If the average person lives 70-80 years, consider that 15-20 of those years are spent sleeping—that’s no small thing. All mammals sleep; it’s an essential part of life.
Since ancient Egyptian times, sleep has sparked the interest of philosophers, religious leaders, and scientists alike. The buzz around dreams alone is enormous. Everyone wants to know what they’re all about: Do they predict the future? Do they say something about who we are? Are they arbitrary?
Sigmund Freud’s first great contribution was The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). He tells us that our dreams are not random; they teach us about our lives. As Virginia Woolf wrote: “Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.”
Sleep is meaningful, restorative, biological, and yet, even today, an enigma. We don’t know what it does for us precisely, but we know that we can’t live without it (NINDS, 2007). In fact, sleep deprivation is a technique used in torture to retrieve information.
People who have psychological issues, whether it’s anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or worry itself – are all soothed by slumber. The brain needs time to recuperate just like a sore muscle needs to be still. We may not know how neuronal firing, dreaming, and the REM stages of sleep heal a wounded brain, but it’s fair to say that this is exactly what it does.
If you don’t get enough sleep, you may be more at risk for Type 2 diabetes and obesity, and sleep apnea is associated with cardiovascular disease (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007b). Indeed, research has found that sleep problems (like trouble falling asleep or waking up early in the morning without being able to return to sleep) are associated with a shortened life-span for middle-aged men and women (Nilsson, Nilsson, Hedblad, & Berglund, 2001).
Your divorce is probably not a dream. More likely, it’s a nightmare. But getting a good night’s sleep can help you stay the course and stay rational (National Institutes of Health [NIH], 2006). A tired brain yields a tired mind, which means a higher likelihood of doing or saying something you might regret.