Throughout eternity, dreaming has been a big part of civilization. Dreams figure prominently in the culture of the Aboriginal tribes of the world. The Senoi people from the mountains of Malaysia used dreams as a way to conquer their fears and reach their goals. Every morning, the first order of the day was to report any dreams experienced during the night. Then those dreams were used to shape future dreams, and thus to shape the life of the dreamer.
Dreamtime, to the Australian Aboriginal people, refers to the time of creation, to their beliefs and their spiritual faith. Dreamtime makes up a large body of stories told by the elders and passed down through the ages. Native Americans depended on dreams to show them the future. Thus, they went on vision quests. Many of their dreams during the vision quest originated from sleep deprivation and hunger, for they often fasted for many days and then walked many miles into the wilderness before they found a suitable place to seek their vision.
Dreams have also helped to shape our poetry, literature and art. Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt begins: "Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase) Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace.." William Shakespeare, in Hamlet, says: "To sleep, perchance to dream. Aye, there's the rub." And one of my favorites, "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, came about from a drug-induced dream.
Children's fairy tales are also sprinkled with dreams and sleep. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is the story of a little girl who fell asleep and dreamed of following a strange white rabbit down a rabbit hole into a wonderful fantasy world. Come to think of it, some of her adventures in Wonderland are closer to nightmares than dreams -- grinning cats that disappear, a talking dormouse in a teapot, and don't forget the Queen who wanted to chop off everyone's head! Sleeping Beauty fell asleep and stayed that way until the handsome prince awakened her from her dreams. And Rip Van Winkle fell asleep for twenty years and woke up to a whole different world.
And thus on into more adult stories. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after dreaming some of the scenes. Jack Kerouac is a writer from the Beat Generation. His Book of Dreams is just that, a collection of Kerouac's dreams, usually written just upon awakening. Many of the characters in his books were based upon these dreams. And again, back to Shakespeare and "Midsummer Night's Dream."
Even art has been greatly influenced by dreams. Salvadore Dali based some of his paintings on dreams he had. Some of his paintings, at least to me, resemble bad dreams. Many of the great artists of the past based their work on dreams or visions that had come to them while asleep. For a genuine case of a sleep disorder and art meeting, check out the painting Nightmare by Henry Fuseli.
Dreams, nightmares, night terrors. They all disrupt sleep and often cause groggy days and a great deal of yawning. But mankind has put the dream disorders to some good use over the ages. It would be a duller world if we didn't have our dreams.