Intentionally dreaming about problems may lead to solutions, psychologist says

November 7, 2011
Brain work
What dreams are made of
“Answers in Your Dreams”
Scientific American November/December edition

Freud may have been the expert at interpreting what deep anxieties and desires were embodied in dreams, but new research finds an altogether different purpose for that state of mind when we sleep. According to Harvard Medical School psychologist Deirdre Barrett, dreams have produced some of the greatest creative thoughts in history. She cites Mendeleev’s coming up with the final form of his now-famous periodic table, Mary Shelley’s conjuring the two main scenes of Frankestein, and several musicians — including Beethoven and Paul McCartney — who woke up with melodies in their head. Add to that “Mahatma Gandhi’s call for a nonviolent protest,” which she says was “inspired by a dream.” Barrett cites recent studies in which REM-cycle sleep, when dreams occur, was shown to consolidate new learning and to solve problems. She offers these step-by-step tips for how you can use dreams to solve problems: Jot down what the the issue is, and leave that note next to your bed, then look at it a few minutes before you get into bed. Once tucked in, visualize the problem and tell yourself you want to dream about it as you drift off to sleep. When you wake up, lie quietly for a minute and try to recall any dreams you had and write down descriptions of them. Keep it up, and if you’re lucky maybe you’ll come up with Beethoven’s 10th.

Margaret Shapiro

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