To Relax, to Sleep and to Dream

Dr K. Nespor, Czechoslovakia

'I cannot sleep, I need a pill' is a usual complaint of an alcoholic starting to abstain. The short term use of tablets is possible, but the long term use is dangerous for those people, because alcohol can be easily 'exchanged' for sleeping tablets (especially barbiturates) which are then consumed in great doses. Is there any other alternative for insomniacs than drugs? Certainly there is. Various researchers confirm that meditation and relaxation techniques decrease sleep onset latency, and their effect is long lasting.*1,*2 Relaxation and meditation techniques may also be useful when insomnia is caused by some painful condition. Of course, it is necessary to treat the underlying disease, but meditation or relaxation can relieve anxiety and the stress accompanying pain*3,*4 in this way the condition becomes more tolerable.

Changed dreams

It is interesting that dream recall in people practising meditation or relaxation increases, and dream content changes. According to Busby and de Koninck, fantasy elements related to personal life and the bizarreness of dreams increase.*5 Faber et al. found that the dreams of meditators contained more archetypal elements reflecting universal and moral themes than the dreams of non-meditators.*6

A little about dreams

Some schools of yoga, as well as some psychotherapeutic schools claim that dreams may be useful for personal growth. 'Dream yoga' is described, where practical instructions on how to increase dream recall and to overcome fear during dreaming are described.*7 A simple technique working with dreams is also described in a BSY publication.*8

According to A. Freud, who considers dreams as the royal road to the unconscious, wishes or desires are behind manifest dream content. These desires are often censored (especially sexual or aggressive), distorted and expressed symbolically. A psychoanalyst explains symbols and dream distortions; the patient is asked to associate freely on dream elements, and is helped to understand his desires and fears, often strongly influenced by his childhood experiences.*9

Different explanations and techniques are suggested by R. Perls. According to him '...every bit of the dream, every other person, every thing, every mood is part of our fractionalized self.' Instead of analysing, one should play psychodramatical monologues of, and dialogues between dream elements to integrate 'dispersed and disowned alienated parts of the self.'*10

Additional treatment for insomnia

It is well known that relaxation is easier after some kind of physical activity rather than after a full day's rest. A short walk outside before sleep, physical work or exercise during the day may improve the night's sleep. Some otherwise healthy people erroneously believe that without sleeping eight hours daily they will die soon. These people can take advantage from their sleeplessness and, for example, sweep and wash the floor instead of tossing about in their bed.


*1. Shealy, R. C, The effectiveness of various treatment techniques on different degrees and durations of sleep-onset insomnia', Behav. Ther., 1979, 17 (6): 541-546. In: Psychological Abstracts, 1981, 65:636.

*2. Woolfolk, R.L., Carkaffashan, L., McNulty, T.F., Lehrer, P.M., 'Meditation training as a treatment for insomnia', Behav. Ther., 1976, 7(3):354-365. In: Excerpta Medica, section 32,34 (10): 655,1976.

*3. Corah, NX., Gale, E.N., Pace, L.F.; Seyrek, S.K., 'Relaxation and musical programing as means of reducing psychological stress during dental procedures', JADA, 1981, 103:232-234.

*4. Varni J.V., 'Self-regulation techniques in the management of chronic arthritic pain in hemophilia', Behav. Ther., 1981, 12 (2):185-194, In: Psychological Abstracts, 1981, 65:1423.

*5. Busby, K., de Koninck, J., 'Short-term effects of strategies for self-regulation on personality dimensions and dream content', Percep. Mot. Skills, 1980, 50(3): 751-765. In: Psychological Abstracts, 1981, 66:318.

*6. Faber, D.A., Saayam, D.S., Touyz, S.W., 'Meditation and archetypal content of nocturnal dreams', J. Anal PychoL, 1978, 23(1): 1-22. In: Excerpta Medica, section 32, 38(9) 566-567, 1978.

*7. Garma C.C. Chang, Teachings of Tibetan Yoga, Uni. Books, New Hyde Park, New York, 1963.

*8. Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Swami Gaurishankara Saraswati, Sure Ways to Self Realization, BSY, Munger, 1981, p.74.

*9. Freud, S., 'Lectures to the introduction to psychoanalysis', In: Selected Works by S. Freud, Vol. I, p. 65-184, Praha 1969 Czech translation).

*10. Perls, F., The Gestalt Approach & Eye Witness to Therapy, Bantam Books, New York, 1976, p. 181.