In my many years working in the field of sleep disorders, I have often been asked two questions: 1) What do my dreams mean? 2) Why do I always wake up and can’t get back to sleep? The short answer to both is simply, “I don’t know.” Or as my kids would say: “IDK”. Honestly.
The truth is that sleeping and dreaming are two of the most physiologically complex processes that happen to us, and so without further investigation and questioning, I always stick with IDK. Because studying dreams is difficult at best, I typically recommend finding a book on dreaming theories and picking the one you like best. Into deep thoughts and the subconscious mind? Try Freud or Jung. Comfortable talking about computer processing, organization and file cabinets? Look into Pavlides and Winson. Neurons and synapses? Check out Hobson/McCarley.
I’ve never really been into dream interpretation, probably to my detriment. I guess that’s the practical, midwest side of me (born in Nebraska). What does your dream mean? IDK. Just be glad you got some REM!
The other question of why someone (you) might be waking up early every night is actually more solvable for me than the dream question. With an open Q&A discussion, common reasons tend to be alcohol, medications, stress, pain, circadian rhythm shift, sleep apnea, or age. And because I’ve learned not to play doctor, anyone with a sleeping problem such as frequent early awakening that cannot be resolved through better sleep hygiene (the normal do’s and don’ts of sleep) should run it by their doctor. Sleep (like wake) is a whole body process, affected by and affecting just about any other health conditions, and keeping your regular doctor informed is imperative. If/when organic medical conditions can be ruled out, then a powerful behavioral sleep strategy like Intensive Sleep Retraining (ISR) may be just the thing!
So keep an eye out for our SleepQ project coming to Kickstarter this fall. “IK” that “ISR” with “Q” will be a great help for those who want a better confidence in and awareness of their sleep, and less dependence on sleeping pills!