Sleep, Dreams And Why They Matter
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Health and Wellness

Sleep, Dreams And Why They Matter

It's important to get the right rest.

Sleep, Dreams And Why They Matter
The Red Balloon Photography

Did you know that humans sleep a third of their lives away? Not to say that sleep isn’t really, fantastically nice, but that’s roughly 26 years of your time on this Earth that you spend lying essentially comatose and completely vulnerable and rather useless. So why bother? Why not stay awake for the rest of your life and reclaim those years to do with as you please?

In order to dissuade some eager people from trying never to sleep ever again, I’d like to say that death is the answer here but that’s not entirely true (it’s only true for rats — so far as we know). The real answer is that we don’t have an answer. Based on my attempts to pull an all-nighter and then some, I think (in my one hundred percent scientific opinion) that it’s safe to say that you’d eventually just pass out. In the meantime we know that your concentration, perception, and other higher mental processes very much suffer. That and the fact that we feel rejuvenated, refreshed, and alert after a good night’s sleep suggests that sleep does serve a vital purpose in our lives.

What that purpose is, however, is rather foggy. Some theories include that it’s an evolutionary trait developed to keep animals out of harm’s way during times where they were particularly vulnerable (i.e. during the night), that it serves to conserve energy in a time that’s the least efficient to search for food, and that it correlates to the structure and organization of the brain — particularly so for a child’s developing brain. Another theory, my personal favorite, is that sleep allows the body to repair itself. After all, functions like muscle growth and tissue repair occur, for the most part, during sleep.

But none of this is really proven. It’s only theory.

Either way, assuming sleep wasn’t just invented by someone who was too bored to stay awake, it’s the best we’ve got. Okay, so sleep is pretty important. And, rather unfortunately, it’s also pretty instantaneous from our point of view. Not only do we spend 33% of our lives asleep, we spend it unconscious. 33% of our time here happens when we’re not looking.

But since being conscious of that 33% defeats the purpose of actually sleeping, the next best thing we have to being cognizant or at the very least entertained during those eight hours of dead time is dreaming. Did you know that humans have an average of four to six dreams a night? Did you know that they usually happen during REM sleep when your brain is most active (and rather desperate for you to stay asleep)?

Why, though? Assuming it’s not your kindly brain’s way of distracting you from the fact that your body is lying on a slab completely comatose and unbelievably vulnerable, there are a few theories. One, dreaming could act as a sort of therapy session, allowing your brain to work through emotional problems. Two, dreams can serve as a theoretical boxing ring that helps practice your fight or flight responses (think: you’re being chased or you came to school without pants on). Three, dreams let you practice something whether it be piano, your interview skills, or how to fix the lawn mower. Four, really basic here, dreams let you be creative (see: artists attributing great ideas to their dreams). And finally, dreams are a way for your brain to organize the day’s events. I.e. That embarrassing thing you did today? Long term memory. The name of the new coworker you’ll be working with? Forgotten forever.

Okay, so if dreams are so important and entertaining and help make up for those eight hours we otherwise spend as unresponsive blobs, why don’t we remember the majority of them? That’s a good question. I...don’t know. But there are ways to learn to remember more of them. The best method is to tell yourself before bed that you’re going to remember your dreams. It sounds cheesy, but it’ll get you in the right mindset. In conjunction, keep a dream journal. It’s so easy, too easy, to wake up, remember a dream, think wow that’s a weird dream is my subconscious okay?, say you’re going to remember it, and then forget it the second after you swing your legs off the bed and stretch.

Okay, but let’s be honest sleep is pretty cool. Not only does your body do some nice things for you, but you also get to vividly hallucinate in the meantime. I mean, come on, who even needs drugs when you can go to sleep, feel better, and fly at the same time?

If only you could control when you fly and where you fly and what you do when you get there. Wait! You can! It’s called lucid dreaming. With some practice, you can actually spend 33% of your life doing everything from flying to having tea with Abraham Lincoln to finding your way through a corn maze except the maze is made of huge Kit Kats.

To do this (running the risk of being as cheesy as telling yourself to dream before bed) you have to constantly ask yourself if you're dreaming. Doing homework. Am I dreaming? Walking up the steps to work. Am I dreaming? Watching your favorite show. Is this a dream? You just have to ask and ask, and it has to be so regular and automatic that even when you’re sleeping you’d ask yourself. The goal is to then say either no, unfortunately this is real life or yes, oh my god I’m lucid dreaming. But how do you tell? Barring any Inception spinning top drama, there are two easy ways to determine if you’re asleep. One, pinch yourself. I know this is the ultimate cliché, but you really won’t feel it if you're asleep. Two, check the time. Look at a clock and see what it says then look away and look back. If the two times are radically different then you’re probably dreaming. It’s hard to keep little details consistent when your mind has much better things to do like forgetting the name of your new coworker.

However, you might end up waking yourself up in the beginning because as soon as you’re lucid you run the risk of being conscious. But then you also have the ability to wake yourself up from a nightmare, and that’s always a plus.

Setting aside the unfathomable coolness of lucid dreaming, though sleep might seem like a big waste of time once you realize that it’s a third of your life you’re missing out on, it’s actually somewhat of a big deal. I mean, people can only go without sleep for so long. That’s gotta make it slightly important, right? Important how, though, is the bigger question. Well there are a lot of theories about what your brain actually does for you while you're asleep and one could be true or all of them could be true or none of them could be true. Same with dreaming. There are tons of theories and no answers which is rather frustrating when you realize that 33% of your life is spent doing those very things. Though dreaming and lucid dreaming make that harrowing idea a little easier to swallow, take comfort in the fact that sleeping makes your waking life better.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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