Sleep is important for several reasons, the majority of which are well-covered by medical experts. Dreaming is the most important benefit of sleep, yet it is largely forgotten by the medical community.
The Lotus Lifestyle includes adequate sleep and that sufficient importance be given to one’s dreams.
The Importance of Dreaming
The Importance of Sleep
A good night’s sleep is often credited with a host of physical and mental health benefits. Among these benefits are restoration, energy conservation and avoiding the dangers of the night.
Bodily Restoration / Re-energizing
Studies suggest that sleep replenishes our energy and helps us to restore our health. But energy replenishment and health restoration also occur while you are awake. I suggest that proper breathing (while insisting on pure air) is the best way to recharge your body, and one should learn how to avoid wasting energy, such that the surplus can accumulate.
Every time you inhale, the lungs take in some vitally-charged oxygen, and other gases including toxic carbon monoxide gas. The purest air that’s highest in oxygen, as well as deep, belly-breathing will optimally recharge your energy level, and full exhalations will maximize the expulsion of toxins from the cells and through the lungs.
If one largely breathes “on autopilot” during the day, their daytime detox and recharge will be mediocre or poor. Sleeping would give slightly better results and conscious re-energizing breathing techniques would create the best results.
While you are sleeping, energy usage is minimized. According to Harvard Medical School, the metabolism may slow down as much as ten percent. Although this is statistically significant, ten percent less energy usage does not seem important enough to be the prime motivator of sleep. But even a modest savings of energy, when coupled with the slow re-charging effect of breathing while sleeping,will produce a positive net energetic effect.
It is certainly possible to minimize energy waste while awake. Fasting saves the energy that would be invested in digestion, but most people are not willing to forgo the pleasure of eating… this luxury has been taken for granted by most cultures for many years. Other ways to conserve energy are by observing your posture, your thoughts and other habits. Taoist and tantric masters know the value of retaining vital fluids including semen and blood.
Avoiding the Dangers of the Night
Our ancestors may have needed to avoid being eaten by lions, whereas in modern times man is his own hunter. Police and hospital statistics indicate that most accidents and violent crimes happen at night, which may give early sleepers a better shot at surviving in an increasingly dangerous world.
In practical terms, most people have certain bad habits that, were they to continue uninterrupted by sleep, their health would be in serious jeopardy. For example, the habitual smoker or drinker, if sleepless, would likely continue intoxicating himself all through the day and night. Sleep thus functions as a kind of insurance policy that protects us from perpetually repeating our bad habits.
Dreaming is the Key to Good Sleep
If we could all learn to breathe better during the day, to observe our posture and its effect on our energy, and to eliminate all bad habits that cause disease, then we could strike those three reasons from the list of reasons why we need sleep. But we would still need to sleep. Why? Because dreaming is the key to good sleep…
If you get a reasonable amount of sleep, and yet still feel tired, you may be able to solve this problem by learning to work with your dreams (yoga nidra). And if you do not get enough sleep, then it is very likely that you are missing out on the invaluable benefits of dreaming.
Yet studies, articles and books on sleeping frequently understate or ignore the importance of dreaming. Most studies relating to sleep will focus on measurable data like the number of hours or minutes one is alseep, or the release of certain hormones such as melatonin, cortisol, human growth hormone (HGH) and serotonin. No study that I am aware of has properly considered the importance of dreaming. And it is for an obvious reason: the value of the dream is immeasurable!
Sleep (or Dreaming) is Necessary to Maintain Sanity
One study nearly identified the value of dreams. A group of people volunteered to ‘sleep’ in a special sleep laboratory. Then, as each one dozed off, the scientists would promptly wake them back up to ensure that they could not properly get into the dream state. Within two weeks, all of the subjects went insane. The scientists concluded that sleeping and dreaming are both necessary to maintain sanity.
The problem with the study is that the generous volunteers that lived as laboratory animals for two weeks were at once deprived of their sleep, their dreams, and in effect all of their freedom.
Freedom is indispensable to maintain sanity. And dreaming is among the surest ways to free the soul.
Sleep inspires insight.
The above is the title of a 2004 german study that would be more aptly named ‘dreaming inspires insight’.
So What Happens While You Dream?
When you lay your body down to sleep, your mind goes with it. In fact, your body and mind go everywhere together. These two are married. That is to say that they are connected ‘until death’. But this marriage is not complete without the soul. In fact, this ‘third member’ should be considered the most important part of the marriage. Unfortunately, the soul is often considered a ‘third wheel’ in the ultra-exclusive relationship between body and mind. The soul is ignored during all waking hours. To keep the Universe in balance, the body and mind necessarily must lay down together so that the soul can ‘fly solo’ for a while. During this solo flight, the soul is unrestrained by the normal limitations of the body. There is no logistical problem in getting from place to place, and there is no lineal time. This means that in a 5-minute nap, your soul can have the experience of having traveled to another continent (and maybe even another planet!). To get a similar experience that includes the body would require first buying a ticket, driving to the airport (or rocket launch site), hours of waiting, hours of flying… time and money and the coordinated effort of many people! But despite the great cost of the voyage, the benefit is usually greater than the cost. Claiming such an experience in a 5-minute siesta sounds to me like the epitome of efficiency!
The healthiest relationship between your dream state and your waking state is that one is a continuation of the other. Imagine a dolphin swimming near the surface of the ocean towards the sunrise… the dolphin may jump in and out of the water but the overall direction is fairly consistent. Compare this against a circular system where the dolphin jumps out of the water towards the sunrise then switches directions upon re-entering the water. This dolphin exerts the same energy but does not advance. Such is also the case for humans that spend their days not following their dreams.
- Harvard Medical School essay “Why do we sleep?“
- Harvard Medical School essay “Sleep, Learning and Memory“