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A fresh, revelatory foray into the new science of dreams—how they work, what they’re for, and how we can reap the benefits of our own nocturnal life
While on a research trip in Peru, science journalist Alice Robb became hooked on lucid dreaming—the uncanny phenomenon in which a sleeping person can realize that they’re dreaming and even control the dreamed experience. Finding these forays both puzzling and exhilarating, Robb dug deeper into the science of dreams at an extremely opportune moment: just as researchers began to understand why dreams exist. They aren’t just random events; they have clear purposes. They help us learn and even overcome psychic trauma.
Robb draws on fresh and forgotten research, as well as her experience and that of other dream experts, to show why dreams are vital to our emotional and physical health. She explains how we can remember our dreams better—and why we should. She traces the intricate links between dreaming and creativity, and even offers advice on how we can relish the intense adventure of lucid dreaming for ourselves.
Why We Dream is a clear-eyed, cutting-edge examination of the meaning and purpose of our nightly visions and a guide to changing our dream lives—and making our waking lives richer, healthier, and happier.
About the Author
ALICE ROBB is a columnist for New York’s Science of Us. Formerly a staff writer at the New Republic, she has also written for the New Statesman, Foreign Policy, Elle, Vice, the Atlantic, and the Washington Post, among others. She lives in Brooklyn.
Named a “Must-Read Book of the Fall” by Vogue, Elle, Literary Hub, TIME, New York Magazine, and The London Evening Standard
A Top 10 book about insomnia (The Guardian)
A Best Health and Science book of 2018 (The Cut)
“In a book that looks at the historical and social importance of dreams, and analyzes the latest science, Robb attempts to correct our misguided forsaking of this feature of our unconscious. Dreams don’t make for boring conversation, Robb argues in this persuasive, personable book.”—Vogue
“Why We Dream is a spirited rebuke to the idea of sleep as a mere parting with consciousness. In exploring the pleasures and uses of dreams, [Alice Robb] seeks to persuade us that sleep is not just the “off” to waking’s “on” but another realm of being, a second consciousness, rich in adventure and wisdom... In celebrating dreams as poetic artifacts, Robb offers a welcome antidote to the medicine administered by most sleep gurus."—New Yorker
"Why We Dream is a spirited, cogent defense of dreams and dream-telling...We may not know why dreams 'traffic in garbled metaphor and disjointed imagery,' but by learning to decode them, we can learn to decode ourselves... All we need to do, Robb wants us to know, is pay attention."—NPR.org
"A convincing case for cherishing our dream worlds."—New York Post
“For anyone who's ever kept a dream journal or fixated on the idea of lucid dreaming, a thorough exploration of the mysterious nightly phenomenon from a scientific point of view.”—Elle
"[Robb] takes readers down a nightly rabbit hole to meet lucid dreamers, dream experts, and academic researchers, proving that her inquiry into dreams can be just as bizarre and fascinating as dreams themselves...Reading this book is a submersion in the land of dreams, one that may prompt readers to record their nightly journeys each morning. The process just may transform their waking life."—Spirituality+Health
"Robb, a science journalist, presents a comprehensive and compelling account of theories of and research on dreaming from ancient times through the present day. Throughout, she displays an intense respect for what our minds do while we’re sleeping, and the findings she presents — that dreaming is essential for sanity, that analyzing our dreams can be revelatory, that dreams can be used as diagnostic tools and even manipulated for our own mental health—corroborate her conviction that, as a culture, we would benefit from paying more careful attention."—Longreads
"Alice Robb’s Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey was for me a gentle and affecting invitation to reconsider a seemingly boring daily routine. ....the “nightly journey” idea makes getting into bed feel like preparing for an adventure. Robb’s encouragement to think of dreams as rehearsals for waking hopes and fears has also been especially eye-opening."—The Cut
“After reading this gripping and deeply researched book, you’ll never again be tempted to dismiss the surreal narratives of our nighttime lives as trivial or meaningless. Blending centuries of cultural history with cutting-edge science, Alice Robb makes a compelling case for dreams—as sources of wisdom and creativity, as a vital ingredient in psychological health, and as a portal to the strange and fascinating worlds lurking within yourself and everyone you know.” —Oliver Burkeman, Guardian columnist and author of The Antidote
“Why We Dream is a delightful and informative tour of cutting-edge findings in dream research. Alice Robb deftly summarizes the evidence for reliable links between dreams and creativity, physical symptoms, problem-solving, emotional balance, and well-being in general. She explores the promise of lucid dreaming and shows why dreams are finally emerging from the decades-long neglect of an ill-informed public.” —Patrick McNamara, associate professor of neurology, Boston University
“Who knew that the netherworld of sleep contained such psychological depths and biological purposes? A thrilling account of the wayward history of dream research, Why We Dream opens a door into the creative life of dreaming, ensuring that you will never fall asleep again without a sense of the vision-filled journey ahead.” —Daphne Merkin, critic, novelist, and author of This Close to Happy
“Why We Dream is an illuminating, surprising, often astounding look at the purpose and power of dreams. I hadn’t even finished by the time I was convinced to start my own dream journal. This is a beautiful work of science writing that will change the way you think of your own nightly voyage.” —David Epstein, best-selling author of The Sports Gene
"In this intriguing and accessible pop science investigation, New York magazine science columnist Robb explores the significance of dreams for one’s health and well-being, the history and current state of research into the field, and possible avenues for future study. Robb considers early theories from the ancient Greeks, later ones from Freud and Jung, and the possible benefits of dreaming, from sparking creative inspiration to providing “threat-simulation”—allowing people to “work through our anxieties in a low-risk environment.” She recounts the fascinating career of sleep scientist Stephen LaBerge, who revolutionized the understanding of lucid dreaming, and, in the final, most illuminating chapter, attends LaBerge’s Hawaiian retreat for a crash course on the process. Robb also visits a scientist at MIT who is mapping out how dreams work to enhance problem-solving skills in rats and travels to the Netherlands to attend a meeting of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. She even has the fortitude to partake in “group analysis,” allowing six friends and a therapist to interpret a bizarre scenario featuring a line-dancing Hillary Clinton. Though Robb’s reiteration of certain points results in the occasional redundancy, she provides an engaging overview of sleep science and effectively argues for its significance." —Publishers Weekly