Updated: Sep 24, 2021
In this fast-paced society that we dwell in, we are often thrown into a situation where we are told that maximising productivity is key to our mental wellness. We should all grind around the clock, working that little bit later through the project and have little to no sleep as “I will sleep when I’m dead” is magically quoted. It is unfortunate that society perceives this notion that sleeping, or napping is not important. There are thousands of studies on how having an adequate amount of sleep is in fact key to our mental wellness. A lack of sleep will slow our creative process down as we are not 100% throughout the day, which affects our work.
If we start daydreaming or having an afternoon nap, our fellow peers laugh at us, scold us for being lazy or being reckless for not having enough sleep the night before. The problem that society does not understand is that daydreaming is very common among the human race. We are naturally prone to daydreaming after prolonged periods of focus (The NeuroLeadership Institute says that we can only focus for a maximum of 2 hours at a time). At any moment in the day, many of us are daydreaming and it is estimated that daily, 96% of us begin to daydream at any given moment.
Background to out sleep cycles
As we discuss daydreams, it is important to look at our sleep cycles and at which stages we dream throughout the night.
When we sleep, there are four stages to our sleep cycle. Firstly, we have the transition from wakefulness to sleep during this stage, our bodies begin to cooldown, our heart beats slowly decrease, and our breathing begins to soften. Secondly, as the sleep transition becomes deeper, our muscles begin to relax and our heart rate and breathing decreases even further. Thirdly, this is the last stage of Non-REM sleep. In this stage the body is completely relaxed, breathing and heart rate has decreased to a slow, steady pace. This is often referred to as the “deep sleep” stage as this stage of sleep makes us feel refreshed this next morning.
Lastly, we have the REM (rapid-eye movement) stage. This is the stage where most of our dreams occur as our brain waves reflect that of being awake. Our limbs become fully paralyzed, and our breathing and heartbeats become quicker and irregular. During this stage, dreams are most common.
It is often said that dreaming provides us with emotional first aid; the ability to process emotional events that have occurred throughout our lifetime. We can process both negative and positive thoughts, delve deep into our creativity and even tell stories, although the ability to control this is a somewhat grey area. Sleep paralysis and lucid dreams can be controlled to an extent, but this can negatively affect our sleep cycles, leading us to be groggy and mentally fatigued the next day.
The less sleep that we have, the less likely we are to focus. This can lead us to zone out for a few seconds, experiencing very vivid external realities. We can train ourselves to enter states of deep work and flow, but if we have not had an adequate amount of sleep, we are more likely to daydream throughout the day. Of course, being human, we daydream even when we have had an adequate amount of sleep. The truth is daydreaming can give us a break throughout the day. This can lead to breakthroughs of difficult tasks.
Benefits of daydreaming
1) It boosts your creativity – When we are particularly focused, tired, and even uninterested, we tend to daydream. These dreams can give us a short glimpse of pure imagination that may be the next idea. For example, we may have a fantasy-based daydream that gives us the urge to create something different.
2) It keeps you focused – If we have had poor sleep the previous night, we may feel sluggish and tired. Our brains are not working to their maximum capacity, which can lead to unproductivity. We may drift off in class or in the middle of an important lecture. The daydream will give us the “snap back to reality” kick to help us focus.
3) It visualises your goals – If we are stuck in a boring lecture or workspace, our daydreams may tell us that we need a change, whether this is food, lifestyle, or anything else. Our dreams can help visualize our goals by showing us what we truly desire and setting us on the right path. After all, we need to picture the goal before we pursue it, right?
4) It will bring a sense of joy – How often are we stuck doing uncomfortable tasks, responding to emails, listening to the mandatory lecture? By daydreaming for a few moments of the day, we can dream of ourselves in fanatical worlds or countries. This will bring a sense of joy, just like the cat videos you so often watch.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that maximises productivity and frowns upon those who slack off, sleep on the job, daydream as there are benefits to having small daydream breaks that can bring us back to our productive state. If we could all be open to daydreaming, the workplace would be in a better position, our staff could be happier, and our creativity would flourish. The Japanese take this approach with the word “Inemuri”, which translates to power nap. In Japan, power napping is becoming more mainstream, and daydreaming is perceived as being a good thing for productivity. Let us follow this approach.
Make sure that you sleep well and always sleep at the same consistent time.
Our sleep cycles:
1) Non-REM sleep: Awake to sleep, breathing, heartbeat slows. Temperature cools
2) Non-REM sleep: Transition to sleep, muscles relax, breathing, heartbeat slows.
3) Non-REM sleep: Muscles fully relax, in a stage of deep sleep.
4) REM sleep: Heartbeat, breathing increases, eyes moving rapidly, dream state.
Benefits of daydreaming
1) Boost’s creativity: creative fanatical dreams giving us the next idea.
2) Keeps us focused: gives us the “kickback to reality” we focus after sleeping.
3) Visualises goals: We dream of our deep goals, sets the path for our focus.
4) Sense of joy: Small glimpse of fantasy in the day makes us happy – cat videos example.