Researchers have determined the frequency of dreaming among various age groups using tools like electrodes to monitor REM sleep. Their studies show that infants demonstrate the most brain activity, while the elderly who are senile or suffering from dementia dream the least. The frequency of our dreams apparently diminishes as we reach the end of our lives, probably because our conscious brain activity may be so low that we have already partially crossed over into the world of the unconscious. Infants and children, on the other hand, who are just beginning life and whose brains are just beginning to develop, dream more frequently.
When we dream, our bodies synthesize proteins, building and developing cells throughout the nervous system and the entire body. This synthesis is an essential and profound function that takes place when we sleep—and when we dream.
It is interesting that people who have attempted suicide typically tend to dream more. It is as if, after attempting to enter the world of the unconscious—the world of death, the world of the unknown—their dreams become more meaningful because they rely on the unconscious to help them deal with fears and feelings in the conscious world. It is as if the unconscious were saying: “Take it easy, take it easy. Do not do this; you’re going to be okay. Let me tell you some stories that will show you some of the issues you must face to move on.” In a sense, it is as if their souls speak to them through the unconscious.
Those who, in previous lives, have attempted to take or have taken their own lives invariably flirt with suicide in this life. They think about it, or believe they want to pursue it. But if they consider it too seriously or go so far as to attempt it, the unconscious—the soul—delivers a stern message: “Don’t do this; there are so many feelings assailing you. But if you pay attention, you can heal.”
Similarly, people who experience depression also dream more—perhaps because they are so disengaged from daily life. They are not doing enough conscious work during the day, so that work takes place at night through the unconscious.
Dreams Access The Spiritual Realm
Our dreams access the spiritual realm in which God’s laws pertain. And one of the essential laws of divine energy is the Law of the Pendulum—every soul seeking balance. We tend to swing from one extreme to another, like a pendulum, because our souls are always trying to balance somewhere in the center.
If you are depressed during the day—oppressed by your conscious life and feeling down—your unconscious will try to make up for it as you sleep. Put simply, what you do not consciously express in the waking world, your unconscious makes up for by expressing it in the dream world.
This is why people who take antidepressants typically have very intense and violent dreams. Antidepressants may lift the mood a little, but they often dampen other energies in the process—energies like sexuality, passion, joy, and a love of life. People taking antidepressants often find life bearable, but uninspiring, devoid of strong feelings.
Think about all the things that inspire strong feelings in you—people, creatures, objects, events—everything from avoidance to amazement or adoration. Then imagine feeling indifferent to them. God didn’t create us and this amazing world so that we would go through life feeling indifferent to it. When your passion, your ardor for life, is dampened during the day, it makes sense that your unconscious mind delivers more intense and vivid dreams to make up for the lack of intensity while you are conscious and awake.
Throughout my career, I have heard thousands of what I call “non-explanations” for psychological disorders. A patient who is bipolar suffers from a brain imbalance. But this is not an explanation. The real question is: Why is the brain imbalanced? And what about diseases like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s? Yes, they all indicate an imbalance in the brain. But, again, what caused the imbalance?
When we create imbalances in the brain—perhaps through mistakes in judgment when younger, dampening pain in the psyche with overindulgence or self-medication with drugs or alcohol—the brain expresses it. As we get older, our bodies begin to express those traumas in the form of various ailments.
Similarly, when your waking life is dampened, your unconscious steps in and begins to exaggerate the feelings you are tamping down in order to get your attention and make up for that avoidance.
Antidepressants and Insomnia
A particular type of antidepressant, SSRIs, frequently leads to insomnia as well as increased sweating. Just as the unconscious releases the emotions suppressed during the daytime, the body on SSRIs releases all that pent-up energy through your skin as sweat, which is simply the release (or “expression”) of toxicity.
People on SSRIs also have an increased frequency of periodic involuntary limb movements, as if the body—deprived of emotion and movement—is prompted by the unconscious to compensate. In fact, they often end up on other medications to help mitigate the side effects of the antidepressant—for example, medication to relieve Restless Leg Syndrome. This is problematic, however, because it addresses the side effects and symptoms without addressing the source of the problem.
SSRIs can cause a drastic reduction in REM sleep and an increase in nightmares. Over time, people taking them may fall into a REM state while awake, during the daytime. Sleep paralysis is normal during dreaming; however, SSRIs interfere with this process and those who take them may appear awake and move while they are actually in a deep-sleep state.
Dreams Knock At The Door Of Consciousness
Conversely, people start to dream less frequently after undergoing my therapy, because we focus on retrieving information from the unconscious and applying it to waking life. I have observed this repeatedly and directly in my work with my patients.
When you pay close attention to both your conscious life and your unconscious, your unconscious doesn’t need to knock on the door seven times to get your attention. The artist Salvador Dali once commented that he used to have dreams, but stopped at some point—perhaps because he had shared the messages of his unconscious through his expressive art. Similarly, when my patients share dreams by working through them with me and then make appropriate changes in their conscious lives, their unconscious minds don’t have to knock as many times or as loudly.
