Creativity & REM Cycles: Once upon a time I believed I could fly...

"It had been a dream. What else could it have been?
When he’d opened his eyes this morning, the first thing he’d looked at was his window. It had still been there, of course, no damage at all, no gaping hole into the back garden. Of course it had. Only a baby would have thought it really happened."
-Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls (pg. 11)
The late Great Gatsby emerging from REM sleep.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who believed she could fly. Every night, after her parents tucked her into bed, she awoke to dreams of soaring through her apartment. It was easy. All you needed was a good running start. She’d hover in the bathroom, wheel high above her living room, only to return, swooping up to her loft-bed (there was no need for ladders), to crawl back to sleep.

That was my recurring dream when I was kid. I genuinely believe I could fly. When this dream lessened in its frequency, I even started to believe that kids outgrew their ability to fly. (What a depressing thought!)

I share this anecdote as a segue into a discussion of dreams and the subconscious. I’m fascinated by dreams as visual expressions of waking life. To briefly mention evolutionary psychology, it suggests that dreams evolved to help resolve and overcome our daily problems (see: a dog dreaming of its own problems).

While sleep replenishes us for the day ahead, it also inspires problem solving. In “Answers in your Dreams,” an article from Scientific American, Deidre Barrett Phd asks the question, “What is dreaming for?” (pg. 28). One answer she gives is to inspire writers, painters, and other artists.

I'm an extremely visual person. Given a free second, my mind conjures images, interactions, and stories as if it were my own personal movie theater. But nothing compares to the encompassing experience of a dream. I look forward to them, which is perhaps why I also wrestle to fall asleep.

What’s most intriguing about Barrett’s article is the process by which she harnesses dreams for "incubation" and "problem solving" (pg. 32). It all starts by “writing down your problem as a brief phrase or sentence” (pg. 32) and placing it next to your bed. I thrilled at this idea because many of us unintentionally take up a similar routine. It's called journaling.

Next time you’re over, I’ll show you the materials tucked between my mattress and its frame. There’s a journal and two pens, a highlighter and some post-its, along with whatever books I'll dip into before sleep. I often mention the benefits of writing upon waking (that’s my morning routine), but you can also tap into this creative zone before bedtime or between REM cycles. Before sleep, I often jot notes about the chapter I'll write the next day or visualize the scene ahead. Given Barrett's articles, it's incredible how frequently my stories then inhabit my dreams or as mentioned in Writer’s Hibernation: The Benefits of Creative Immersion , I awake to sleep-writing sentences.

Whether you're grappling with real-life problems or creating stories of your own, Barrett offers excellent techniques for “train[ing] your dreams” (pg. 32). Check it out: Answers in Your Dreams

Do your dreams reflect your waking life? What's your technique for harnessing your dreams?