Monday, April 30, 2007

Dare to Dream 1


Our Dreams may affect our lives (and vice versa) more than we ever realized, says groundbreaking new research. For 11 years, a 58 year-old anthropologist kept a journal of nearly 5,000 dreams. By analyzing color patterns in the dreams, Arizona-based researcher Robert Hoss could accurately predict certain things about the man's emotional state. Hoss correctly identified two separate years when the man experienced crises in his life.
How was Hoss able to gauge the dreamer's turmoil? "The clues were in the colors," he says. The anthropologist's dominant dream hues were reds and blacks, which spiked during difficult times. "Even without knowing the events in his life," Hoss observes, "we accurately determined the emotional states based on those colors in his dreams."
Hoss is among a growing group of researchers who, thanks to cutting edge medical technology and the innovative psychological research, are beginning to decipher the secrets hidden in our dreams and the role dream plays in our lives. A look at some of their latest discoveries can give us new insights into the language of dreams and help us make the most of our time asleep.


Dreams are a way for the subconscious to communicate with the conscious mind. Dreaming of something you're worried about, researchers say, is the brain's way of helping you rehearse for a disaster in case it occurs. Dreaming of a challenge, like giving a presentation at work or playing sports, can enhance your performance. And cognitive neuroscientists have discovered that dreams and the rapid eye movement (REM) that happens while you're dreaming are linked to our ability to learn and remember.
Dreaming is a "mood regulatory system," says Rosaling Cartwright, PhD, chairman of the psychology department at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. She's found that dreams HELP PEOPLE WORK THROUGH THE DAY'S EMOTIONAL QUANDARIES." IT'S LIKE HAVING A BUILT-IN THERAPIST. While we sleep, dreams compare new emotional experience to old memories, creating plaid-like patterns of old images laid on top of new ones. As she puts it, "You may wake up and think, What was Uncle Harry doing in my dream? I haven't seen him for 50 years. But the old and new images are emotionally related." IT IS THE JOB OF THE CONSCIOUS MIND TO FIGURE OUT THE RELATIONSHIP.
In fact, dream emotions can help real therapists treat patients undergoing traumatic life events. In a new study of 30 recently divorced adults, Cartwright tracked their dreams over a five-month period, measuring their feelings toward their ex-spouses. She discovered that those who were angriest at the spouse while dreaming had the best chance of successfully coping with divorce. "If their dreams were bland," Cartwright says, "they hadn't started to work through their emotions and deal with the divorce," For therapists, this finding will help determine whether divorced men or women need counseling or have already dreamed their troubles away.


No devise lets researchers probe the content of dreams while we sleep, but scientists are finding new ways to interpret dreams once we've awakened. Forget Freud's notion that dreams contain images with universal meanings. A new generation of psychologists insists that dream symbols differ depending on the dreamer. In a recent study, University of Ottawa psychology professor Joseph De Koninck asked 13 volunteers to make two lists: one of details recalled from recent dreams, and another of recent events in their waking lives. When analysts were asked to match which volunteer experienced which dream, they failed. De Koninck's conclusion: Each person understands his or her dreams better than anyone else -- including traditional psychoanalysts. In a dream, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar -- or almost anything else.


A century after Sigmund Freud pioneered the field of dream analysis, scientists are only not decoding the biology of how we manufacture dreams. At the Sleep Neuroimaging Research Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, researcher Eric Nofzinger, MD, delves into the brains of sleeping subjects using PET scans normally employed to detect cancer and other diseases. (The orange color, right, signals brain activity in the cortex.) [Sorry no picture.] By injecting subjects with mildly radioative glucose, he's traced the source of dreams to the limbic system, a primitive part of the brain that controls emotions. During dreaming, the limbic system explodes like fireworks with neural activity, suffussing our dreams with drama.
"That's why so many dreams are emotional events," says Nofzinger, "where we're running from danger or facing an anxious situation. The part of the brain that controls dreams also orchestrates our instincts, drives, sexual behavior and fight-or-flight response." Meanwhile, the frontal lobes of the brain that govern logic disengage, explaining why dreams are often bizarre combinations of events and people.
"There's just no evidence of universal dream symbols," says De Koninck. "My advise is to throw away your dream dictionary if you really want to interpret your dreams."


Today, psychologists are applying modern technology to probe the content of dreams. Hoss uses a computer based approach called content analysis to interpret the colors in dreams. More than 80% of people dream in color, he says, though only a quarter of them recall the shade the next morning. To collect data, he analyzed nearly 24,000 dreams, catalogued in two databases at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts. His study suggested that specific colors represent particular emotions (for example red means action, excitement and desire; blue equals calmness, tranquility and harmony; black connotes fear, anxiety and intimidation).
But, as with symbols and action, one size doesn't fit all when it comes to interpretation. Every dreamer draws on a different palette to reflect personal associations. "Using color is your brain's way of painting your dreams with your emotion," says Hoss.
Psychologist Gayle Delaney, PhD, founding president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, believes that dreamers themselves are the best interpreters of their time in dreamland. She supports a "dream interview technique, which asks people to answer a series of straightforward questions in order to gain insights into their recollections. From her office in San Francisco, Delaney uses this process to help single people analyze and better understand their romantic relationships through their dreams.The dreaming mind is more insightful about the people in your life than your waking mind."


Psychologists have long known that people ca solve their problems at work and home by "sleeping on it." The challenge has always been to train yourself to dream up the solutions. Individuals are advised to ponder questions just before falling asleep (Should I take this job? Should I marry that guy?) and then let the subconscious provide the answers. It's known artists looking for inspiration who simply dream up a future show of their art and wake up with plenty of new painting ideas. More and more people are learning these techniques to control their dreams.
Some researchers believe that you can guide your dreams while you're sleeping. In recent years, Stephen LaBerge, Phd, has pioneered a way of directing the sleeping mind through "Lucid dreaming," in which a sleeping person realizes he or she is dreaming while it is happening. Lucid dreamers can experience fantasy adventures - like flying to the moon or traveling through time - while being fully aware that they're dreaming. Just being in a lucid dream is a turn-on for people.
According to LaBerge, a psycho physiologist who directs the Lucidity Institute in Palo Alto, CA, lucid dreamers can use the experience for a variety of purposes: problem solving, developing creative ideas and healing.
Lucid dreaming is great because it's free and available to everybody."
Well, not entirely free. Although everyone has the potential to dream lucidly, it rarely happens routinely without special training or temperament. The Lucidity Institute operates instructional workshops and retreats to spread the gospel. LaBerge has even developed a $500 devise -- called the NovaDreamer ( helps individuals become participants in their dreams. Once the sleep-mask device recognizes wearer is experiencing REM sleep characteristic of dreaming, it emits a flashing red light that is designed to seep into the person's dream. "The cue says that you're dreaming so you can open yourself up to any kind of experience you want. After all, it's your dream."
Indeed, your dreams are like private movies where you are the star, director and writer all at once. You are also the most insightful movie critic -- without the need of a couch. The best interpreter of your dreams is YOU.

No comments: