Aaron Thibeault's Reviews > Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep

Dreamland by David K. Randall
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's review
Aug 09, 2012

it was amazing

*A full executive summary of this book is now available here: http://newbooksinbrief.com/2012/08/20...

We spend up to a third of our lives sleeping, and yet, unless we are not getting enough of it, and/or are experiencing a sleeping disorder of some kind, most of us hardly ever give our sleep a second thought (other than to rue over how much precious time it takes up). Science too largely neglected sleep for the longest time, treating it mainly as a static condition during which the brain was not doing much of anything interesting. However, ever since rapid eye movement (REM) was discovered in the 1950's the science of sleep has really taken off, and the discoveries that have come out of it go to show that this unconscious period is more interesting than we ever could have imagined. It is these discoveries that writer David K. Randall explores in his new book 'Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep'.

The book is split into 13 chapters, with each chapter (outside of the introduction and conclusion) exploring a separate topic in the world of sleep. In the book we learn about such basics as REM sleep and the 5 stage sleep cycle, as well as the benefits of sleep and the harmful effects of sleep deprivation. It turns out that sleep is instrumental in such things as muscle regeneration, long-term memory formation, skills acquisition, problem-solving, emotional control, and creativity. Dreaming, we find, plays an important role in many of these benefits, thus making it seem far less likely that Freud was correct in thinking that dreams are actually a manifestation of subconscious wish fulfillment.

We also learn that our natural sleeping pattern is set by our circadian clock, and that many of our routines in the modern world run somewhat against this natural pattern. As it turns out, these routines not only have a negative effect on our sleep, but on our waking lives as well. Fortunately, many organizations are now beginning to take these lessons to heart, and are modifying their policies and practices to help ensure that their members are better-rested, so as to lessen the negative effects of fatigue. For instance, high schools are starting later; businesses are allowing their employees to take naps, and hiring on fatigue management consultants to help eliminate the effects of under-rested employees; sports teams are hiring trainers to ensure that their players are getting enough sleep, and to manage the difficulties of inter time-zone travel; and the military is allowing its soldiers more rest during peace time, and also monitoring and managing sleep during combat.

We also learn about the difficulties of, and the controversy surrounding putting your children to bed, and how the practice of co-sleeping (sleeping in the same bad with your infant) is making a come-back. At the same time, the tradition of sleeping in the same bed as your partner is taking a hit, as more and more couples experiment with sleeping in separate beds—and even in separate bedrooms.

Last but not least, we learn about sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea (continual waking up due to blockage of the windpipe), and the billion dollar business of treating and controlling this very distressing (and potentially deadly) disorder; sleepwalking, and the bizarre phenomenon of crimes committed while sleepwalking (including child molestation, rape, and even murder)—as well as how the justice system is dealing with these very troubling cases; and also insomnia, and the sordid history of sleeping pills—as well as the latest techniques in fighting sleeplessness, including cognitive behavioral therapy.

Fortunately, we also learn that there are several ways to improve our sleep other than with pills or therapy, such as avoiding coffee, alcohol and bright light before bed; getting some regular exercise; turning down the room temperature before bedtime (and/or taking a cool shower); and practicing some breathing techniques to help us fall asleep (one such exercise has you focus on your breathing by thinking 'in' as you inhale, and 'out' as you breathe out).

Virtually every chapter contains a treasure trove of fascinating information about the topic in question, and the author lays it all out in a very clear and interesting way. If you are curious about the world of sleep, and what science has to say about it, then you can't go wrong. A full executive summary of this book is available here: http://newbooksinbrief.com/2012/08/20...
A podcast discussion of the book is also available.
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