Power of Sleep and Dreams: Internal Structure of the Human Mind
Much has been written about the importance of sleep, which is derived from the wealth of research by sleep scientists on the many benefits of good quality sleep. I would be the last person on earth to endorse the benefits of sleep, since I am a notorious nighthound who prefers to operate at night when I feel that I am at my most productive. I hence tend to avoid sleep as much as I can in order to maximise the number of woken hours when I am up and going. This all sounds perfectly intuitive, since why would one think that being unconscious in a state of slumber can yield productivity (though see my previous blog on the dichotomy between active and passive learning)? There is now good evidence, however, for believing that sleep is actually a highly active and therapeutic activity which can do our bodies a lot of good, much like doing physical exercise releases endorphins into our system. Common beliefs about heart regulation and body temperature abound, that sleep helps protect our vital organs and maintain good physiological and metabolic balance, without which we would be lying on the threshold of death at the calling of common deadly diseases such as cardiac arrest and cancer. Another common phenomenon closely connected to sleep is, of course, dreaming, which happens to us when we are in deep slumber. I have always found dreaming fascinating since it is a form of hallucinatory imagination which leaves our bodies in a very funny state. We have all had nightmares where the experience of a bad dream leaves us in cold sweat upon waking up, or good dreams which make us feel all rosy as if we were right in the scenario of the dream itself. We also tend to dream about the things that matter to us, let it be our problems, aspirations, demons etc, which takes us to the second meaning of the word ‘dream’ i.e. not the hallunations during sleep but our hopes and aspirations. It all fades the moment we wake up and return to reality and I can rarely recall the content of my dreams which, however pleasant or terrifying, dissipates from my mind as soon as I regain consciousness. I have now learnt, however, that the more (sur)real our dreams seem to be, the deeper the state of sleep that we are in, and it is during this state of deep incubation that the therapeutic effects of sleep kick in at the maximum level (contrast this to dosing or napping which only offers us brief and slight respite with no long-term health effects). As we traverse the dramatic contours of our dreams and run through the ups and downs of our somniac hallucinations, our bodies are undergoing some wonderful physiological processes which help heal and rebuild us, and just as we experience things in our minds that are tied to our goals and aspirations, we are preparing our bodies to take on the challenges in our lives when we wake. I have come to appreciate sleep a bit more now (though I still sleep less than the recommended amount of 7/8 hours p.d.), since I cherish the opportunity of getting into deep slumber and exploring the secret chambers of my mind while letting my body heal and bring itself to its optimal state in preparation for my daily battles. Such is the power of sleep and dream.
Another famous dictum in Honda Motor Company’s work ethic is ‘kicking out the ladder’, which means tackling one’s fears head-on, getting out of one’s comfort zone, and fall (which is also multibillionaire Richard Branson’s mojo), as if one were perched on a ladder and then having the ladder swept from underneath, a terrifying mental state which I can certainly relate to. Another expression which I have come up with myself is ‘jumping off the cliff’, which expresses much the same thing, that of heading towards one’s greatest fears in the form of a cliff and jumping off it, even if it seems like a boundless abyss with no limit in sight. Another terrifying image for me. Nonetheless, for all the horrors that these metaphors evoke, they are also powerful images that are deeply motivational, since they describe the fact that there are times when one just has to banish all fears and doubts, face the problem(s) with all the inherent dangers, risks and potentialities, and just take a leap of faith. Without doubt the single most deterring factor in making progress in our lives is fear, let it be fear for the unknown, fear for pain, fear for the complicating difficulties, fear for the consequences etc. It is fear which stops us from getting started and stalls our progress, and we do not make progress until we finally bring ourselves to manoeuvre, however slow and delayed that might be. As with my last blog, I would be the last person in the world to endorse getting started hastily and prematurely, since I have lauded the benefits of extensive passive preparation which turns us into well-oiled machines when we finally decide to get going, but I do realise that there are times when one just has to get going, whether one believes that one has done enough preparation or not. Sports scientists and psychologists have long argued that it is essential to do proper warm-up before beginning any form of physical exercise (indeed, it is dangerous doing strenuous exercise without warming yourself up), but sometimes the best form of physical/mental warm-up may be to just actually do it, whether it be diving cold into the swimming pool, running cold on the pitch, standing up scared for your speech etc. With warm-up, one’s internal system adjusts via slow heat, but when one dives straight into the task(s) at hand (with or without warm-up), one quickly adapts to the environment and switches almost instantly to high alert status, which may be far more effective than any form of physical/mental preparation that one could do. In the words of a famous online motivational speech, ‘just do it!’
Originally published at http://keithtselinguist.wordpress.com.