interpretation. There are lots of theories about how to interpret dreams. Personally, I really like the work of Dr. Gayle Delaney, who has published quite a few books, and can also be found being interviewed on Youtube. But there are many theories of dream interpretation to explore if you are interested – Freudian, Jungian (possibly the most commonly used these days), Existential – a lot to explore there!
- You could meet with a therapist who works with dreams (online or by phone currently, of course) to talk about your dream life. Working through dreams in therapy can often reveal things about yourself, give you insights you never would have thought of before, and be an incredibly exciting and creative way to work. It can lead to a lot of personal growth. I would also say that if you are particularly troubled by your dreams, or you keep having repetitive dreams about a traumatic event months after the event has passed, I would particularly recommend talking about these dreams to a mental health professional. But I would also say that any dream can be usefully talked about in therapy; they do not have to be troubling to be worth exploring!
To find out more about the link between dreams and our well-being, read ‘What can dreams tell us about our mental health?‘