Sleeping better…

Greetings, dreamers!  I’ve received a few dreams from you via email to, and I’ll comment on one in the post after this one!

Since my last post, I’ve given another dream workshop at the enchanted Rancho La Puerta spa in Tecate, Mexico.   A week at The Ranch is renowned for rejuvenating all aspects of yourself; it was just named world’s best destination spa by the readers of Travel and Leisure magazine. Something magical happens each time I go there. This time, I was particularly struck by the barn owl resting for days in a palm tree just over the bridge to our casita.  We’d look up every time we crossed, and there she would be, a lovely blue, tan, and white, peacefully resting, and sometimes tilting her head at us. In a dream, she might represent wisdom at the threshold…

During the workshop, two questions people always want answered are “How do I sleep better?” and “How do I remember more dreams?” Here are my answers, in two parts and posts.

HURTING SLEEP. Many pesky substances interfere with sleep: caffeine (for 7 hours!), various prescription and over-the-counter medications (any ingredient with “phrine” at the end, particularly), antidepressants and other psych meds, alcohol (the biggest offender because it prevents REM sleep, hence the vivid, rebound nightmares many who abuse alcohol experience once they stop).  Watching TV or using your computer or exercising during the two hours before bed stimulates your brain and makes it hard to fall asleep.  Depression and anxiety both interfere with sleep. Hormonal changes women in midlife experience can make falling or staying asleep challenging, too. Taking sleeping pills regularly is risky, and actually interferes with the four stages of sleep we typically experience several times a night (and most people do not dream when taking them).

HELPING SLEEP. There are some substances that actually help with sleep.  Potatoes (a baked potato eaten an hour before bed is a natural sleeping pill), turkey, and warm milk all contain amino acids which prepare us to fall asleep.  There are lots of teas which help, too:  the Yogi brand makes Bedtime tea and Cold Season tea, both of which contain valerian and skullcap.  Some people react strongly to them, so start with half a cup first. Celestial’s Sleepytime tea is a classic, and it is much milder than the above. Warm epsom salt baths are very relaxing and sedating, due to the magnesium in them which is absorbed by the skin (magnesium supplements and calcium supplements have a similar effect; check with your doctor before taking those).  Baths which are too hot are likely to wake you up, though, so aim for comforting, but not hot tub, temperature.

Some actions that help invite sleep include cutting out all of the substances and situations which are likely to stimulate you from your nighttime ritual.  “What nighttime ritual?” you ask.  Ah. Imagine some small actions you can take before bed each night to calm you, that you could make into something you do every night:  light a special candle as darkness falls, pray or meditate or do your own equivalent (journal writing, dancing, singing, writing poetry, drawing…), have a special cup of non-caffeinated tea or warm milk, and reflect upon the day.  Of course, we can all come up with things that annoyed, irritated, upset, and disappointed us. Advertising encourages us to do so (and then to buy the things they say will make it “better”).  Bah! Avoid that tide, and instead, consider what you were grateful for that day. Maybe record it in your journal so you can refer to it later, when things aren’t so clear.

For more sleep help, please click on “My Dream Books” to your right, then scroll down, and on the left side of the page, you’ll see a Sleep Tips link!  Next up… how to remember more dreams!

About Veronica Tonay

International dream expert, Dr. Veronica Tonay, earned her masters and doctoral degrees in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley in the early 1990s. She has been a licensed psychologist in private practice since 1997 (CA PSY 15379), and has taught psychology courses to undergraduates at the University of California at Santa Cruz since 1989.  Her work has been featured for over 25 years in many media outlets, such as Psychology Today, NPR Public Radio,, and The Chicago Tribune. Dr. Tonay was featured dream expert on the Discovery Health TV Channel's 3-episode miniseries, Dream Decoders. She has organized several dream conferences for the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and has published journal articles and three books, including: "The Creative Dreamer, Revised: Using Your Dreams to Unlock Your Creativity" (Ten Speed Press/Celestial Arts) and "Every Dream Interpreted," published in London by Collins & Brown.  She lives with her husband, Steven, in Santa Cruz, California, gardening, painting, writing, dancing, and dreaming.
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