To loosely paraphrase a great man (Martin Luther King Jr.), “I had a dream.” Specifically, I had a dream last week. In my dream, I saw an old classmate from high school. He was one of my best friends in high school, but I don’t think I’ve seen him the day after we graduated, almost 20 years ago. We were at like a dinner party or a prom, and I saw new friends I’ve made in the last few years, and so here in my dream, old and new friends, almost 20 years apart, were partying together with me. I woke up with a smile because it was such a nice dream, a nice time to see some old faces.
But since then, it has got me thinking about the role of dreams and its benefits. For example, it is a nice escape, almost like a holiday or getaway. Unlike real holidays we can plan, dreams are like a random chance to go somewhere we didn’t expect. So since then, I have thought about dreams more often and its effect on our health.
If dreams are just an escape, then it makes me think of how we can increase the chance to dream so we can enjoy a nice getaway every night. In disorders like epilepsy and Parkinson’s Disease, where medical treatment includes neuro-stimulation to reactivate parts of the brain, it made me wonder if we can stimulate the part of our brain for dreaming in other ways. This is because I read that dreaming can be a way for our brain to consolidate new information to become more permanent in our memory. Thus, if it has a useful function then I do not want to use artificial means like neuro-stimulation to interfere with a natural process.
However, if dreaming is a result of a deeper sleep, then it makes me think of how we can achieve that more naturally. As an Osteopath, the answer may be right in front of me- literally, my hands are in front of me as I am typing these thoughts. I remember when I used to treat my partner before bed and I had her head in my hands, and she would fall asleep as I was treating her. She always said she slept better, and it makes me wonder now if she also dreamt more. So it makes me think if the chance to dream can be increased by relaxing the tension in our shoulders and neck, thereby increasing bloodflow more easily to our brains, allowing it to be bathed in this nutrient rich blood which may stimulate the dreaming part of our brains.
This makes me think if the opposite may be true, that for patients or people who have headaches or increased muscle tension in the neck, if they dream less. For example, when we are tensed before bed, we tend to have restless sleep. This leads me to think of the different quality of sleep, because even when we are tensed, we may still dream but it may be an anxious dream or even a bad nightmare. This makes me wonder if the nervous system is irritated due to a psycho-somatic, or body-mind connection, then it affects the quality of our dream. Thus, if we can reduce that tension through Osteopathy or other therapies, then the brain can more quietly give us something pleasant to dream about, a consolidation or retrieval of new and old information and memories.
This brings me back to think about the benefits of dreams because if dreams are a result of less tension in our bodies, especially our shoulders and neck, then it makes me think about other benefits this reduced tension and increased bloodflow has. For example, it is cold in Vancouver now and last week, I felt the onset of a cold, with associated congestion and sneezing. But after a good night’s sleep, I could feel my body was better from the rest, very relaxed like we feel after a good treatment ourselves. Thus, if dreaming is a result of a deeper sleep, then a stronger immune system may also result from a good night’s sleep. Of course, there are many benefits of decreased muscle tension in our neck, for example less headaches and a new study from the University of BC I read that linked a decreased chance of multiple sclerosis with increased bloodflow through our neck.
As Osteopaths and other manual practitioners, we have the ability to reduce muscle tension in a very natural and holistic way, without artificially neuro-stimulating or prescribing drugs to our patients. Thus, last week I had a dream. But now, I also have a dream. And that is a future where we can have healthier lives and have more choices for our health, where traditional medicine, governments and insurance companies will accept more openly the complementary benefits of other therapies like Osteopathy and alternative manual medicine. This is a dream I would like to enjoy with my eyes open. Slowly, I can see progress with more insurance companies like Sunlife and Manulife accepting both streams of Osteopathy patients. Despite the slowness in the wheels of change, I am happy to see patients who will take their health in their hands and choose to try Osteopathy. Thank you to these patients, and to my old high school friend Sam, “Hey buddy, hope you are doing well.”