Have you ever been having the most amazing dream and suddenly you wake up for no reason at all? Your alarm’s not going off, it’s still dark which means you’re not sleeping in, something just happens, like a flick of a switch, that pulls you from your dream? Like some cruel joke fate plays on you when you’re actually having a good dream, and which of course, never happens when you’re having a nightmare and praying just to wake up. I know the feeling.
A couple days ago I had a dream that I ran into Mark Wahlberg in a grocery store, in the produce section to be exact. Obviously I was seriously star struck and spilled some incoherent version of “hey” and he smiled and said “Hi!”, shook my hand and signed the back of my t-shirt…apparently I had nothing better for him to sign, say like, one of the thousands of receipts that are normally shoved into the bottom on my purse. After the autograph, he suggested we take a couple pictures with my phone. And not just any photos, silly photos. That’s definitely MY subconscious, because I don’t take normal or “cute” pictures, I only take ones goofing off. Anywho, during our mini photo session I was ripped out of my dream for some unknown reason, completely distraught that I missed my chance at kissing Mark Wahlberg. And it wasn’t the first time I’ve left a great dream prematurely. It’s so frustrating because it seems like you always get woken up from the good dreams but you can never wake up (as hard as you try!) from the bad ones.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can make your literal dreams happen, you just have to know how.
As a psych major, one of the things you learn about is ‘sleep’, and all its glorious processes. From the actual biology of REM & NREM, circadian rhythms and the hormones released while sleeping to the theories of ‘consciousness’ and 'dreaming', to dream interpretations. It's actually one of the most interesting classes because everybody sleeps and everybody dreams (whether you can remember them or not, you do dream), which make it very applicable to your (or your friends') life. Given how much we know about everything, it’s amazing to me that there are still so many unknown things about ‘sleep’.
“Curiouser and curiouser” as my friend Lewis Carroll would say. But it’s true. Have you ever thought about how strange it is that for 6-9 hours a day, our bodies shut down and we are, for all intensive purposes, basically dead to the world? I mean sure, you wake slightly as you toss and turn, but for the most part, we’re just there, completely shut off from what’s going on around us. Kinda creepy when you think about it isn’t it?
For a long time, no one believe that we had any power over our dreams, and in some ways, that’s still true. But we have a lot more control than you may think. My Professor taught us some really interesting tricks, a sort of easy “how to”, if you’d like to learn how to take more control over your dreams.
How to continue your dream after you’ve woken up:
1. Don’t move. If you wake up from a good dream, and you’d like to return to it, you have to stay in the same position you were in when you were having that dream. So don't move, not even an inch or small movement.
2. Keeping your eyes closed improves the chances that you’ll be able to slide back into your dream.
3. This might seem obvious, but think about the events that happened before, where you left off, sort of like hitting 'rewind', play it back a little without changing anything, and then think where you want the dream to go. Studies show you can manipulate your dreams by visualizing the way you’d like them to end up.
How to take control of your dreams while you’re in them:
Yes, it is possible. It might sound a lot like scenes from Divergent or Inception but it’s true, you really can control your dreams. I've done it on numerous occasions. It’s called “lucid dreaming”, the state of consciousness when the dreamer is aware that he or she is dreaming. Patrick McNamara, PhD who teaches at Boston University School of Medicine and at the Dream Center says to
“consider the fact that the dreamer quite clearly has awareness and self-consciousness. He can discriminate the real from the unreal so he is not insane. The ability to reason and to engage in logical thought is intact. Access to the dreamer’s autobiographical memories is intact. The ability to take on third person perspective is intact so the dreamer can consider, entertain and imagine what another character in the dream is thinking or feeling as well. Indeed whole interactions, dialogues between the dreamer and dream characters can take place just as in waking life.”
Think of the dreamer (you) as both writer and narrator, the author and the protagonist of a story; you are able to create while in the dream as well as play a character amongst the other characters. But how does one go into lucid dreaming? Psychologists are still at debate about that one, but there are several theories.
1. The first one is easy in that just learning or reading (like you are now) makes you more likely to be able to lucidly dream. Now that the idea is there, you'll be able to access it while you're sleeping.
2. Become more self-aware. For most people, lucidity occurs spontaneously in dreams; you may just suddenly think "Wait, this is a dream" or "I'm dreaming right now!", without realizing what that means or what you can do. According to theory, being self aware helps you to know when you are in a dream state and therefore lucid.
3. Visualization. Before you go to bed, think about what you want to dream of and even how you can "reality check" in your dream so that you know you're lucid.
For me, it's not something I necessarily set out to do, it usually just occurs. But now I know what I'm looking for, when those moments happen, I realize I can manipulate my dreams to go where I want them to go. You might even be doing it without realizing that you're actually doing it, at least, that was the case with me. But just realize it doesn't have to be the thought "okay, I'm dreaming right now", it can be when you have moments in your dreams where your fact checking instances/things to real life (or your memories), those are "lucid dreams", because even while you're in your dream, you're realizing the difference between reality and your dream world.
This is a really good technique for getting over nightmares too. A lot of times we have reoccurring nightmares because they're things we need to address in our waking life, emotions or situations or memories we need to face in order to move on. This is especially prominent in people who have experienced traumatic events or have been exposed to traumatic stress. This is heavily relevant right now due to the amount of soldiers, police officers and first responders involved in war/terror attacks/violence who are now being diagnosed with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). But the therapy technique can be applied to those of us who don't suffer from PTSD but may have reoccurring nightmares. In a study done by Barry Krakow, M.D. et al., published on PsychiatryOnline, they found this type of therapy overwhelmingly effective. They used "imagery rehearsal for treatment of nightmares (rehearsing images of a changed nightmare), a cognitive imagery approach that encourages the user to "change the nightmare any way you wish," according to the model of Neidhardt et al. and then rehearse the "new dream" while awake." If we apply this to our life, we can help ourselves to overcome our nightmares, not just the dream, but the meaning behind the dream that affects us when we're awake too.
Applying these principles is really all about being self aware; taking time to think about ourselves, who we really are, what we need as individuals from life and our relationships, and accepting and confronting our emotions. We can take back control of our dreams. They are ours and we have the power to either shape them or eradicate them from our minds.
Besides, since we can't hang out with Mark Wahlberg in real life, we might as well learn how to control our minds so that we can in our dream world, right?!