Thursday, 30 October 2014

Influencing your dreams - 6 common stimuli

While we are sleeping, our bodies attempt to remain in the sleep state to the extent that many external stimuli become intimately interwoven with the content of our dream narratives, seamlessly incorporating outside interferences into the dream storyline. Lauri Loewenberg, a certified dream analyst and member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams suggests that many influences - sounds, smells and sensations - can shape our dreams.

It is very common to incorporate sounds into our dreams - particularly alarm clocks, which may feature in the dream as a different type of noise, such as a smoke detector or whistle. It is possible to use apps which create a noise during the dream state to intentionally influence the dream content, but Loewenberg warns that too much external interference may be detrimental to the message of the dream and may disrupt the cognitive processes which the dream seeks to accomplish for mental wellbeing. However, it may be interesting to play your favourite soundtrack of atmospheric music while you sleep to see how these sounds become incorporated into your dream experience. Loewenberg recommends using white noise for restful sleep, as this drowns out other atmospheric noises, enabling organic dreaming.

Studies have shown that smells can positively or negatively influence our dream content. Loewenberg suggest that pleasant smells will yield favourable emotional responses and this is because the limbic system in the brain, which receives sensations of smell also deals with emotions. Scented room fragrances, candles or perfumes can be used to influence the nature of your dreams.

Sleeping position
A Hong Kong study revealed that sleeping on your front is likely to increase your chances of experiencing a sexual dream, being persecuted, suffocated or physically restrained in some way. This may be because when sleeping on your front your genitals are in direct contact with your bed and are therefore stimulated. Additionally, your breathing may be inhibited, producing feelings of restriction or suffocation. Sleeping position is also important for dream recall - you should remain in the position you wake up in to recall your dream or re-enter an earlier dream state.

State of mind
Depression not only suppresses dream recall, but may have an impact on the colour palette of your dreams. Studies show that those who suffer from depressive moods are more likely to dream in muted colours, grey shades or black and  white. Loewenberg also suggests that your state of mind can influence the weather or climate in your dreams - anxiety often causes dreams of tornadoes (spinning out of control), depression leads to dreams of rain or storms and a calm, happy state of mind tends to influence sunny warm weather dreams. 

Quitting a habit
Quitting may influence your dream because you are either mentally focused on the habit or substance you are denying yourself (and therefore dream about it recurrently) or because that substance was inhibiting your dreaming or dream recall (studies suggest that using cannabis can have a negative effect on dreaming and dream recall, with abstinence causing more rich, vivid dreams).

Drugs, vitamins & diet
There are many lucid dreaming supplements available on the market, but many mainstream vitamins and recreational drugs have an effect on dreaming also. Some pharmaceuticals can affect REM sleep and so have a major impact on your dreaming - for example, anti-depressants have been found to increase dream recall, whereas depression has a negative effect on a dreamer's ability to remember their dreams. Recreational drugs such as cannabis may hinder dreaming and prevent effective dream recall, while substances such as nicotine are thought to be responsible for vivid dreaming. In particular, research has shown that Vitamin B6 can significantly increase dreaming and dream recall and various vitamins and nutrients present in  dream-boosting foods may also have the same effect.

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