How to Have Sweet Dreams

By Heather M. Graham

How to Have Sweet DreamsWouldn’t it be nice to sink into your pillow after a long, hard day, knowing that the night will bring pleasant dreams? It may be possible.

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In 2010, Richard Wiseman, a professor and psychologist at England’s University of Hertfordshire, commissioned the creation of a free app called Dream:ON, and began a two-year experiment on dreaming that brought crowd sourcing to a whole new level.

Here’s how it works: While users sleep, the app plays one of several “soundscapes” to encourage dreams featuring a relaxing scenario, such as a walk in the woods, or lying on a beach. After 500,000 downloads and millions of voluntary dream reports, Wiseman and his team believe the app works. In their findings, they showed that using happy, soothing soundscapes can guide dreams down a positive path—and the feel-good buzz continues into the next day.

“Having positive dreams helps people wake up in a good mood, and boosts their productivity,” Wiseman said in a statement. The findings may also lead to a new type of therapy for  psychological problems such as depression.

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What works?

While it’s true that outside forces can influence our nocturnal musings, it’s usually our real-life experiences that lead the way. “Anything that happens during the day—especially immediately before sleep—is more likely to show up in your dreams at night,” says Harvard psychologist and renowned dream specialist Deirdre Barrett, PhD, author of The Committee of Sleep.

Even if you want to dream about something in particular—winning an Oscar, perhaps, or just running through the park with your dog—your own imagination might still wield more power than an iPhone app.

“Almost every form of self-suggestion for influencing dreams has some effect on dream content,” Barrett says. These include simple images or phrases about the dreams you’d like to have. If you want to spend your shuteye visiting beaches and blue water, Barrett says to focus on an image in your mind when you climb into bed to guide your dreams in that direction. If your mind starts to wander, keep it on task by repeating a simple phrase, like “I am lying on the beach.” (The results are completely individual, though).

Other possible ways to encourage sweet dreams? One small study suggests that smelling pleasant aromas can influence emotions during sleep. Another study finds that sleeping on your stomach can lead to racier dreams, possibly because of the way it alters breathing.

So set your iPhone to pipe in ocean waves or do some low-tech visualization, you could be in for some sweet dreams tonight. Sleep on it, and see what transpires!

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