WHY WE DREAM : The Transformative Power of Our Nightly JourneyAlice Robb
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It Takes Readers On A Journey To Uncover Why We Dream, Why Dreaming Is Important, And How We Can Improve Our Dream Life
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|12 November 2019
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★★ Named A “Must-Read Book of the Fall” by Vogue, Elle, Literary Hub, TIME, New York Magazine, and The London Evening Standard ★★
★★ A Top 10 book About Insomnia (The Guardian) ★★
★★ A Best Health And Science Book of 2018 (The Cut) ★★
A fresh, revelatory foray into the new science of dreams – how they work, what they’re for, and how we can reap the benefits of our own nocturnal life. You’ll never think of your dreams in the same way again.
The book explores the fascinating world of dreams and delves into the scientific understanding of why humans dream and what purposes dreaming might serve. Alice Robb, a science journalist, draws on various research studies, historical anecdotes, and personal experiences to provide readers with insights into the intricate and often mysterious realm of dreaming.
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.”
While on a research trip in Peru, science journalist Alice Robb became hooked on lucid dreaming—the uncanny phenomenon in which a sleeping person can realize that they’re dreaming and even control the dreamed experience. Finding these forays both puzzling and exhilarating, Robb dug deeper into the science of dreams at an extremely opportune moment: just as researchers began to understand why dreams exist. They aren’t just random events; they have clear purposes. They help us learn and even overcome psychic trauma.
Robb draws on fresh and forgotten research, as well as her experience and that of other dream experts, to show why dreams are vital to our emotional and physical health. She explains how we can remember our dreams better—and why we should. She traces the intricate links between dreaming and creativity, and even offers advice on how we can relish the intense adventure of lucid dreaming for ourselves.
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.
In the book, Robb tackles questions such as:
◆ 1. The Evolutionary Purpose of Dreams: Robb delves into the potential evolutionary reasons behind why humans and other animals dream. She discusses theories about how dreaming might have helped our ancestors rehearse survival skills or process emotions and memories.
◆ 2. Dreams and Emotional Processing: The book explores how dreams might contribute to emotional regulation and processing. It examines the idea that dreaming serves as a mechanism for working through challenging emotions, fears, and anxieties.
◆ 3. Dream Content and Symbolism: Robb delves into the analysis of dream content and explores the concept of dream symbolism. She discusses how dreams might reflect subconscious thoughts, desires, and conflicts.
◆ 4. Dreams and Memory Consolidation: The book delves into the role of dreams in memory consolidation and information processing. It examines how dreaming might help integrate new experiences and information into existing knowledge.
◆ 5. REM Sleep and Dreaming: Robb discusses the connection between Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and dreaming. She explores the physiological aspects of dreaming and how brain activity during REM sleep contributes to the vivid and often surreal experiences we have in our dreams.
◆ 6. Dream Interpretation: The book explores the history and science of dream interpretation, from ancient civilizations to modern psychoanalysis. It discusses the various approaches people have taken to understand the meanings behind their dreams.
Why We Dream is both a cutting-edge examination of the meaning and purpose of our nightly visions and a guide to changing our dream lives in order to make our waking lives richer, healthier, and happier. Alice encourages us to rethink the importance of dreams and to become dream interpreters ourselves.
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.
4 facts you didn’t know about dreaming :
● 1. Dreams help us to problem-solve
In Why We Dream, Alice Robb explains how dreams can give us insight into personal problems. Not only does the symbolism and surrealism of our dream imagery help us to see our problems and possible solutions to them in a new light, but we also withhold judgement when we sleep, allowing ourselves to consider ideas we otherwise might dismiss.
● 2. Dreams can heighten our creativity
Numerous artists, from Graham Greene to Paul McCartney, have spoken of how their dreams have had a positive influence on their creative work. In the 1990s, physician James Pagel interviewed screenwriters, actors and directors about how their dreams factored into their daily lives and found that their dream recall was much higher than that of the general population. Robb believes that ‘exceptionally creative people may be naturally prone to vivid dreaming’.
