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Dreaming for Science

Dreaming for Science: A Closer Look

Zadra is also particularly fascinated by conditions such as sleepwalking, which blur the line between wakefulness and slumber. For example, there's the case of the somnambulistic woman who'd also eat meals in her sleep.

"Her psychiatrist knew she had a profound fear of snakes," says Zadra, "so he had her husband place a rubber snake in the refrigerator. When she sleepwalked to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door, she just stared at the snake silently for a long time. Then she closed the door, went back to bed, and her somnambulistic eating was over."


"She was sleepwalking when that happened," says Zadra, "but clearly she was processing information, and on some level she was making a decision. Was she asleep? Was she awake? There's no sharp line between the two."

Acting Out Dreams

Victims of REM Behavior Disorder, who lack the normal motor inhibitions that paralyze sleepers during REM sleep, also find themselves trapped occasionally between the world of waking and slumber. Confused and frightened, they often violently act out their dreams.

"Recently, we had a patient with 12 stitches on his head from running into his dresser," says Zadra. "He was dreaming, and he thought he was tackling a burglar in the bedroom."

The line between sleep and waking is also blurred by the "confusional awakenings," which Zadra himself experiences, and the fleeting, sometimes frightful hallucinations that can occur during bouts of sleep paralysis.

"You are awake in the sense that you are aware of your surroundings," he says, "you can see your bed and your socks where you left them on the floor; but at the same time, there's a shadowy figure in the corner, and something is moving on the wall."

A World Created Whole

But Zadra's passion for the study of dreams transcends clinical diagnoses and professional protocol, and is rooted in a lasting childlike wonder at the majesty of dreams.

"It amazes me that when you dream your mind must create every detail," says Zadra. "It decides what the weather will be, what the color of each passing car will be, what the people you meet will be wearing. It's incredible that our brains, or minds, are able to create an entire world. The world of dreams is so rich, so universal," he says, "To me, dreams are one of the most marvelous experiences you can have."