Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey, by science journalist Alice Robb, is a fine companion volume to Walker’s magisterial tome (Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams).
While not as rigorous as Walker’s book, Robb does a capable job of gathering a great deal of data, supported by copious references to scientific studies. In her words, “This is a book about science and history; it’s the story of how previous cultures forgot about dreams, and how we are finally rediscovering them. As you learn how rich your inner life is as you sleep, I imagine – I hope – that you will want to remember your own dreams more often and even experiment with lucidity.”
Robb offers a succinct overview of the history of dreams, the revolutionary discovery of REM sleep in 1953, the role of dreams in problem solving and creativity — “dreams as a meeting place for the muses” — how dreams aid in learning, the critical place of REM sleep in survival, dreams and depression, dreams and grief, and a solid chapter on nightmares. Robb spends quite some time discussing the therapeutic and diagnostic role of dreams, and skillfully unpacks the rich history of dream interpretation. While the book tends to read like an encyclopedia and can get a bit dry, it does distill valuable information from a wide number of sources. I, for one, like reading encyclopedias.
One of the most rewarding chapters was on the power of dream groups, which inspired me just as I was considering the launch of our Night Club. Robb gathers a fruitful collection of stories and illuminating insights on how beneficial dream communities can be, and discusses the value of sharing. “Dream groups and the disclosures they inspire can form the backbone of communities,” she writes. Sharing not only bonds, it can also heal: “Conversations bring us closer together, helping us to share stories and fears that might otherwise fester as secrets.”
What made this book compelling to me is Robb’s enthusiasm about lucid dreaming, and her personal journey in learning how to wake up in her dreams. She offers stories about her time with Stephen LaBerge (the father of Western lucid dreaming), the evolution of lucidity, some of the many benefits of lucid dreaming, and the importance of dream recall in lucidity – with techniques like meditation to increase that recall. In support of this she writes, “In 1978, psychologist Henry Reed found that regular meditators had clearer memories of their dreams on the days after they had meditated. More recently, psychologist Jayne Gackenbach also noticed a difference in dream recall among meditators and nonmeditators.”
Robb also peppers in a host of facts and figures about lucid dreaming, “Lifestyle choices and hobbies can also have an effect on dreaming patterns. Video-game enthusiasts tend to have more lucid dreams . . . both gamers and lucid dreamers have better-than-average spatial awareness and lower susceptibility to motion sickness. . . athletes enjoy a high lucid-dreaming rate.” And quoting neuroscientist Martin Dresler on successful lucid dreamers, “Most of our subjects have quite some self-discipline . . . most of them don’t drink coffee, don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke.”
It’s this collating of data that makes Robb’s book worth the read. In her epilogue, she concludes, “Psychologist Rubin Naiman has argued that the loss of dreams in our culture constitutes a bona fide public health hazard. Recognizing the importance of dreams for mental and cognitive health is especially crucial now. . . So let’s start talking about dreams. Let’s treat them like the real and profound experiences they are. Let’s give them their rightful place in the world.” I could not agree more.
Here’s a brief interview with Robb on CBSN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyjaiG9Ddo4