How can I sleep without dreaming

Active brain in slumber If you lose your dreams, you lose your mind

From Bettina Friedenberg

It's quiet in Dr. Frank Käßner (57). Very calm, actually. To fall asleep calmly, fantastically peaceful. Lots of art on the walls, almost like in a picture gallery that specializes in art that only shows or describes sleepers. And that's the way it should be. Dr. Käßner is a specialist in pulmonology, sleep medicine and head of the Cottbus sleep laboratory. It is the largest of its kind in Brandenburg, opened a year ago and has ten bedrooms. Now, shortly after 9 p.m., each of these rooms is occupied. Men and women have gone to bed, and most of them will soon be asleep. And each of their movements and impulses is recorded. Brain waves, eye movements, heart rate, muscle movements, snoring, movements of the chest, stomach and legs, nothing goes unnoticed.

Anyone who comes here to sleep does not want to take a nap, but has serious problems. Trouble sleeping. Around 1200 patients come to the Interdisciplinary Sleep Laboratory Cottbus (ISMZ) every year for an average of two nights, each of them has their sleep monitored and, if necessary, treated, usually on urgent medical advice. Because more and more people suffer from sleep problems.

So far, doctors have identified 88 different sleep disorders and divided them into six groups: There is the group of problems falling asleep and staying asleep (insomnias), sleep-related breathing disorders (e.g. sleep apnea syndrome), hypersomnias (such as narcolepsy, sudden sleep during the day), and circadian rhythm Disorders (including shift workers or jet lag), parasomnias (misbehavior during sleep such as sleepwalking or nightmares) and finally the group of movement disorders (including restless legs syndrome, teeth grinding).

"According to a study by the DAK, 80 percent of all employed people suffer from insomnia," says Dr. Käßner. “That should wake us up.” Because disturbed sleep is extremely dangerous. In about 20 percent of all traffic accidents, restlessness is a likely cause, says Dr. Käßner. Or the microsleep.

In addition, the sleep disorders increase. Overstimulation, social pressure, the influence of visual media are just a few reasons why modern people are less and less able to calm down. The need for sleep is a very individual matter, and there are actually larks (active in the morning), owls (nocturnal) and even goldenhamers (they are fittest at lunchtime). Nevertheless, the average length of sleep has decreased significantly over the past 150 years. Back then it was eight to nine hours, today we only allow ourselves six to seven hours of sleep.

But without sleep, there are no dreams either. And that is fatal. "Loose your dreams and you will loose your mind", sing the Rolling Stones (Lose your dreams and you lose your mind). "While deep sleep is important for physical recovery, dream sleep is important for mental recovery," says Dr. Käßner.

Only those who dream enough will feel really good. In the dream the conscious mind processes experiences in the subconscious. That sounds complicated. It is. "Dreams give us a picture between body and psyche that we do not yet fully understand," says Dr. Käßner. It is now possible to visualize the brain regions that are active when dreaming. Since then, the experts have known where in the brain the dreams originate. But what exactly they mean remains a matter of interpretation. "And with interpretations, you can say a lot of wrong things," says Dr. Käßner.

The fact is: dream interpretation has preoccupied mankind since it was aware of its dreams. Dreams play a role in the Bible, Odysseus dreamed of the Trojan horse, and Einstein is said to have found the right path to the theory of relativity in telling his dreams. But even the findings of the pioneer of dream interpretation, Sigmund Freud, do not stand up to today's research findings. Sexuality is undoubtedly one of our more important driving forces. But not the linchpin for everything. It can be taken for granted that dreams provide inspiration; they are predispositions for creativity and emotional performance. "Many artists have made a living from putting their dreams on canvas, on paper or on sheet music."

We go through four phases in an average night: deep sleep and dream sleep (REM sleep) alternate (see graphic). "In the REM phase, the vegetative nervous system is activated," says Dr. Käßner. The muscles, on the other hand, slacken. We now know that people can also dream in the deep sleep phase, even under anesthesia and in a coma, this cannot be ruled out.

Another thing is certain: There are also differences between men and women when it comes to dreaming. "Women dream more often than men," says Dr. Käßner. “They dream differently, their dreams often reflect what they experienced during the day. And they can remember it more often. ”The Mannheim sleep researcher Michael Schredl has cataloged the main gender issues. Little profound reveals itself: Many men apparently like to dream of cars, hunting and sex. Many women still deal with household, children and clothes in dreams.

However, those whose dreams are repeatedly disturbed, for example by certain medication or drugs, will feel this. The possible consequences range from lack of concentration to depression and dementia. But what about nightmares that usually nobody wants to have, but around five percent of all people suffer from constant nightmares. "Lucid dreams can help as a countermeasure," says Dr. Käßner. These are dreams in which the dreaming is aware to dream, and in which the dream content can therefore be influenced. “In this way the nightmare can be drowned out at will.” A technique that can be learned. Or a gift that you have.

Like Dr. Käßner. Nightmares don't bother him. No more. “Today I can get out of unpleasant dreams,” he says. "I don't know how, but it works." Fantastic.