This Is the Most Important Daily Habit for Your Brain

Much of the advice you get from so-called success gurus (like “get up before sunrise,” or “work 18 hour days“) virtually guarantees that you’ll fail at the one daily activity that is the foundation of everything: dreaming.

I’m not talking about daydreaming or “dreaming big.” I’m talking about the kind of dreaming you do when you’re asleep. I’m also not talking about “getting a good night’s sleep.” You can easily get seven or eight hours of sleep and still be dream-deprived.

Dreams happen when you’re exhibiting Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and it’s easy to measure REM because it’s visible unless you’re wearing a sleep mask. Most people have their first REM sleep of the night at about 90 minutes in, and it lasts for about 10 minutes.

You then slip in and out of REM sleep, staying in REM (i.e. dreaming) for an increasing period of time. Your final REM sleep is thus the longest and typically lasts about an hour and happens at the very end of your sleep.

That final REM sleep is by far the most important period of dreaming because it’s almost as much dreaming as you get throughout the rest of the night. Unfortunately, that final REM sleep is where sleepers tend to skimp. (Which is why the world has so many alarm clocks.)

The consequences of not having enough dreams every night are huge. When you’re dream-deprived you are literally damaging your brain and making yourself less intelligent. And over time, this negative effect well may be permanent.

A study conducted in 2017 at the University of Malaysia used nicotine (which suppresses REM) to dream-deprive rats from dreaming. It was a double-blind test meaning that half the rats got a placebo and the researchers didn’t know which rats were which.)

The scientists then put the rats through mazes to test how well their brains were working. The study found that “REM sleep deprivation significantly impaired learning and memory performance without defect in locomotor function.”

In other words, if you’re not dreaming enough each night, you can go through the motions but you won’t be learning or remembering nearly as well than if you had completed your dreaming. The ability to learn and remember is obviously crucial to success.

as well as if you’d had a full night’s complement of dreams. That’s a big deal in business, because

You’re probably wondering at this point how you can know for sure that you’re dreaming enough each night. After all, you’re asleep, so how would you know? Turns out there’s a easy test: if you’re still sleepy when you wake up to begin your day, you haven’t dreamed long enough. Usually this is because you haven’t had your final (and most important) dream.

Your first dream typically happens after you’ve been asleep for 90 minutes and lasts about 10 minutes. You then cycle back and forth from deep (dreamless) sleep and dreaming, with each dream lasting longer than the previously one. Your final dream happens at the end of your sleep session–usually after six or seven hours of sleep and typically lasts an entire hour.

Rule of thumb: if you are still sleepy when you get up for the day, you haven’t dreamed enough.

Rule of other thumb: If you regularly use an alarm clock, you’re truncating your final and most important dreaming period.

Rule of both thumbs: Ignore anyone who tells you get up earlier than is natural for you, because they are probably brain-impaired from following their own advice.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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