Alice Robb’s book Why We Dream explores the science behind dreams and what we can learn from them.
What was the biggest surprise for you as you wrote Why We Dream?
I knew that sifting through the vast amount of dream research that’s been done—and figuring out what was truly scientific and what wasn’t—would be a challenge, but the surprise was that I couldn’t always draw a clear line between the two. One scientist I met has done important research, but he is also open to the idea that dreams can predict the future. The psychologist who developed the method of dream groups that I’ve seen to be effective also did a lot of studies on dreams and telepathy. I found that I had to be open-minded.
What is it about lucid dreaming that draws people to conferences to learn about it?
In a lucid dream, you are aware that you’re dreaming and might be able to exercise some control over what happens in the dream. I think part of the appeal of lucid dreaming is that it’s an opportunity to experience an unusual state of consciousness in a completely natural way. And you have to sleep anyway!
Why We Dream describes how dreams can give us insight into personal problems, as well as ideas for creative projects. But in order to get those insights, we first need to remember our dreams. What do you suggest to improve dream recall?
Keeping a dream journal is an easy and effective way to remember more of your dreams. When people start to keep a dream journal, their dream recall skyrockets, even those who think they never remember their dreams. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I write up my dream in the notes app on my phone, just some bulleted notes to help me recall and write about later. I also keep a long-running document on my computer with many thousands of words. Other people speak their dreams into a voice recorder or use a pen-and-paper journal. The other advice I’d give is when you go to bed, think about how you’re going to write in your journal the next morning. Setting the intention will reinforce the habit of remembering and writing.
What has changed for you since you began working on this book?
I always had pretty vivid dream recall, which made me interested in dreams in the first place, but now I remember dreams pretty much every night, and overall my ability to recall dreams has improved a lot. One thing I wasn’t anticipating: I used to have pretty bad insomnia, and although I still wake up sometimes, I feel much more calm about it. This is partly from learning about how sleep patterns have varied over the centuries; the idea that we need one eight-hour chunk of sleep to be rested is new.
Where does Sigmund Freud fit in to the way we understand dreams?
Freud is so highly associated with dreams in the popular imagination. When I told people I was writing a book about dreams, Freud would often be the first name to come up. Freud is almost a bridge between old and new; he did help bring dreams into a scientific paradigm, but a lot of his ideas have not been supported and have become cliches. Some of his work probably ended up being detrimental to the field of dream research.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Why We Dream.
Author photo by Don Razniewski.