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Ask the expert: Dreams and sleep

Ever wonder what your dreams mean or what is normal in terms of sleep patterns? Sleep Studio consultant and dream specialist Dr. Rubin Naiman is here to clue us in.

Woman dreaming

Sleep Studio is an innovative lifestyle brand with a comprehensive collection of offerings for those who believe that life is best enjoyed clear-eyed and well rested. Dr. Rubin Naiman, Sleep Studio consultant and dream specialist, answers our burning questions on dreams and sleep below.

LovingYou: Should we worry if we (or our significant other) breathe heavily and then not so heavily off and on throughout the night? What about jerking awake? Are these signs of sleep apnea?

Dr. Rubin Naiman: Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that should be screened for if there is any suspicion one’s significant other may have it. The most common signs of sleep apnea include loud snoring, pauses in breathing throughout the night and excessive daytime sleepiness. The numerous awakenings caused by sleep apnea episodes are typically very brief in duration and immediately forgotten by the individual with apnea although they may be obvious to their bed partners.

LY: Are alarm apps that wake you in your lightest sleep actually effective? Like the sleep cycle alarm?

RN: It is true that awakening from REM sleep, considered by some to be a lighter stage of sleep, is easier than awakening from deep sleep. In actuality, most of us will naturally awaken from REM sleep simply because we spend significantly more time in REM sleep as we approach morning awakening. Most of us do not need technology to assist us with this. Having said that, I believe the ideal situation is to allow ourselves to awaken naturally without an alarm clock. If we are obtaining sufficient sleep, this is easy to do. Whenever we awaken with alarms, we are not obtaining our full allotment of sleep and, moreover, we are routinely snipping off the end of our dreams.

LY: Can you explain the following common dreams and their meanings?


Being chased or someone always trying to kill you

The common belief that images in our dreams have a universal meaning is extremely misleading. Dreams are best understood in the context of the life of the dreamer. A dream like this would prompt me to ask the dreamer if there is something they are running from, someone they are running from or some part of themselves they are running from that is provoking anxiety. The idea that something or someone might be trying to kill me in the dream raises a question about experiencing something in life that might significantly change (kill) who I am today.

Falling from a cliff

Falling is a common image in dreams and one that frequently is associated with sleep onset, that is “falling” asleep. This image raises questions about the challenge of “letting go” that may be present in one’s life today.

Being naked or doing something inappropriate in public

These images are clearly associated with questions of exposure and shame. Again, it would be interesting to explore the possibility that these concerns are present in one’s current life.

Not being able to dial any numbers on the phone

This image is similar to many other common experiences and dreams of limitation, difficulty moving or walking or generally being held back. When we dream, we literally become paralyzed, that is our voluntary muscles are offline. In a dream where we are compelled to act or move and unconsciously attempt to literally do so with our bodies, we may encounter this sense of paralysis and feel that we are restricted or even frozen.

Speaking with those who have passed away

This is also a relatively common experience in dreams, particularly among individuals who have experienced a recent loss of a loved one. In fact, it is so common that it is sometimes referred to as “the dream.” Frequently, in this kind of dream, one’s loved one reappears and offers some assurance that they are well.

LY: How do you explain dreams that actually come true later? Is this intuition?

RN: Precognitive or prophetic dreams are also relatively common and have a long history in spiritual traditions. There is no scientific way of explaining these kinds of dreams, but this does not suggest they are unreal. One of my dream mentors taught me that nothing ever happens in the waking world before it occurs in the dream. This suggests that when we dream, maybe we expand our awareness into experiences that have yet to descend into the waking world.

LY: What are some common misconceptions about dreams and sleep?

RN: There are many common misconceptions about sleep and dreams. The one that concerns me the most is the belief that sleeping and dreaming are exclusively subservient to waking life. From this perspective, we tend to think of sleep and dreaming only in terms of their functional contributions to our health, performance, well-being — in waking life. It’s absolutely true that sleeping and dreaming provide essential support for healthy waking lives, but if we see them exclusively in this light, we have missed the most critical fact that sleeping and dreaming are also joyous and deeply personal spiritual experiences.

LY: How many hours of sleep do you recommend? Does it vary?

RN: Asking how many hours of sleep one needs is a bit like asking how many calories one should consume. The answer is, it depends. It depends on many personal factors like one’s age, one’s health, one’s exercise patterns, etc. Most of us need somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep. The best measure of whether we’re getting sufficient sleep is the measure of the quality of our waking life energy.

LY: How long should it take to go to sleep?

RN: People who fall asleep in less than five minutes and those taking more than 20 or 30 minutes may have sleep problems. If we are falling asleep too quickly, it suggests that we are already excessively sleepy at bedtime. And if we are taking too long to fall asleep, it suggests that we have sleep onset insomnia.

LY: What is your take on taking Benadryl or Ambien to sleep? Are they safe or is it better to skip them?

RN: I am not a proponent of using either over-the-counter or prescription sleep medications. In summary, the scientific data about sleeping pills is actually quite damning. People who use sleeping pills are not sleeping nearly as well as they believe and, in the long run, are compromising their health.

LY: How can we get better sleep and ensure positive dreams?

RN: If there is some basic advice about how to obtain a better night’s sleep, it is simply about having a better day’s waking. What I mean is that all of the things that contribute to healthy waking life — adequate exercise, healthy nutrition, effective stress management and meaningful spirituality — are essential for healthy nights. Regarding positive dreams, however, just as challenging life events are a crucial part of the good life, occasional bad dreams are also a normal part of a good life. It is how we respond to them that determines their value.

Sleep Tip: Try waking up gently with the Wake Up Light by Sleep Studio. The light gradually grows brighter, letting you wake up slowly and naturally.

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