You can - and you do, naturally. With training, you might be able to do it even better.
Dream researchers are learning that dreams do seem to help people cope with problems and that we tend to dream more when under stress. One such expert, Rosalind D. Cartwright, chairman of the department of psychology at Rush Presbyterian St. Lukes Medical Center in Chicago, notes growing evidence that we can train ourselves to have conscious control over our dreams. Working with recently divorced women, she found that some of them were able to change the plots of repetitive, distressing dreams related to their failed marriages, incorporating instead more optimistic endings. In another study she directed, she found that patients who worked at retrieving and discussing dreams had a higher rate of success with subsequent psychotherapy.
Gayle Delaney, a San Francisco psychologist who specializes in dreams, has a system that shes found helps her patients to incubate and harvest dreams for direct problem-solving. She teaches them, first of all, to remember two or three dreams a night. When theyve mastered that, theyre supposed to pick a night when theyre not too tired to prepare a dream journal. In the journal, they record what their day was like. The entry can be as long or short as a patient wished. Next, they choose the issue in their life they want to deal with. They think and write about it as deeply and honestly as they can, framing questions to themselves about possible causes, dilemmas, solutions, etc.
Now theyre ready for the trigger, a one-line question that gets to the heart of their predicament. They write it down. Why cant I make my husband understand how important it is for me to have the grandchildren spend more time with us? or How can I improve our romantic life? or How can I change my career at this stage of my life? Whatever the question, theyre instructed to think about it, over and over, as they fall asleep. If other thoughts intrude, theyre told to keep repeating their original question.The next morning, the patients record as much of their dreams as they can remember. If they dont remember a dream, they write down whatever comes to mind first. And theyre told not to try to interpret a dream right away. Instead, theyre supposed to wait a few hours. If they have no dream recall, theyre to try to think why that might be. And keep trying. There are books on dream interpretation you can read, and you can also enlarge your knowledge through dream groups even therapy. But bear in mind that this is still a largely unexplored and therefore controversial area. For example, researchers at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston, Massachusetts, claim that the form dreams take is not activated psychologically, but physiologically. In other words, if your alarm clock rings while youre sleeping you may dream about train whistles.Whatever theory is correct, there is one fact all authorities agree on. Sleeping pills disrupt the normal balance of dreaming and non-dreaming sleep. As a result, they can disturb healthy mental functioning. Whether you keep a journal or not, its a healthier to dream naturally.Robin Westen is ThirdAges Health expert. She writes about health for national magazines. Check for her daily updates.See what others have to say about this story or leave a comment of your own.