The Science and Function of Dreams

A look into our dreams—from sweet to nightmare. What they do for us and how much control we have over them.

Left: Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali and his partner Gala appear at a party they gave in California in 1941. Guests were bidden to dress as bad dreams. (AP); Right: Courtesy of Boston University

We close our eyes at night and dream. Sometimes beautifully, sometimes fitfully, sometimes frighteningly. But why?

The ancients looked for omens. Sigmund Freud saw clues from our past. Some researchers now say dreams help us brace for the future. Ben Franklin advised a light supper, clean sheets, fresh air, and as little dreaming as possible — to avoid painful dreams.

And what about nightmares? Can we, should we, rewrite them? We spend a lot of our lives dreaming. What’s it all about?

-Tom Ashbrook


William “Bill” Domhoff, professor of psychology and specialist in dream research at the University of California Santa Cruz. He’s author of “The Scientific Study of Dreams.”

Ross Levin, a psychologist and sleep researcher in private practice in Manhattan.

Rodger Kamenetz, author and dream therapist who was trained at North of Eden. His books include “The History of Last Night’s Dream.” He is a retired professor of English, philosophy, and religion at Louisiana State University.

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