In honor of winter solstice, and the longest night of the year, we sat down (virtually) with Stephanie Gailing, author of The Complete Book of Dreams. Working with people in the realm of enhancing their sleep and tapping into the power of their dreams, Stephanie is all about using sleep hygiene and dreams to access a greater level of wellbeing. We love that!
At Better Booch, we believe that health is a continuum, where all the little everyday choices add up and contribute to the overall flow. And sleep quality contributes in a huge way to that flow. We asked Stephanie tons of questions about improving our sleep quality, how to remember and analyze our dreams (even for those of us who feel like they never have dreams), and more. So let’s dive into the world of dreams.
Throughout history, we’ve been fascinated by our dreams.
As we should be! Dreams are this magical and mysterious experience we all have. Some of the oldest recordings of dreams date back to 2000 BC, or so. In ancient Greco-Roman civilisations, dreams were at the cornerstone of their healing system. So much so, that there are ruins of ancient sleep temples (think modern day spas), where people would sleep in a sacred chamber and have their dreams analyzed.
Research now provides us with a better understanding of sleep cycles and phases.
Researchers believe that most everybody dreams. However, some people are more apt to remember their dreams than others. Those of us who sleep less are less likely to remember our dreams. Fortunately, Stephanie shares some techniques for capturing and remembering dreams. But first, she breaks down the sleep cycle and how sleep plays an important role in our overall well being.
As we sleep, we oscillate between slow-wave and REM phases. REM is where our vivid and rich dreams occur, but dreams can actually happen at any stage in a sleep cycle. A sleep cycle is about 90 minutes long, so 7–8-hours of sleep should include about five sleep cycles.
As we sleep longer, and have more sleep cycles back to back, we begin to shift towards a higher proportion of REM sleep. This is why early morning dreams can be so memorable and vivid.
Sleep plays a major role in our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
Research studies have linked the lack of sleep to dysregulation of blood sugar, different variables related to heart health, as well as weakened immune system function. Sleep also plays a major role in the mental and emotional realm. When we’re tired, we begin to feel stressed and struggle to function at our best. But when we’re getting adequate sleep, we’re helping improve our concentration and memory.
It may seem counterintuitive, but great sleep might just be the primary ingredient to being more productive during our waking hours. In this hyper-connected world where we feel the sense of urgency to answer every email immediately, or refresh our news feed to catch every breaking headline, we appreciate the reminder to step back and get the qualitative rest we need.
But what if we’re not getting adequate sleep and we’re stressed that we’re not getting good sleep, which is keeping us from getting sleep? Aghh!
We know this negative feedback loop all too well, but the important thing is to go easy on ourselves when we recognize that we’re in this pattern. Being stressed about our sleeping habits usually only makes it harder to improve them. So if we shift our focus and begin to cherish our sleep, and understand that it is an essential ingredient in our wellbeing, we can elevate it and respect it. This helps us to prioritize it and – hopefully – break out of that negative feedback loop.
The basics of sleep hygiene.
Our sleep habits, oftentimes referred to as sleep hygiene, can play a major role in helping us prioritize our sleep. A few small changes can make all the difference, like:
- Setting ourselves up for success during the day by getting some exercise, avoiding caffeine in the afternoons (this is one of the reasons why we LOVE to drink a booch in the afternoon), and eating dinner on the earlier side.
- Making our bed as luxurious and comfortable as we can, so we can associate it with sleep.
- Carving out time to have a consistent sleep cycle. Waking up and going to bed at the same time daily. This sense of consistency is really important.
- Giving ourselves at least 30 minutes to unwind before bed. We like to relax by reading a book we can luxuriate in, brewing a cup of herbal tea, or taking a bath with epsom salt.
- In fact, research has shown that a 20 minute hot bath elevates the body’s temperature so that when we get out of the bath our body has to work to cool down. This sends a soporific signal to our body to go to sleep.
- In turn, if we can keep our room temperature at 65 degrees, our body temp will lower and cross that threshold to signal our body to go into slumber.
When it comes to sleep, what’s better: Quantity or quality?
Interestingly, quality and quantity play a role in good sleep. In general, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep nightly. And the quality of our sleep can range depending on what phase we’re in.
Sleep tracker apps can help measure quality of sleep and help us find correlations with our daily lives and how it affects our sleep. Without a sleep tracker app, measuring the quality of our sleep can be as easy as paying attention. Taking a moment to note when we have good sleep, bad sleep, and what the differences are between them.
For those of us who don’t remember our dreams, how can we dive deeper into that world?
It has been found that having confidence that you will remember your dream actually helps you remember your dream. Before going to bed, try telling yourself “I will remember this dream in the morning.” Have something on your bedside to record your dreams. Some people might use a notebook, dream app on the phone, or voice recordings – all options are good. Sometimes dreams can be so epic that we can’t write them down fast enough, which is why the voice recorder on your phone can be handy for recording dreams. Whatever you choose it’s important to have as few barriers between your dream and recording the dream as possible.
It’s thought that after the first 10 minutes of waking up, 50% of your dream memories will have evaporated. If you don’t capture it, it’s gone. So these first 10 minutes are crucial for dream recognition. Stay in bed and roll over in your mind anything you can remember. This is where state-dependent memory can come into play. For instance if you wake up on your back but you’re a side-sleeper, gently turn back to your side and see if that can help you remember your dream. After recording our dreams, we can then transcribe them into a dream journal. This gives us the opportunity to revisit them.
Using dreams to process emotion and have a deeper understanding of our lives.
Oftentimes we dream about the things that are on our minds. Stephanie recommends looking at what arose in our dreams and asking ourselves:
- How can I put my dream into the context of my waking life?
- What answers does that give me?
- What other perspectives does my dream provide?
- What is my unconscious mind adding to the conversation?
Tuning into and paying attention to our dream life is a form of mindfulness.
A mindfulness practice for those who have a hard time sleeping:
- Starting with your feet and working your way up the body, focus on one area of your body.
- Feel into that part of your body while repeating “my feet are getting heavy,” “my legs are heavy,” etc…
- As you work your way up the body, you will begin to feel progressive muscle relaxation.
Because, like anything you want to improve, you have to make it a practice.
About Stephanie Gailing
Stephanie Gailing is a wellness consultant, astrologer, and author with more than 25 years of experience. Her unique approach to healing weaves together compassion-based coaching, wellness strategies, dreamwork, and astrological insights. In addition to working directly with individuals, couples, and organizations throughout the world, Stephanie regularly teaches workshops and writes about holistic well-being, inspiring her audience with ways to live their dream life. Co-host of the So Divine! podcast, Stephanie is the author of The Complete Book of Dreams and the forthcoming book The Complete Guide to Astrological Self-Care. She holds a Certificate in EcoPsychology from Pacifica University, an Advanced Diploma in Coaching from New York University, and an MS in Nutrition from Bastyr University. Stephanie lives in Seattle with her husband Sebastiano.