Dream control — it may sound like science fiction today. But some believe it will play a far bigger role in the future of health care. Scientists have long known about the benefits of deep sleep, but a growing body of research shows that dreams are integral to our health, and that we can shape our dreams for therapeutic purposes.
One landmark study looked at the impact of dreams on recently divorced women with untreated clinical depression. The study, led by Rosalind Cartwright of Rush University in Chicago, found that women who incorporated the ex-spouse, or relationship, into their dreams, not only scored better on tests of mood the next morning, but were far more likely to recover from their depression than women who either did not dream about the marriage, or could not recall their dreams.
Another study, conducted at Harvard Medical School, compared how dreamers and non-dreamers fared on a cognitive task. The researchers asked subjects to navigate through a 3D maze and either nap for 90 minutes or stay awake. Result? Nappers who dreamed about the task got much better at navigating the maze when they tried it again. The scientists believe that the dreamers were visually encoding the pictures in their dreams.
Given the growing awareness of the health benefits of dreams, sleep scientists are increasingly focusing on developing techniques, such as “imagery rehearsal therapy,” to enable people to shape what happens in their subconscious. (For instance, people who have bad dreams about sharks are instructed to replace the sharks with dolphins.)
For more information about dreams, please see Good Housekeeping’s 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Dreams and Dr. Oz’s 5 Ways to Dream to Better Your Health. And, for a deeper look at the health uses of dreams, check out psychiatrist Myron Gluckman’s book, “Dreaming: An Opportunity for Change.”