Alice Robb on the Transformative Power of Dreams
We know that sleep is good for mental and physical health, but whether dreams can play a role is a fascinating topic. When we journey into that state, science journalist Alice Robb feels we can reap even more benefits and make our waking lives more productive, healthier and happier.
Her recent book Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey, which blossomed from a trip to Peru, posits a new way to look at our dreams including how to recall and even influence them, and how doing so benefits us when awake. Rich with recent studies and evoking famous artists, thinkers and others over centuries, she traces the intricate links between dreaming and creativity, and offers tips on how we can relish the intense adventure of lucid dreaming.
Robb was a staff writer for The New Republic and has also written for New York Magazine, The Atlantic, Elle, The Washington Post, the BBC and British Vogue. A graduate of Oxford with Bachelor of Arts degrees in both Archaeology and Anthropology, she resides in Brooklyn, New York.
How did your experience in Peru shape both your dreams and your study of them?
It was where it all got started for me and even though it was eight years ago, I still remember my first lucid dream as if it was yesterday. If I hadn’t had that experience of doing the exercises to elicit lucid dreaming, I don’t know if I would’ve written the book—although I’ve always been fascinated by my regular dreams, which have been vivid, and have often wondered what was going on in my brain to produce them—especially when I felt they were affecting my moods or my daily life.
How is lucid dreaming different than normal dreaming?
In lucid dreams, you are aware that you are dreaming. A lot of people will be in a nightmare; it’s really scary, and you say to yourself, “This can’t be real, this must be a dream,” and then maybe you can get yourself out of it. You can train yourself to prolong those lucid moments. Some people do it naturally while others can do different meditation exercises to learn to gain awareness within their dreams.
Before you start trying to have lucid dreams, it’s important to have very good recall of your regular dreams. We’re all dreaming every night, every time we have a REM cycle, about every 90 minutes that we are asleep, even if you don’t remember your dreams. It’s easier for most people to improve their dream recall. It’s as simple as saying to yourself before bed, “I want to remember my dreams tonight.” The more intention you have, the more you think about your dreams during the day, can be enough to trigger you to better remember your dreams. If you pay close attention to your environment, looking and examining it and asking yourself whether it’s real, you will then ask yourself the same question in a dream.
How do you feel lucid dreaming can improve our overall well-being?
You can practice a speech you are worried about. If you are an athlete, you can mentally prepare. It can help with your mental health. You can use lucid dreams to confront your demons; you can summon someone that you want to have a conversation with and practice talking with them. They are awe-inspiring. Knowing you are lying in bed, but also feeling, physically, that you are in another place, is very powerful.
What steps can we take to improve our ability to recall dreams?
Keep a dream journal. It doesn’t have to be pen and paper; you can speak your dreams into your phone in the morning or in the middle of the night if you wake up… whatever you can do to train yourself to hold onto them because if you don’t remember them when you wake up, then they will fade pretty quickly.
As soon as I started keeping a dream journal, I was amazed at how many I was remembering. When getting started, make sure to write something every morning, even “I don’t remember anything.” The habits will become ingrained and you’ll start to remember dreams.
Randy Kambic, of Estero, Florida, is a freelance editor and writer.