Sleep and Dreams: The Basics and Resources

When I began this journey into the Land of Nod, sleep, to me, was a murky puzzle. I was mystified by the apparent dormancy of our minds during slumber; clueless concerning the nature and purpose of our dreams; and frustrated by my own baffling inability to get a good night's rest.

Well, I won't pretend I've solved the mysteries of sleep, but after more than a month on this slumbo-trail — and with the help of some of the pre-eminent thinkers in the field of sleep and dreams — I feel like I've pulled back the curtain a bit and taken a peek inside.

On the practical side, doctors at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic helped me understand how a mild respiratory glitch, a faulty biological clock and a host of bad bedtime habits had conspired to fill my nights with sleepless frustration. I also was mightily impressed, in my conversations with the experts, by our busy society's misguided disregard for the importance of slumber: It's the reason victims of sleep disorders get so little compassion, I believe, and the source of a growing, nationwide sleep debt.

In my more speculative slumbo-adventures, I met people who use their dreams as the source of practical insights, and others for whom dreams are the road to the spirit inside. I met lucid dreamers, who can control the actions of their dreams — I even managed a lucid dream of my own — and I spoke with a pioneering dream theorist who explained how our dreams of the departed can bring us resolution, acceptance and peace. These encounters, and my own experience, convinced me that dreams are not mere imagination, they're the product of the sleeping mind, thinking in profound and poetic ways.

More than anything, though, I've come away from my journey with a new respect and fascination for slumber. So many fascinating things happen when we close our eyes at night, it's as if we live a second life beneath the covers.

I'll never take sleep for granted again, and I'll never stop appreciating and investigating my life as a sleeper. I want to sleep more wisely and restfully (I'm experimenting with afternoon naps). I want my dreams to be always more vivid and meaningful. So for me, the journey doesn't end, it will continue here in my bed.

If you'd like to continue your own dream journey, here are some books and other information sources to help you along the trail:

Basic Sleep Information

These very readable books offer a comprehensive overview of the physiological aspects of sleep and dreams, including information about sleep disorders, sleep rhythms and so on.

  • Sleep Thieves, by Stanley Coren (The Free Press).
  • The Sleepwatchers, by William C. Dement (Stanford Alumni Association)
  • The Enchanted World of Sleep, by Peretz LaVie (Yale University Press)