Overnight Therapy: Exploring The Illogical Adventure Of Dreams
It’s wild if you think about it. You’re asleep and then, suddenly, you’re in a movie. You are dreaming; somewhere else, maybe even someone else. Same but different. Sceptics may paint such imaginings as pure fiction, juvenile, when – dig a little deeper – it has far more connective tissue to our waking life. A little hidden door, a cocktail of our innermost secret recesses of the psyche. As Gloria Steinem said, dreaming is a form of planning; another way of seeing. Paul McCartney described the composition of Yesterday as being born from his deepest subconscious: “I just fell out of bed, found out what key I had dreamed it in… and I played it.” See, wild.
According to leading neuroscientist and author of Why We Sleep Matthew Walker, dreams can act as a form of “overnight therapy”, processing a back catalogue of autobiographical information stored up in the brain. And so often we are giddy to share and decode these findings with others, desperate to recite every ounce of detail before it slips away; before daytime reality resumes its less absurdist rhythm. This, too, can prove therapeutic, according to a new study that says speaking of our sleep-induced hallucinations, from the banal to the beautiful, increases empathy. “I think it’s helpful for people to share their dreams,” says Deirdre Barrett, a dream researcher at Harvard Medical School and author of Pandemic Dreams. “[Especially as] people’s dreams still seem to be more anxious than before the start of the pandemic.” Recalling one woman who was told in her dream that she had to home school an entire classroom, and another who had been appointed the first one-person Mars colony (while protesting she had not volunteered), Barrett says, “The exaggeration makes it funny. But it gets to something.”
What is that ‘something’? Fuzzier territory. A contributing factor to our increasing thirst to mine our dreams for meaning is facilitated by the emergence of apps to help you try and trace your nightly visions. Though, as dreams rarely make any literal sense, their interpretation should also not be taken quite so literally.
“I don’t believe all dreams have to do with wish-fulfilment,” Barrett explains. “The aspect of each dream is all over the place, as waking thought is, and some of your waking thought is fantasy or strategising. [When dreaming] our brains are in this more visual narrative, the areas [of our brain] associated with linear logic are dampened down.” It’s precisely that illogical adventure – leaping into another realm, which has no real beginning nor end – that is appealing. It makes sense we’d want to recollect and translate that experience. Journeys that can veer from chaotic to the inexplicably tedious. Sometimes they stay with you for a millisecond or a lifetime. Sometimes we are swept up in a land of stories of our very own creation. It’s a kind of magic, really.
From PM to AM, here are five virtual dreamcatchers to try…
- Dreambook: A good entry-level app to start journalling and categorising your dreams daily.
- Awoken: Master the art of lucid dreaming – being conscious that you’re dreaming, so much so that you can control it as it’s happening.
- Oniri: An all-rounder app including 500+ paths of dream interpretation, voice-note tools, lucid dream techniques and soothing sounds to help you fall asleep.
- Dreamboard: Pinterest for dreams, where you can create your own dream graph, building a clearer pattern over time.
- Mind Awake: A mindfulness app featuring meditations, audio courses and expert guidance to help improve sleep and remember your dreams.
Emma Firth is a London-based writer for British Vogue, W magazine, Elle, ES magazine and Rolling Stone UK, as well as an advice columnist and intimacy expert for Christopher Kane’s More Joy collection and creative platform