When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep

When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep

by Antonio Zadra, Robert Stickgold


$24.95 $27.95 Save 11% Current price is $24.95, Original price is $27.95. You Save 11%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


A comprehensive, eye-opening exploration of what dreams are, where they come from, what they mean, and why we have them.

Questions on the origins and meaning of dreams are as old as humankind, and as confounding and exciting today as when nineteenth-century scientists first attempted to unravel them. Why do we dream? Do dreams hold psychological meaning or are they merely the reflection of random brain activity? What purpose do dreams serve?

When Brains Dream addresses these core questions about dreams while illuminating the most up-to-date science in the field. Written by two world-renowned sleep and dream researchers, it debunks common myths—that we only dream in REM sleep, for example—while acknowledging the mysteries that persist around both the science and experience of dreaming.

Antonio Zadra and Robert Stickgold bring together state-of-the-art neuroscientific ideas and findings to propose a new and innovative model of dream function called NEXTUP—Network Exploration to Understand Possibilities. By detailing this model’s workings, they help readers understand key features of several types of dreams, from prophetic dreams to nightmares and lucid dreams. When Brains Dream reveals recent discoveries about the sleeping brain and the many ways in which dreams are psychologically, and neurologically, meaningful experiences; explores a host of dream-related disorders; and explains how dreams can facilitate creativity and be a source of personal insight.

Making an eloquent and engaging case for why the human brain needs to dream, When Brains Dream offers compelling answers to age-old questions about the mysteries of sleep.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


Psychologist Zadra and psychiatry professor Stickgold team up for this thorough look into “the relationship between brains, minds, and dreams.” To answer such questions as what dreams are and what they mean, the authors present a history of dreaming (and note that German psychologist Karl Scherner’s 1861 book on the ego and dream symbolism predated Freud’s better-known The Interpretation of Dreams) and bring things up to the present with a discussion of work done with fMRI, a kind of imaging that allows researchers to see which parts of the brain are active in stages of sleep. At the heart of the work is the authors’ Network Exploration to Understand Possibilities (NEXTUP) model, which proposes that dreaming is a “form of sleep-dependent memory processing” in which human brains connect dots they couldn’t when awake. The authors follow the implications of this model, touching on such dream-related disorders as sleep paralysis, which they argue is a dream dysfunction because it is “of no use for memory processing.” Like art, they conclude, dreaming “enriches our life while helping to guide us.” This smart mix of science and theory hits the mark. (Jan.)

Alan Alda

"Every night, we turn out the light and go to the movies. For as long as humans have been conscious of our world, we’ve wondered what’s going on in that other world in which we spend a third of our lives. Some of my strangest dreams have been while I was asleep in Bob Stickgold’s lab. Finally, in When Brains Dream, I have a way to understand them. There’s more here than you ever dreamed of."

Stephen LaBerge

"When Brains Dream unveils a novel neuroscientific model comprising an elegant and surprising piece of the puzzle of why we dream the way we do. If you are curious about the curiouser and curiouser qualia of dreams, read this book!"

Matthew Walker

"Where do we go in our dreams at night? And why do we dream in the first place? Are we the only species that dreams? When Brains Dream provides a truly comprehensive, scientifically rigorous and utterly fascinating account of when, how, and why we dream. Put simply, When Brains Dream is the essential guide to dreaming."

Library Journal


What are dreams? Humanity has been trying to answer this question for thousands of years, with little success. Zadra and Stickgold are prominent researchers in the field, studying dreaming since the early 1990s, with over 200 scientific papers on the subject combined. They propose that we are closer to understanding the nature of dreams now more than ever. The goal of this book is to show why the human brain needs to dream while offering new answers. It explores the concept of dreaming from the beginnings of our experience with dreams as children, and systematically moves through the scientific and psychological approaches to the study of dreams. The authors present a compilation of the wealth of recent insights and discoveries about the sleeping brain and the nature of dreams, connecting ideas and findings from a broad scholarly resource base. Drawing on their extensive research and expertise, Zadra and Stickgold propose a new and innovative model of dream function called NEXTUP (Network Exploration to Understand Possibilities). Included is an extensive bibliography, as well as suggested readings. VERDICT A deep exploration into the world of dreams that is highly recommended for anyone interested in delving more into this topic.—Gary Medina, El Camino Coll., Torrance, CA

Kirkus Reviews

Two sleep and dream researchers illuminate their specialty.

Zadra and Stickgold hit the ground running by insisting that Freud did not have the last word on dreams—or even the first. Earlier 19th-century scientists produced theories that Freud adopted or ignored, but his immense influence, especially the belief that he had discovered the source and meaning of dreams, discouraged research until decades after his death. Matters have improved since then, as psychological studies as well as neuroscience, aided by high-tech brain scanners, reveal a great deal about brain function. All animals sleep, but until perhaps 50 years ago, experts had no explanation except that it relieved sleepiness, and the popular explanation—to tidy up and rejuvenate the body—never acquired traction. The authors emphasize its essential role in learning and memory. In studies where subjects memorized a topic, a night’s sleep improved their ability to recall—but didn’t improve accuracy, as they also recalled errors better. Turning to their favorite subject, the authors agree with the “widely held view that dreams reflect the dreamer’s current thoughts and concerns as well as recent salient experiences,” but they doubt that dreams carry important messages and require interpretation. They explain dreaming as a form of “sleep-dependent memory processing” that “extracts new knowledge” from recent experiences but rarely offers “concrete solutions” to problems. Most readers will understand the authors’ theories, but they will especially relish the final chapters, which explore nightmares, lucid dreaming, narcolepsy, creativity via dreams, and even how to link a dream to waking-life events. Readers convinced that dreams reveal deep insights and those who dismiss them as meaningless will both enjoy a painless education on dreams and memory. Few will object to the authors’ preferred theory because, as good scientists, they present their evidence without claiming that it’s overwhelming.

An excellent update on the science behind dreams.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781324002833
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 01/12/2021
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 42,502
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.40(d)

Customer Reviews