The science of sleep and its importance to our health seem to be in the news almost every day. But the science of dreams? Not so much. However, though it may lag behind the research on sleep, dream research is catching up; it turns out that our dreams affect our well-being, too, as Alice Robb writes in her lively, immersive Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey. She writes, “Dreams play a crucial role in some of our most important emotional and cognitive systems, helping us form memories, solve problems and maintain our psychological health.”
“Paying closer attention to our dreams can allow us to understand what we may be ignoring in the daytime.”
In Why We Dream, Robb reminds readers that for most of history, dreams were viewed through a spiritual lens. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that scientists tried to study dreams. Some of the first dream-research discoveries were made by nontraditional outsiders; the scientist who first documented REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, and who connected REM cycles to dreaming, is largely forgotten. Other early dream researchers tried without much success to study dream telepathy and whether dreams could predict natural disasters.
Robb neatly uses her own and others’ dream experiences to introduce current research, including how dreams help us learn and remember, recover from trauma and stay mentally healthy. Poor dream recall or lack of dreams can be a risk factor for depression, and middle-aged people who act out their dreams may be at higher risk for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. The book also offers a brief guide to lucid dreaming (in which dreamers know they are dreaming), with an entertaining portrait of a lucid-dreaming conference in Hawaii.
Paying closer attention to our dreams can allow us to understand what our brains are processing—and what we may be ignoring in the daytime. Robb offers a range of suggestions for better attention to dreams, from keeping a dream journal to starting a dream group.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Alice Robb.