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Into the Dreamscape: Scientists Discover How Vivid Dreams That Inspire Feelings of Awe Spill Over into Real Life

Scientists have found that vivid dreams can often spill over into real life and affect how people see the world and their part in it, especially powerful dreams that inspire feelings of awe.

The new findings indicate that this is especially prevalent in the workplace, where the effects of strong emotional dreams can cause people to handle the stresses of their jobs more effectively.

About 40% of People Recall Their Dreams Upon Awakening Each Day

Studies have shown that on any given workday, around 40% of people recall what they were dreaming about upon awakening. While it is not always the same 40%, researchers from the University of Notre Dame wondered if those recalled dreams affect the attitude and overall productivity of the folks who do recall what they were dreaming about.

Now, those researchers have taken a closer look at dream recall. Their findings indicate that emotionally potent experiences in the dream world, especially ones that inspire feelings of awe and connectedness to a greater purpose, can have a dramatic, profound effect on the mental state of those who remember.

Feelings of Awe in the Dream World Result in Better Productivity and Resilience in the Real World

According to a press release announcing the compelling new study, people often draw connections between their dreams and waking lives, and “the connections they draw alter how they think, feel and act at work.” This is especially notable when the dreamers experience a profound, awe-inspiring emotional connection between their dreams and their waking lives, somehow offering a new perspective on what does and doesn’t really matter.

“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 the study’s 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.”

This result intrigued researchers, who wondered if they could tap into the power of awe-inspiring dreams to improve workplace satisfaction and productivity.

In the study, which is published in the Academy of Management Journal, they set out to complete a total of 5,000 dream-work evaluations spread across three different study groups of full-time employees. For each participant, they looked at individual dream recall effects on a single morning or work, across the entire day, and across a two-week span. The results were significant and somewhat unexpected.

“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,” Belinda said. “Regardless of our personal beliefs about dreams, these experiences bleed into and affect our waking lives — including how productive we are at work.”

An example used by researchers involved someone who experienced awe-inspiring dreams and then later that same day was tasked with an overwhelming project that was significantly more work than they had expected. Their study shows that such a person, even late in the day, has been somewhat bolstered against this emotional setback when their dreams left them feeling more connected to their lives.

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

These experiences, which are detailed in the published study, can come in different forms. This includes physical, such as when witnessing an aurora borealis, or conceptual, such as when one is “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,” says Belinda. “Dreams are conceptually vast experiences that have a striking capacity to elicit feelings of awe.”

Tapping Into the Power of Dreams to Improve the Workplace

To best take advantage of this phenomenon, the researchers found that “getting high-quality sleep” is essential. That’s because the strongest and most vivid dreams occur during REM sleep which typically occurs very late in a given sleep cycle. In fact, they recommend using a sleep tracker to maximize the time a dreamer spends in REM to increase the chances that you “get the most out of dreams.” Belinda also recommends keeping a sleep journal to allow meaningful dreams to “stick to you.”

“Recording dreams gives them repeated opportunities to elicit beneficial emotions,” the professor explains, “and make connections between dreams.”

Belinda also recommends that managers find ways to promote the “awe experience” while awake and at work to take advantage of this unique relationship between feelings of a higher purpose, connection to the world, and improved workplace productivity. This includes the use of things like music, art, and nature, as well as other “elicitors” of awe, all of which can potentially increase productivity at work.

“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.”

Christopher Plain is a Science Fiction and Fantasy novelist and Head Science Writer at The Debrief. Follow and connect with him on X, learn about his books at plainfiction.com, or email him directly at christopher@thedebrief.org.