Author David K. Randall shares the fascinating science behind what really happens in our dream world in Dreamland.
Artists from Shake-speare to Meatloaf have expounded on the mysteries and virtues of sleep. But a clear understanding of our state of slumber still eludes us as much as a good night’s sleep itself. In Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep (W.W. Norton & Company, $26), ?David K. Randall tells a fascinating bedtime story about the peculiar ways the mind continues to work while the body is at rest.
Of course, as Randall can attest, not all sleeping bodies are completely restful. A midnight run-in with a wall while Randall was sleepwalking awoke his curiosity about those dark hours that make up nearly a third of our lives. As he discovered, he got off easy: Other people have fallen to their death, assaulted their spouse and even committed murder while sleeping. “It raises the question of, ‘What is consciousness?’ ” Randall says. “The idea that you’re a bystander to something your body does is fascinating and terrifying at the same time.”
Blame our modern world, with its electric lights and ?frenetic pace, for messing up millions of years of sleep patterns. In Dreamland, Randall examines the sleep industry — the pharmaceutical companies, mattress makers and “fatigue-management consultants” who earn billions each year off our desire for some quality shut-eye. He offers a fascinating ?analysis of modern dream research, which emphasizes the ?function of dreams (to sort out and role-play our daily anxieties)? rather than Freud’s fanciful interpretations. And he ponders the I Love Lucy scenario: Does one bed or two make for a better night’s sleep — and a better marriage? “Research shows a woman’s sleep quality is one of the best predictors of happiness in a marriage,” he says.
Randall’s overall takeaway is that sleep is like Rodney Dangerfield: It doesn’t get the respect it deserves. “Sleep is what makes us us. It’s a big part of our creativity and how we interact,” he says. “It should be respected in the same way we regard other aspects of our health, like working out and eating better. Yet it’s a big blind spot that a lot of people have. If you eat organic food but sleep only five hours a night, you’re missing the big picture.”