Dancing Sugar Plums

Around this time of year many of us have occasion to reread “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” by Clement Clarke Moore.  Mr. Moore wrote this poem in 1822 but wrote it anonymously until 1844 when he included it in a book of his own poetry. He describes the blissful experience of sleep as, “The children were all snug in their beds, While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads, And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap, Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.”

For many, night seems devoid of dreams of sugar plums or anything else, and the long winter’s nap is frustratingly elusive.  Tossing and turning, anxious glancing at a digital alarm clock, emotional stress, restless legs, chronic pain, and serious sleep apnea can all interfere with one of the most important of our body functions: sleep. Sleep is not only a time out for our body and mind to rest, repair, and heal, but it is a time for dreams.

Dr. Robert Stickgold, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, writes, “Dreams are just the body’s way of clearing out the mental ‘in box.’  The trick is to move it to the file cabinet and to file it in the right place.  A lot of REM dreams, those really quirky, strange bizarre dreams that we have late at night, is the brain looking for ways to cross-reference. When the cross-reference is a good one, the brain can reinforce the memory.”  ”When we dream, we get the pieces.  When we wake, we can know the whole.”

The more I practice, the more I understand the importance of sleep for both physical and mental wellness.  I find my long shelf of books on sleep quickly being supplemented with C.B.T-I (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia.)  Online programs such as SHUTi and many others can help in the process of taking new scientific insights into the realm of practical problem solving for sleep problems.  It is an exciting time to explore and embrace this beautiful experience of all humans, as Shakespeare put it, “To sleep, perchance to dream.”