Perhaps you’ve experienced this scenario. There is something difficult weighing on your mind. Maybe you have a problem that needs to be addressed; a decision that needs an answer; an uncomfortable relationship issue. The difficulty often feels more and more overwhelming as nighttime approaches. And then you “sleep on it.” When you awaken in the morning you’ve got a fresh perspective. The problem that seemed so insurmountable last night does not feel so big. Why is this?
Studying sleep can clue us into what may be going on. There are physical changes that happen when we are in dream sleep. Sleep scientist Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at University of California at Berkeley, studies the way that stress hormones decrease significantly during REM (rapid eye movement), dreaming sleep. He hypothesizes that this hormonal shift produces an emotional healing effect that can soften difficult experiences from our waking life. He suggests that this is why when we “sleep on it”, we feel more able to cope.
Other sleep studies have indicated that deprivation of REM sleep leads to a shortened life span. Still more studies show a relationship between decreased REM sleep and depression as well as Alzheimer’s disease. These studies are interesting but it is important to note that they show an association, not necessarily causation.
Studying and researching dream sleep and how it affects our health and well being is important work and has its merits. But let’s not limit ourselves to clinical scrutiny of dream sleep.
What happens while we are dreaming can be healing in ways that are not measurable in a laboratory setting, but are of great importance in our lives.
6 Surprising Ways That Dreams Can Heal Us
1. Healing grief:
Clients often dream of deceased loved ones which can offer profound healing. Sometimes the departed loved one shows up in a dream to communicate that they are “ok.” Or the loved one may offer words of wisdom from a different perspective now that they exist in this different level of consciousness. And sometimes, they show up and we just get to be with them again. Dreams are a great place for us to meet with our deceased loved ones because it is in this in-between space where we are able to let go of the perceived barriers between the world of the living and the world of the dead. These kinds of dreams often have a very “real” quality. A 13 year old boy recently shared his dream with me. In it, his deceased grandfather came to spend the day with him. They took a walk together in the park and then they went to a fancy restaurant together. This dream was especially meaningful because he had never had a chance to meet his grandfather before he died. Spending this special dream time with his grandfather felt like a miraculous gift.
2. Helping to heal trauma:
Traumatic experiences make a strong imprint on us, especially when we are utterly alone and unsupported during the experience. Dreams can offer us a chance to process some of these experiences from a new healing perspective. Dreams related to trauma may begin to show up when we are stronger and more emotionally ready to process some of these difficult experiences. Dreams may also bring guides or support persons to help us step through the experience.
One client had an experience of unprocessed sexual trauma. Dreams started to show up gradually over time allowing her to process the experience in new healing ways. Initially, just knowing that her dreams were supporting her in this way was healing in and of itself. It was not a quick fix but over time her dreams gave her experiences that allowed her to gradually begin to tap into a new kind of resilience and power within her. In addition, she experienced gentle healing as she encountered guides that showed up in her dreams in a loving and supportive way.
3. Healing our relationships with others:
Dreams have the ability to show us different perspectives on how we approach our relationships. It is common for us humans to get locked into looking at other people – even our most cherished loved ones, from our own particular lens. What if we could put on new glasses and see from a fresh perspective? Dreams plop us into different scenes and ways of seeing things that can help us shift. And when we shift, we can see things from another’s point of view. This is an extremely valuable gift that our dreams offer us. One of my favorite Wayne Dyer quotes is, “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” Dreams have a clever way of showing us this. For example, we may dream that we are yelling at someone (perhaps a loved one). And perhaps the very next dream will include a dream character yelling at you, letting you experience how it feels from this other perspective. This kind of experiential awareness in the dream space has the potential to open us to a new, self-reflective way of approaching our relationships.
4. Healing our relationship with ourselves:
Sadly, many of us spend a lot of energy beating ourselves up. This is not a natural way to live and can be destructive in many ways. Our dreams show us our worthiness and our beauty and help us to know it and to feel it. For years, I have struggled with my own self judgment. One way this has manifested is that I have had a habit of avoiding looking at myself in the mirror. My dreams have helped me see myself in a different way. I’ve had dreams where I see myself in the mirror and I do not look away. I can see and feel my deeper beauty. As I bring these dream experiences more and more into my consciousness, I am able to shift into a different way of being with my self. I am letting go of society’s limiting parameters of what is beautiful and what is not. My dreams give me a different kind of perspective that allows me to step closer to a place of self love. What’s more is that letting go of self judgment and living in a place of self love opens the door to letting go of judgment for others.
5. Healing our longing for creative expression.
The conventional world has a way of squashing our creative expression. How many people have you heard say, “I’m not good at art.” “I can’t sing.” “I’m not creative.” Our dreams cut through these conditioned and damaging ways of thinking. I believe there is a desire within each of us to create in some way. Your dreams can show that to you even if the truth of it has been buried pretty deeply. I dreamt of a woman who filled my hands with art materials. When I talked about this dream I felt unexpected tears arise as I touched into a hidden longing for my own creative expression. The dream affirmed that I have the desire for creative expression and I also have an abundance of materials and support.
6. Healing our relationship with Spirit.
Some people have had difficult experiences with their religious upbringing. Dogma, rules, and conditioned beliefs can keep us in a tight spot and sometimes connection to the greater source gets cut off. Or in other cases, we were brought up in a culture of emptiness where spiritual concerns were not addressed or valued. Dreams offer a natural way to reignite our connection with awe, wonder and the divine mysteries. Dreams can be a portal to a spiritual connection that feels exactly right for you.
Dreams have a natural capacity to heal us. They are an amazing and abundant resource that each of us has access to. The next time you wake up with a remembered dream, be on the look out for some of these ways that your dreams are offering you their potent healing medicine.