Did you see the movie Inception? I thought it was cool because it got people to talk about one of my favorite subjects: dreaming. The average person spends six years of his or her life in dreamland. And besides giving you some good fantasies and conversation topics, dreams have another extremely important purpose: They improve brain health by helping the brain consolidate memories.
When you dream, which usually takes place during a phase of sleep called REM (rapid eye movement), the brain gets a breather to go over what happened during the day and make connections to previous activities. I like to think of it as brain rewiring. We usually go in and out of REM sleep for approximately 90-minute cycles, with the amount of time we spend in REM increasing through the night. The last REM period lasts about an hour. It’s ideal to spend about 20-25 percent of your sleep in the REM phase. Here are my tips to maximize your time in dreamland:
Sweat It Out. To make sure you’re getting enough dream time, don’t slack off on your exercise routine. Working out for 20-30 minutes each day helps you grow new cells in areas of the brain that are responsible for memory. It also helps increase blood flow to your noggin so you can get more REM sleep. If you missed your workout, take a hot bath before bed. Sweating a little before bed is likely to give you more REM sleep that night.
Write It Down. Since dreams tend to leave your mind the second you put your feet on the ground, I like to keep a pen and notebook next to my bed to write down what I remember, just for fun.
Get up Earlier. Another trick I use: Every once in a while, I’ll set my alarm to wake me up five minutes earlier than usual. Since one of the greatest periods of REM sleep tends to happen close to the time you usually get up, you might catch a dream that has just ended -- and you’ll be more likely to remember it.
Wishing you sweet dreams tonight!
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Dr. Matthew Edlund, director of the Center for Circadian Medicine is director of the Center for Circadian Medicine in Sarasota, Fla. He is the author of several books, including The Power of Rest. His website is therestdoctor.com.