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Sleep On It: A Therapist Explains How To Use Your Dreams To Make Decisions

Jamie Schneider
mbg Associate Editor By Jamie Schneider
mbg Associate Editor
Jamie Schneider is the Associate Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and health. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Collage of a Young Woman Sleeping In Bed

If you're stuck on a problem, many would suggest you "sleep on it." After all, it's much better to spend some time weighing your options than making a rash decision, especially if the situation carries some emotional weight. Stepping away for a beat can help you gain more clarity—seeing the forest for the trees, if you will.

However, therapist and dream expert Leslie Ellis, Ph.D., says hitting the pillow really can help you make decisions—as she shares on the mindbodygreen podcast, your dreams may provide some urgent clues. 

How to use your dreams to make decisions.

The first step, says Ellis, is to write down your burning question before bed to prime your subconscious. "Sort of a general question, not too specific," she notes. Next, try to record all your dreams for the next couple of nights (if you have trouble remembering, see our guide here). Interpret them and "treat those as though they are a response," Ellis explains. "A lot of times, you'll get a creative answer, something relevant that you wouldn't have thought of in your normal waking." 

That's because your dreams can tap into your subconscious and help you deal with intense emotions; as Ellis notes, "Dreams tend to take the really heightened emotion that we feel during the day and dampen it down or calm it down." So when it comes to solving a problem, your dreams can wade through the emotions and unconscious biases you might not be privy to during waking hours. 

It's a simple practice, yet profound: In fact, she says, tons of creative individuals (think inventors and artists) turn to their dreams when they're stuck on a problem. Apparently, Dmitri Mendeleev (who created the periodic table) saw all the elements organized in a dream, and Albert Einstein came up with the theory of general relativity after dreaming about a field of cows. The Beatles' Paul McCartney composed the entire melody of the song, "Yesterday," in a dream. 

That's not to say you can drift off and expect to wake up with an Einstein-size eureka moment. As Ellis says, your dreams can help you take that extra step, especially if you're experiencing a creative block. In the case of Einstein, he was, of course, ruminating on the science during the day, but perhaps that dream was what he needed to connect the dots. "The dreaming process is what brings that creative leap," Ellis adds. "Once you've got all of the background information you need and you've been wrestling with a problem, you do get answers from some outside-the-box kind of place." 

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The takeaway.

You might think your dreams are nonsensical or strictly fantasy, but Ellis says this could not be more false. Take a deeper look at dreamland: If you're stuck on a problem and need that creative jump, your dreams can help you navigate your emotional barriers and provide a pinch more clarity. 

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