Making sense of the stuff of dreams

March 18, 2023

(Jean Chamberlain Froese)

The writer with son Jonathan, 10 years old at the time, napping during a family holiday in East Africa


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(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, March 18, 2023)

A dream is something imagined for the betterment of humanity. “I have a dream,” is what Martin Luther King said 60 years ago in a prophetic speech about justice and racial reconciliation.

We remember because, as Solomon put it 3,000 years earlier, “Without a vision the people will perish.” We remember because we need visionary dreams, and dream-like desires, like we need air.

The other type of dream comes in our sleep. You’re flying. No, you’re being chased. Good grief, now you’re naked, in public. Surveys show that in some Western nations, including Canada, it’s common to dream of your teeth falling out. What’s with that? Then, our many other dreams.

It’s good to consider because World Sleep Day slipped by yesterday. It’s an understated part of life. Live to 80 and sleep 20-some years with about 100,000 dreams. Most people dream three to five times nightly.

This is it. Dreams arrive like clockwork, like a train to the station. We board with no choice in the matter, then travel to God knows where. Then, unlike those visionary dreams, we usually forget the entire trip.

In my family I’m the king of dreams. “Did you dream?” I’ll ask the children’s mother, or the children, many mornings. And about my own dreams? Hmm. “Is your father okay?” A friend recently asked Child #2, my boy, after hearing me scream from another floor of the house during a nightmare. My dreams, like anyone’s, can reach dark places. Apparently I scream loud.

Dreams have and haven’t been recognized as meaning much. The ancient Greeks (although Aristotle was an outlier) and the ancient Hebrews (think “Joseph And His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”) saw dreams as a divine language, a code to be unlocked. Most of the world’s cultures historically had similar understandings.

Such a language was seemingly forgotten over the centuries, certainly in the enlightened and skeptical West, often fixated only on the material world. This, until Freud, and more so Jung, cracked the ice and opened new ways to research dreams and the human psyche.

Not to say that every dream, every strange flight into the imagination, has hidden meaning. One purpose of dreams seems to be to simply declutter, to edit and file the day’s events. That’s crucial for the brain’s restoration and wellness. And for creativity and problem solving. It’s no surprise that some discoveries – consider the periodic table and the atom’s structure itself – came with the help of dreams. There’s a reason we say “It’s good to sleep on it.”

REM dream sleep also helps you empathize and relate better with others, say researchers, even as it can help with something like weight loss, considering you’re prone to eat more when sleep deprived.

Some of history’s power nappers, by the way, include Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy. “I’m having a JFK,” we’ll say in our home when having a nap. But if you dream during naps (it’s best to keep naps short, to about 20 minutes) that shows you’re likely sleep deprived, needing more night sleep.

In fact, globally, we get about two hours less nightly sleep than 100 years ago. Blame modern life stressors. And sloppy living. We allow distractions to keep us from that healing dream sleep. Further, in “Why We Sleep,” UC Berkeley researcher Matthew Walker notes that the road between sleep disorders and mental illness, both on the rise, is “a two-way street.”  Some claim we’re in a world sleep crisis.

Have three teens in your home and I’ll guarantee that your world will have a sleep crisis.  Then again, some people – there’s my bride – need less sleep, while others, especially creative types, like the dude in my mirror, need more.

Be that as it may, it’s the weekend. So don’t get too uptight about any of this. Just have a JFK sometime. I will. Or maybe I’ll sleep for longer and, with any luck, dream of a fine summer day.



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March 18, 2023 • Posted in ,
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4 thoughts on “Making sense of the stuff of dreams”

  1. “To die. To sleep. No more. And by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. To die. To sleep. To sleep! Perchance to dream. Aye, there’s the rub! For in that sleep of death what dreams my come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause.”

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