How to have a good night's sleep
“The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to the unconscious activities of the mind”
Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams.
What is dreaming?
When we are asleep the brain replaces its cells and makes sense of the day's information which it hasn't yet had a chance to do and then stores it to memory. We often say that we will hold off making a decision until we “have slept on it” and as well as this buying us time to give our answer it enables our minds to work on the decision whilst we sleep so that we can see how we feel about it with fresh eyes in the morning.
Our brains are amazing organs. They know what we need and work to make that happen by integrating memories and emotions for us. While we are asleep, resting our bodies and renewing our cells we are unable to control our minds and so our unconscious is in the driving seat resolving issues for us.
Dreams are these involuntary images, emotions and sensations which occur whilst we sleep. As Freud said they can also be useful information for us direct from our unconscious. If something is on our mind but we haven't yet realised or haven't had chance to think about it then it will often come up in our dreams in some shape or form. This includes things we are concerned about, ideas and solutions to problems.
So what are nightmares?
If we have experienced something scary which we don't want to think about - for example we may have had a near miss whilst driving our car - we can distract ourselves away from thinking about it by keeping busy and occupied whilst we are awake. But when we are asleep we are unable to do this.
Our unconscious will attempt to process this event for us because it knows we need to do this and it can freely go about its business without us controlling it. The more frightening the event or memory the more dramatic the dream may be. So dreams may become disturbing, hence nightmares.
It is best to process stuff in the day when we are awake. As difficult as it is, we really need to spend time thinking about the scary event rather than shutting it out. Or even better - talk to someone about it. That way we have allowed our mind to start integrating the event by bringing it to our consciousness, accepting it and digesting it which makes it less frightening. Then the nightmares should diminish and we should sleep more soundly.
Working with dreams
I love working with dreams with my clients. Dreams can be enlightening, confirming or just downright frustrating! Most of us don't remember our dreams on waking. If a client wants to bring dreams to our session then I ask them to keep a dream journal. I suggest they keep a notebook and pen by their bedside so that as soon as they awake from a dream they are able to write down as much as they can remember about the dream.
When they come to their therapy session I ask them to tell me as much of the dream as they can remember, referring to their journal if necessary. Then I ask them what they think the dream may mean to them and how it made them feel. If it isn't obvious what the dream is about we explore what was going on for the client at the time of the dream, if there is a possible trigger for the dream, and work out why the dream may be appearing at this time. We will see if we can make sense of it together.
How to have a good night's sleep
- Establish a night time routine.
- Work out how much sleep you need and go to bed early enough to get it.
- Allow your food to digest at least two hours before you go to bed.
- Avoid caffeine after 5pm and alcohol late at night.
- Write down anything that is worrying you or that you need to do urgently tomorrow.
- Screen time negatively affects sleep so turn off all screens at least half an hour before retiring.
- Have a hot milky drink or chamomile tea before bedtime.
- Attend a late yoga class or practice a few postures at the end of the evening.
- Relax in a warm bath with candles or soft lighting.
- Drop some lavender oil on your pillow, or rub some into your temples.
- Use a meditation CD or podcast to relax, breathe deeply and unwind.
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Keeley Townsend BA (Hons), Ad.Dip.CP with Distinction, MNCS (Acc)December 14th, 2009
Imi Lo: Specialist Psychotherapist, Art Therapist (MMH,FRSA,UKCP,HCPC)March 29th, 2015
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