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Meaningful dream experiences can boost your work productivity

Before going to work each day, most people spend the night dreaming, and, according to recent studies, about 40 percent of the working population recalls their dreams on any given morning. 

Now, a team of researchers led by the University of Notre Dame has found that, when dreams are first recalled, people frequently draw meaningful connections between their dreams and waking lives, which can significantly alter how they think, feel, and act at work.

Feelings of awe

“Similar to epiphany, we found that connecting the dots between dreams and reality gives rise to awe – an emotion that sparks a tendency to think about ourselves and our experiences in the grand scheme of things,” said lead author Casher Belinda, an assistant professor of Management at Notre Dame. 

“This makes subsequent work stressors seem less daunting, bolstering resilience and productivity throughout the workday.”

“People experience awe when they undergo something vast – something that challenges their understanding or way of thinking about things.”

“These experiences can come in different forms, whether physical, such as when witnessing aurora borealis, or conceptual, such as when grasping the implications of a grand theory.”

“Awe often borders on the extremes or upper bounds of other emotions, for example, when people experience profound gratitude or admiration. Dreams are conceptually vast experiences that have a striking capacity to elicit feelings of awe.”

Psychological benefits 

The experts conducted three studies capturing about 5,000 reports of dream recall among full-time employees (a morning-of study, a single-day morning-to-afternoon study, and a two-week experience study). 

The investigations revealed that the positive relationships between dreams and waking life persisted even after accounting for how much or how well people slept, suggesting that the psychological benefits of recalling and finding meaning in dream experiences may sometimes offset the physiological consequences of poor sleep.

Gaining perspective 

Although dreaming seems to have little or no connection to work, these findings indicate that when we recall our dreams, our mundane experience can change substantially. 

“We arrive at work shortly after interacting with deceased loved ones, narrowly escaping or failing to escape traumatic events and performing acts of immeasurable ability. Regardless of our personal beliefs about dreams, these experiences bleed into and affect our waking lives — including how productive we are at work,” Belinda explained.

For instance, if someone recalls an awe-inspiring or meaningful dream in the morning, and then, in the afternoon, their supervisor asks them for an unexpected amount of extra-work, they might consider this less frustrating than usual since their dream may have put everything into a larger perspective. 

“Harnessing the benefits of awe may prove invaluable to organizations,” Belinda said. “And one of our primary goals was to understand how to do so.”

Increasing the frequency of awe-inspiring dreams 

First, reaping the most benefits from dreams requires a good night’s sleep. Although dreams occur in all stages of sleep and are impactful regardless of sleep habits, the most vivid dreams – which are most likely to have a deeper meaning and create a sense of awe after waking up – occur during REM sleep. 

Since this type of sleep takes place late during a sleep cycle, getting a sufficient amount of high-quality sleep is essential to get the most out of our dreams.

Sleep-tracking devices indicating when and how much time we spend in REM sleep could help improve sleep schedules and increase the chances of having awe-inspiring dreams. 

“Also, keep a dream journal to allow meaningful dreams to stick with you,” Belinda added. “Recording dreams gives them repeated opportunities to elicit beneficial emotions and make connections between dreams.” 

Thus, for both managers and employees, promoting the “awe experience” at the workplace can be highly beneficial.

According to the scientists, in addition to dreams, other elicitors may include nature, art, music, or exposure to senior, charismatic leaders, all of which can increase productivity and enjoyment at work.

The study is published in the Academy of Management Journal.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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