Over the past half century, sleep has been abducted from its natural home in our hearts and minds and become exceedingly medicalised, says Dr Rubin Naiman, sleep and dream specialist at the University of Arizona Centre for Integrative Medicine, US, and author of HUSH: A Book of Bedtime Contemplations.
“We’ve been encouraged to view sleep as a strictly scientific and mechanistic phenomenon shrouded in medical complexities – a perspective that significantly limits our personal access to it,” he says.
There is no doubt that sleep supports a healthy waking life by restoring our energy, promoting immunity, facilitating learning and memory and much more, says Dr Naiman. However, our challenge is to appreciate the physiological mechanisms of sleep without sacrificing its essential transcendent qualities.
“Viewing sleep and dreams solely as functional limits our personal experience of them,” he says.
“This is similar to viewing food exclusively in terms of its nutritional value. Just as good food is both nourishing and delicious, sleep and dreams are health-promoting and also a potential source of serenity, joy and wonder.”
Because we can never fully understand sleep as an intellectual concept we must learn to be comfortable with its mystery, says Dr Naiman. Part of that mystery is dreaming, something that he – as well
as many yoga practitioners, psychologists and Buddhists – believes plays a key role in regulating our feelings and moods and in the psychological assimilation of daily life experiences.
Our dreams, our selves
Dreams are the mythic back story of our daily lives. Think of them as the brain, or the ego, sifting and sorting.
“Our dream symbols and themes are the pictures our individual dreaming minds come up with while our brains are processing our conscious and unconscious experiences of the last 24 to 48 hours, trying to make sense of our world,” says Brisbane-based dream therapist and author Jane Teresa Anderson. “As we dream, we try to fit our recent experiences in with our current understanding of the world, and mostly we manage to do that, even when our current understanding of the world is not serving us well.”