Sleep, Dreams and Insanity

Photo of Dr. William C. Demment

Dr. William C. Dement

“Dreaming permits each and everyone of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives.”

This is a quote by Dr. William C. Dement, who is often referred to as the Father of Sleep Research. Dr. Dement is a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science (Sleep Center) at the Stanford School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California.

If you have every suffered a bout of insomnia, you know that a lack of sleep can cause you to become irritable, forgetful and nauseous. A continued lack of sleep can led to hallucinations, disorientation and paranoia. There is even a fatal, and fortunately very rare, form of insomnia known as Fatal Familial Insomnia. Here is a link to a short documentary from the American ABC Television network about this illness.

Researchers and scientists still don’t have full answers about why humans need sleep or why we dream. Still, sleep must be valuable to humans in some way as John Medina, writing in his book Brain Rules, points out:

“Sleep makes us exquisitely vulnerable to predators. Indeed, deliberately going off to dreamland unprotected in the middle of a bunch of hostile hunters (such as leopards, our evolutionary roommates in eastern Africa) seems like a behavior dreamed up by our worst enemies. There must be something terribly important we need to accomplish during sleep if we are willing to take such risks in order to get it. Exactly what is so darned important?”

If you occasionally have trouble sleeping, or if you’ve ever had a period of insomnia, you may find some useful information at the End Your Sleep Deprivation website. This website is maintained by Dr. Dement and his Stanford students.

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