Dreams and Postpartum Depression
Another way in which dreams provide psychological restoration and balance appears in the fact that pregnant women who have more nightmares during pregnancy have lower incidences of postpartum depression.
Expectant mothers sometimes dream that they give birth to a mentally disabled or disfigured child, or one afflicted with some sort of terrible illness. These dreams are simply an indication that those fears exist and need to be expressed and faced.
Once the child is born, the mother is less apt to succomb to depression, because she has expelled her fears in sleep.
Dreams and the Conscious Mind
The frontal lobes of the brain—the neo-cortex—are where we think consciously, where we make adult decisions. Although these areas do not develop fully until we are between twenty-three and twenty-five years old, they start developing more fully at the age of thirteen—an age at which many cultures celebrate a coming of age.
This is just one instance of how spirituality, intuition, and science often synchronize with and affirm one another. When you dream, the prefrontal cortex shuts down. That is, your consciousness, your decisions, your choices shut down. What comes alive during dreaming is the midbrain—the limbic system—which controls emotion and memory.
The midbrain is where you experience the fight-or-flight response, aggression, and desire. It is interesting that our sense of smell, the oldest sense in terms of evolution, is the only sense with a direct connection to the hypothalamus, the emotional center. This is why scents can provoke such powerful memories and responses.
Remember, the upper regions of the brain shut down when you dream, because they are where you make rational, conscious decisions—logical decisions and choices in conscious time. This is what allows you to enter the amazing world of the unconscious, a world in which the limbic system and unfiltered emotions are activated.
Dreams Enhance Learning And Memory
When you dream, it enhances your learning and memory. And, of course, infants and children have much to learn—everything from language to a sense of self. Extensive research has been done to determine the best way to learn things and these studies have affirmed the value of dreaming to the learning process.
In some studies, subjects learned very irrelevant, trivial bits of information (random numbers and details, simple instructions for performing a task, etc.), then fell asleep. When they awoke, they were asked to recall the information. Those who dreamed invariably remembered the information better than those who did not dream—even when the dreams in question had absolutely nothing to do with the information they had learned.
Dreams have other interesting effects on your brain centers as well. For instance, if you dream about pillaging, or plundering, or something terrifying and destructive, your body wants to act on this. But if you were to act, it could be very dangerous. So your brain actually shuts down certain areas to keep you from physically expressing what you are experiencing in your dream. Discharging this energy in a dream is much safer and easier than doing so while you are awake.
This is what happens in sleep paralysis, which occurs when you emerge from a dream but are not yet fully awake. That is, your brain is trying to wake up, but your body is still obeying instructions, telling it to remain paralyzed so that you can continue dreaming.
A disconnect, a disharmony, occurs because you are beginning to become aware. Your brain is moving into the theta and alpha phases, moving from an unconscious to a conscious state. Your mind, your consciousness and awareness, may be in an alpha state, but your body is still being governed by the unconscious, unable to act on physical impulses. You may feel as if you are paralyzed, but it’s simply a matter of your mind moving too swiftly from one state to another and your body not having caught up yet.
Sleep paralysis should happen infrequently, although there are emotional issues that may trigger it to occur more often—a feeling of paralysis in waking life, a feeling of being constrained or locked up. Metaphorically, you are aware that you are awake, but you feel completely paralyzed in your life. So you experience both a conscious and an unconscious state—and your body responds to both.
The Language of Symbols
The neocortex, the frontal lobe, is also the center of your episodic memory. It is the center of your waking, adult life, where you remember things and experience cognition, judgment, and choices. When you dream, you set aside conscious choices, decisions, and rational judgments, because you are moving into the unconscious, where everything is based on and communicated through symbols. This allows you to travel into the reality of your dreams, the unconscious reality, where anything is possible and messages can be conveyed in images that defy logic.
I can meet the president; you can leap like a gazelle. These things could not take place in the upper regions of the brain where you think rationally as an adult, where everything is based in common sense and logical expression.
When those areas shut down, the unconscious can communicate using the language of symbols without being limited by what is or is not possible, what does or does not make sense, in waking life. The unconscious world where dreams occur is a place without time or limits, where the lingua franca is the language of symbols.
Copyright 2017 by Doris E. Cohen, Ph.D.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Hampton Roads Publishing Co.
Dist by Red Wheel Weiser, redwheelweiser.com
Dreaming on Both Sides of the Brain: Discover the Secret Language of the Night
by Doris E. Cohen, Ph.D.
A dream is not just white noise or something that happens to you while you sleep. Dreams are the secret language of your unconscious. Drawing on years of clinical experience and her familiarity with Freud, myth, and sacred writings, Cohen presents a program that results in a life of abundance, texture, and self-awareness.
About the Author
Doris E. Cohen, PhD, has been a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist in private practice for more than 30 years, treating thousands of clients. Her approach uses therapy, hypnotherapy, past-life regressions, and dream analysis. A certified healer, metaphysical intuitive, and communicator with Guides and Angels of the Light, Doris has given more than 10,000 medical, spiritual, and relationship readings. She has also conducted numerous workshops and has lectured nationally and internationally.