Excerpt from The Mind at Night by Andrea Rock, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Mind at Night

The New Science of How and Why we Dream

by Andrea Rock

The Mind at Night
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2004, 256 pages
    Mar 2005, 240 pages

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Perhaps most significantly, the early REM experiments by Dement, Kleitman, and Aserinsky showed that dreams were far more likely to be recalled when subjects were awakened from REM: dreams were reported on 74 percent of REM awakenings as compared to less than 10 percent in non-REM. These initial results led Dement and other researchers to conclude that dreaming occurs exclusively in REM sleep, while the minimal reports of dream recall they found in non-REM could be written off as fragments of dreams recalled from earlier REM periods.

The widely accepted assumption that REM sleep equaled dreaming brought the new field of dream research to life, and Dement was quite effective at spreading the gospel that for the first time it was possible to actually pinpoint when a dream was in progress. Having earned both his medical degree and his doctorate in physiology, Dement left Chicago in 1957 for New York City, where he conducted dream research at night while completing his internship and residency at Mount Sinai Hospital. In order to run his dream experiments without having to spend nights away from his wife, he converted part of his apartment to a sleep lab, running local ads to recruit test subjects. A member of the Rockettes happened to see the ad, and she spread the word among other members of the Radio City dance troupe that they could earn money for simply sleeping in Dement’s lab--an idea with great appeal to many of the young women. Though the research was entirely aboveboard, the routine that ensued made Dement quite the object of curiosity in his apartment building as a steady parade of women came straight from the chorus line to do their nightly stint in the lab.

"A lovely woman, still in theatrical makeup, would arrive at the apartment building and ask the doorman for my room," Dement recalls. "In the morning, she would reappear, sometimes with one of my unshaven and exhausted male colleagues who had spent the night monitoring the EEG. One day, the doorman could finally stand it no longer. ‘Dr. Dement,’ he demanded, ‘exactly what goes on in your apartment?’ I just smiled."

Exactly what was going on in his apartment and in a growing number of other labs was an exciting new foray into uncharted territory, as Dement and others used all kinds of creative experiments to try to understand how dreams are created and how they are connected to our waking life. Since the Soviets had beaten the United States into space with the launch of the satellite Sputnik, government funding for basic research of all kinds was suddenly free-flowing as the 1960s dawned, and dream research was one of the beneficiaries. In 1964 alone, the National Institute of Mental Health funded more than sixty studies on sleep or dreaming. From New York to Boston, Washington to Cincinnati and on campuses in Virginia, Texas, and Oregon, researchers were drawn to this hot new field, where so little was known that they were likely to come up with something new no matter what they chose to investigate.

There were countless intriguing questions to be answered and no limits to the creative methods researchers invented to get results. Could dream content be manipulated? Dement was the first to try this by ringing a bell while subjects were in REM sleep, but out of 204 attempts, only 20 dreams actually incorporated the sound of the bell as part of the dream plot. Researchers have had limited success in affecting dream content by spraying dreamers with water and--more recently--squeezing sleepers’ arms with blood pressure cuffs while in REM, but the majority of dreamers ignored these manipulations too. On those occasions when real-world stimuli do make it through our sensory barriers, they are quickly and ingeniously woven into the ongoing plot of the dream. For instance, a sleeping test subject sprayed with water may report a sudden rain shower in the background of his dream, but there’s no dramatic change in the dream’s course.

From The Mind at Night, chapter 1, pages 1-16. Copyright 2004 by Andrea Rock. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever, except for brief quotations embodied in critical articles with reviews, without written permission from the publisher, Basic Books.

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