Do you energize your dream or your nightmare?

Today is August 20 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “do you energize your dream or your nightmare?” People who navigate the chaos have dreams as well as nightmares; they just focus their energy on the dreams. William James Adams, better known by his stage name, is an American musician, rapper, singer, songwriter, entrepreneur, actor, DJ, record producer and philanthropist. He is best known as a founding member of the hip hop group The Black Eyed Peas with whom he has received multiple awards.

Adams said “I see it, working on my dream, that’s my job. If I am going to pay attention to my nightmare, I should be able to work on my dream. One of them will take my energy, I'd rather give my energy to my dream than my nightmare.”

To dive into today’s reflection let us first define dreams, bad dreams, and nightmares. There are nuanced differences that anyone navigating the chaos will want to understand since giving energy to one over the other two is a critical choice to make.

Dreams can contend with deep emotions, dealing with loss and reunion, anger, sorrow, and fear. Dreams typically involve elements from waking life, such as known people or familiar locations, but they also often have a fantastical feel. In dreams, people may live out scenarios that would never be possible in real life, although they aren’t always positive.

Bad dreams and nightmares, however, are among the most startling and emotionally potent of remembered dreams. Even a partially remembered disturbing dream can linger in our waking minds. Nightmares are more emotionally disturbing and intense versions of bad dreams, a more severe form of the same essential phenomenon. One way nightmares are often distinguished from dreams is in whether the dream causes a person to wake—whether out of fear, or to put an end to the dream.

Rubin Naiman, a clinical professor at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine has noted that dreams have a function, but perhaps not the one most people might suspect. "Dreams do not exist, according to Naiman, “so you can try to interpret them to make yourself be a better person. Instead, dreams are believed to mediate memory consolidation and mood regulation.” Another way of viewing dreams is offered by Wendy Troxel, a behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation who has suggested they are “like overnight therapy.”

The National Sleep Foundation supports Troxel’s description and described in greater detail the necessity of sleep as therapy. “We tend to think of sleep as a time when the mind and body shut down. But this is not the case; sleep is an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs. Exactly how this happens and why our bodies are programmed for such a long period of slumber is still somewhat of a mystery. But scientists do understand some of sleep’s critical functions, and the reasons we need it for optimal health and wellbeing.

One of the vital roles of sleep is to help us solidify and consolidate memories. As we go about our day, our brains take in an incredible amount of information. Rather than being directly logged and recorded, however, these facts and experiences first need to be processed and stored; and many of these steps happen while we sleep. Overnight, bits and pieces of information are transferred from more tentative, short-term memory to stronger, long-term memory—a process called “consolidation.” Researchers have also shown that after people sleep, they tend to retain information and perform better on memory tasks. Our bodies all require long periods of sleep in order to restore and rejuvenate, to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones.”

Unfortunately, the National Sleep Foundation has reported millions of people lack sufficient sleep with at least 60 percent of adults having sleep problems a few nights a week or more. Most of those with these problems go undiagnosed and untreated. According to Robert Stickgold of Harvard Medical School: “We are now living in a worldwide test of the negative consequences of sleep deprivation," and it is costing us health and happiness. Explaining the impact of sleep deprivation on dreams Naiman said:

"When you're deprived, you're more likely to focus on the negative, which can not only increase the risk for depression and anxiety but also eat away at your resilience." But you can't experience these benefits without adequate sleep. If you're sleep deprived, you're most likely dream deprived, too…dreams help expand our minds and open our hearts. There's a profound suspension of judgment. You have a malleable sense of self, the fantastic is normal, and everything is meaningful. It's where creativity and empathy grow." For anyone trying to translate dreams into reality, it is nearly impossible to do so if you are too tired to dream!

Perhaps if we allowed ourselves adequate time to sleep and rest, we would then provide more opportunities to dream. Do you energize your dream or your nightmare?