Image courtesy of Avery Cocozziello
You've probably heard of lucid dreaming. Maybe you've even tried your hand at controlling your dreams — waking up in the middle of the night and falling back asleep to get in that middle ground of consciousness, or keeping a dream journal to pick on cues and clues. But how about dream incubation? If you're wondering, "What is dream incubation?" then get hip to this ritual dating back to ancient times.
What Is Dream Incubation?
Dream incubation (the word "incubation" coming from the phrase "to lie upon") was practiced by ancient Egyptians and Greeks. After a number of purification rituals, individuals seeking sacred guidance or cures slept in a consecrated temple where deities would visit them and imbue them with what they needed.
Although many different cultural groups, such as indigenous Canadian folks, have practiced some form of dream incubation for ages, Western medicine is now catching up. MIT, for example, refers to the practice as targeted dream incubation (TDI).
Is What You See In Dreams Always Important?
Psychologist and dream expert Dr. Deirdre Barrett discussed the significance of dream imagery and cognition in RECLINER's Instagram Live Series, Pillow Talk. For example, while Barrett doesn't believe in supernatural dream premonition, she does believe in the link between dreams and intuition.
"We are not conscious of all the potential data and subtle cues that we take in, that our brain is processing," Barrett told RECLINER CEO Rebecca Smith. "Our consciousness is like a narrow spotlight on a little bit of our mental activity. And much, much, much, much more is going on. I think that dreams definitely tap into impressions that we've gotten and not consciously reflected on. [It's another] way of putting things together."
Barrett went on to discuss how we can harness the power of our dreams and make them work for us — whether the "work" is getting some relief from the anxiety-inducing reality of COVID-19 or literal dream problem-solving, something that Barrett has in fact researched.
How To Use Your Dreams For Problem-Solving
"The modern Western psychology version of dream incubation is, is a practice at bedtime as you're falling asleep to tell yourself as a simple statement what you want to dream about," Barrett explains. You can target personal problems, such as repetitive arguments with your partner, or a professional or homework problem.
Barrett goes on to explain how in one of her studies on problem-solving, 50% of participants were able to dream about the problem through incubation. About 25% of participants ended up dreaming of an answer to it.
"If you're very intentionally doing the dream incubation, it greatly increases the odds of [your brain] being on that topic," she says. "But secondly, of actually getting some help with it." Along with a quiet, cozy environment that encourages sleep (see: RECLINER’s stretchy lightweight Sleep Tee Sets), what you’ll need to do is focus on visualization.
It’s the most important aspect of incubation, Barrett explains. "Form a mental image in your mind's eye that you hold as you're drifting off to sleep," she says. "Our dreams are so visual that an image gets through, even more than the verbal request."
What Else Can Dream Incubation Do?
Of course, you can also use incubation for the purpose of relieving anxiety, which is something Barrett has been recommending to her clients. "The best way to not have as many anxiety dreams isn't to focus on, 'No, no I don't want to have an anxiety dream!' What you want to do is think about what you do want to dream about," she explains. "Anything that would be fun or soothing."
"For some people, it's a favorite person they're not getting to see in-person that they'd like to dream about," she continues. "You know, a beautiful vacation spot that they will get to after the pandemic is over, that they can get to right now in their dream."
Make sleep fun again
Again, this dream incubation practice involves focusing on what you do want to think about, and forming a subsequent mental image accordingly. If you don't connect with the idea of mental imagery or don't think you'll be able to hold a visual in your mind's eye, get literal with it. "You might want to find a physical picture — a snapshot of the person or the place," she says. "Put that on your night table and just have it be the last thing you stare at before you close your eyes and go to sleep." Happy dreaming.