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Sleep While You Can

The Earth and all of its creations follow a rhythm. It’s like a clockwork that assists us in functioning at several levels. The natural rhythm flows in loops which foster symbiotic relationships and brings about universal relativity. Consider the cycle of day and night- the dawn which brings the day, the sunrise that impels a bird to sing, and the plants to rise, flowers to bloom, and animals to awake. Think of the bodily processes that follow the rising sun at a physiological level. It involves the tempting thirst and hunger, and the relieving excretion of the body, the inevitable precipitation of the waking mind to socialize and adequately beaver away. The daybreak which brings wakefulness then implies that the nightfall which brings relaxation is a cyclical process, one that is a precursor and a successor to/of each other.

Picture Courtesy: Vaibhav Nakhale

Wakefulness is consciousness since it is a complex configuration of our mind-body and soul. It is a state of awareness that is natural to us all, regardless of belonging to the plant or animal kingdoms. It is due this alertness that we can perceive the world, give an ode of thanks to mother nature and God or simply check our mobile phones. On the contrary, sleep is as dispositional as is a state of unconsciousness. It is less demanding of the physical and mental facets of any living being. Human beings, plants and animals are all capable of waking up, socializing, eating and resting. However, unlike plants, animals, including human beings, have vivid sleeping patterns and timetables. Our sleep consists of cycles such as REM (Rapid Eye-Movement) and non-REM sleep. It follows stages in which brain and neuronal activities alter perception while also temporarily immobilizing muscles and producing dreams.

The darkness that is brought about by shut eyelids results in relaxation and sleep. Sleep is essential to our survival, for it allows us to relax and recuperate. It aids in memory consolidation, metabolism and immune functions. Moreover, it also regulates mood, cardiovascular and respiratory mechanisms. Thus, the absence of sleep or an irregular sleeping pattern may have a notable effect on all the factors mentioned above. Lack of sleep also disturbs the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a biological clock which makes it possible for individuals to function. It helps us wake up at dawn without an alarm, or feel hunger and thirst, and cues various bodily organs to carry out their functions. These functions involve digestion and excretion or release of hormones. So, it goes without saying that if we don’t give ourselves enough sleepy time, we’re sure to disrupt bodily and mental functions.

The lack or abundance of sleep is linked to one’s quality of sleep which is further related to the psychological health of an individual. Have you ever gone to bed in a distressed state of mind and fallen asleep within seconds? Hard to recollect such an instance, right? Constant pondering over disturbing things is what keeps us awake and anxious, it is also why we have bad dreams and nightmares. The inability to deal with troubling emotions or situations causes more stress and overthinking, resulting in insomnia, night terrors, sleepwalking or sleep-talking. Stressors need to be actively broken down through self-reflection, and flexible coping strategies that help us adapt and realistically perceive our problems need to be learned. This will allow a smooth sleep with fewer worries and a relatively relaxed mind. Furthermore, mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorders, or severe traumatic disorders can have a dire impact on one’s sleep and dream patterns.

While in today’s world, we study dreams as the subject of oneirology, ideas have long been a matter of interest to human beings. Initially, the thought of as messages from God, nature, another plane of reality or entrance to a parallel world, dreams has gained popularity through religious, philosophical, literary, medical and scientific frames of references. Most of the dreaming occurs in REM (Rapid-Eye Movement) sleep, which, as the name suggests, is depicted by swift and erratic eye movements. During this stage, dreams can last for 2-3 minutes to 20-30 minutes. Across other non-REM stages, thoughts still prevail but not as vividly as in a REM sleep stage. Dreams can often confound with the prior experiences of the day or existential phases. Phases such as pregnancy, pain, chronic illnesses, etc., and its mysterious recurrence is what drives people to question their conception. So, people have tried to decipher the meaning of dreams, categorize them and relate them to experiences to inform others of their implications.

Sigmund Freud said that “dreams are the royal road to the unconscious”. He was one of the pioneers in the field of psychology. His view of dreams portrayed the repressed desires of an individual (often sexual) and represented one’s unconscious mind. In the Indian scriptures, dreaming is described as one of the three states of living (for the soul), the other two being wake and sleep. It also views dreams as expressions of inner desires and as the soul’s way of guiding us until our bodies awaken. Dreams can clearly depict what the individual fears to accept, such as the death of themselves or a loved one, or sexual fantasies. They also help us process emotions clearly as they bring about fascinating, frightening, gloomy, lucid, emotive, or bizarre night-time experiences.

Picture Courtesy: Andrew Ostrovsky

I personally think that the setting of every dream we perceive is a mental representation of our mental state. The elements within that dream, which demand our attention or involvement are what we tend to reflect upon. The emotions and decisions that are evoked in the process are what we hide from our consciousness. Thus, in order of their appearance, these pieces of the dream need to be acknowledged and intellectualized, for it may help one to comprehend what the general idea of their dream is. Take this as an exercise the next time you wake up and can remember your dream, try to write or draw it down and connect the dots.

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