“I Have a Dream!”

“I Have a Dream!”

By: Holly L. Thacker, MD • Posted on January 20, 2013 • Updated May 21, 2024

On the eve of our national holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we are all reminded of his powerful, visionary leadership, and his deep, resonating, sonorous voice that mesmerized and brought people together with his famous, "I Have a Dream" speech. I have visited The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia and listened to that masterpiece of rhetoric, which was a defining moment for our great country. Dr. King peacefully brought people together and reinforced the notion that we should all be judged on the content of our character and not the color of our skin. (Or, in doctor speak, the activity of our skin melanocytes!)

Why are dreams an important part of sleep?

Dr. King frequently referenced dreams in his speeches. Medically speaking, dreams are a critical component of sleep. Sleep is necessary for life. Unfortunately, we are a sleep deprived country with a 24/7 connected lifestyle. Prior to the invention of electricity, the average human slept 10-11 hours! Sleep, including REM (rapid eye movements) and non-REM sleep are critical for brain function and body rejuvenation. Vivid dreams occur during the active REM sleep.

Regardless of age, sex, the activity of your skin melanocytes, or any other characterizations, we all need sleep! Babies have the highest percentage of REM sleep. The term, 'sleep like a baby' is a paradoxical statement, as many babies do not sleep through the night much to their sleep-deprived parents' chagrin. The need for sleep varies with age, but on average, we recommend for most adults at least 7-8 hours of sleep. With sleep deprivation comes:

  • Irritability
  • Forgetfulness
  • Clumbsiness
  • Higher rate of accidents

Do you have a sleep disorder?

I tell my patients who poo poo my concerns about their sleep disorder, that after alcohol and drug abuse, untreated sleep disorders are the next most common cause for automobile accidents.

I routinely ask my patients about snoring. The common response is to laugh as they admit they've been told they "snore as loud as a train". However, snoring, which is a marker of sleep apnea, is no laughing matter. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a common and very treatable sleep disorder. Men have higher rates of sleep apnea, but after menopause, rates in women, especially women who are not on hormone therapy, rise. Obesity is a major risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea. The following types of sleep disorders need to be identified and treated:

  • Chronic insomnia
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Sleep walking
  • Narcoplexy

Sleep is critical to your overall health

Deep, restorative sleep is as critical to our health and wellness as good nutrition and regular physical exercise. Good health habits and a regular routine help promote a regular sleep schedule.

Unless you get good sleep, you will not have the energy or the vision to be a leader in your life or to be fully and actively engaged with your family and community. So as you reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s inspirational words, please take the time to get regular sleep and be sure to dream, both in your sleep as well as when you are awake. I have a dream!

Be Strong, Be Healthy, and Be in Charge!

-Dr. Holly L. Thacker

Holly L. Thacker, MD, FACP is nationally known for her leadership in women’s health. She is the founder of the Cleveland Clinic Women’s Health Fellowship and is currently the Professor and Director of the Center for Specialized Women’s Health at Cleveland Clinic and Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. Her special interests are menopause and related medical problems including osteoporosis, hormone therapy, breast cancer risk assessment, menstrual disorders, female sexual dysfunction and interdisciplinary women’s health. Dr. Thacker is the Executive Director of Speaking of Women’s Health and the author of The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause.

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