● 3. Dreams help us to prepare for the challenges of real life
Dreams can be hugely valuable in helping us to prepare for future events, particularly those that we’re feeling stressed or nervous about. Dreaming about these future experiences allows us to run through various scenarios and our reactions to them, leaving us feeling more ready to tackle the situation in real life. A study of students who were preparing to take their medical school entrance exam found that there was a significant relationship between students who dreamed often about the upcoming test, and the students who performed best in real life. Although unpleasant, those dreams where you fail an exam or turn up to the first day of a new job naked could be setting you up for success!
● 4. Dreams can have a positive effect on our mental health
Although the link between dreams and mental health hasn’t been fully explained, a study has found that the number of people in severely depressed populations who can regularly recall their dreams is much lower than the number in the general population. It’s unclear whether this lack of dreams is a cause or an effect of depression, but it certainly may deepen the depression, depriving sufferers of an opportunity to process their pain.
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.
Full of weird and fascinating insights into the study of dreams, Why We Dream calls our attention back to our sleeping life. In its best passages, it fills in the reader with a sense of urgency and excitement: makes us want to dream, to note our dreams, to pay attention to the imaginary playground we visit each night. In short, it makes us eager to take notice of the fundamental mystery of ourselves, which is no bad thing at all.
Throughout the book, Alice Robb weaves together scientific research, historical anecdotes, and personal stories to provide a comprehensive and engaging exploration of the world of dreams. “Why We Dream” offers readers a multidimensional perspective on dreaming and its potential significance in our lives.
KIRKUS REVIEW :
What happens inside one’s brain during sleep? Answering that question, as journalist Robb’s inviting exploration makes clear, takes some work, but it yields some fascinating answers.
Telling someone that he or she was in your dream last night is a timeworn, even cheesy pickup line. Why do we dream? Ask a neurophysiologist, and you may get a suitably mechanistic answer: Dreaming is a way for the brain to do a reboot and flush its cache.
Robb, a columnist for New York magazine, is more given to metaphor and lyric in looking at the ways dreams tell us what we’re really thinking about—for, by another theory, dreams are ways the brain processes bits of information gleaned in waking life and uses “them to make guesses about the future.”
Granted, she writes, that in-my-dream line is “still basically an innuendo,” especially if the dream-inhabiting person in question was climbing a ladder, a pure Freudian trope for intercourse. That person may figure in an innocent dream that still has meaning, just as the content of dreams of patients about to undergo surgery speaks to “anxieties and fears, in symbols and metaphors if not literally.” (Robb adds that if you’re dreaming about “broken knives and blocked-up sewers” before undergoing the procedures, you’re anxious for sure.)
The author tends toward the softer side of the neuropsychological spectrum; there’s been much hard neuroscience work on the sleeping and dreaming brain, for instance, that doesn’t figure here. She writes at some length of “lucid dreaming” and ways to cultivate a better understanding of what’s happening inside our minds when the lights are out.
Even if we don’t quite know why certain ingredients may be in a dream or “why our brains choose a particular night to play a particular scene,” the content can be made more meaningful—and thus more useful to the dreamer who’s paying attention, making dreamtime a time “imbued with a sense of opportunity instead of anxiety.”
A friendly primer for would-be oneirologists.
About the Author :
ALICE ROBB is a journalist who has written for The New Republic (as a staff writer), New York, The New Statesman, The Atlantic, Elle, Foreign Policy, The Washington Post, Vice, The BBC and British Vogue, among others. Her first book, Why We Dream, has been recommended by places like Vogue, Elle, TIME, New York and The Guardian. It was translated into seventeen foreign languages and The New Yorker called it “a spirited rebuke to the idea of sleep as a mere parting with consciousness… [Robb] is able to tread a careful and persuasive line between robust skepticism and open-mindedness.” She graduated from Oxford with a BA in Archaeology and Anthropology, and currently lives in New York City.
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