In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sleep and Dreaming

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals on Sleep
  • Journals on Dreaming
  • Professional Associations
  • Sleep and Autonomic and Temperature Control Systems
  • Sleep and Human Performance
  • Phylogeny of Sleep
  • Reviews on the Neurobiology of Dreaming
  • Reviews of Sleep’s Role in Neuronal Plasticity
  • Major Reviews of Sleep-Dependent Memory Consolidation
  • Early Primary Sources on Sleep-Dependent Memory Consolidation in Humans
  • Sleep and Developmental Plasticity

Psychology Sleep and Dreaming
Edward F. Pace-Schott, Bethany J. Jones
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0163


Contemporary study of sleep constitutes one of the most interdisciplinary and unifying of topics in psychology and neuroscience, with investigation focused at all levels of organization from the genetics and molecular physiology of sleep to public policy studies focused on sleep behavior in society as a whole. Historically, sleep researchers have quickly leveraged biomedical technologies as they emerged to provide greater and greater understanding of the controlling mechanisms and phenomenology of sleep. Despite such advances, sleep remains to this day one of the most mysterious and controversial topics in neuroscience, and there still is no generally agreed upon “function” for this behavioral state that occupies one-third of our lives. Like the other neurosciences, sleep science has seen a remarkable increase in discoveries during the past several decades. Sleep science exemplifies the broad category of translational biomedical science, whereby the parallel development of human and animal experimentation led to the emergence of the field of sleep medicine.

General Overviews

There are an immense number of books for the general readership written on sleep science and dreaming. These vary in amount of scientific detail, and most are targeted to an adult or older adolescent audience. If one’s aim is to learn the scientific facts about sleep, it is important to be rather selective since there is a lot of entertaining, but highly speculative, writing that is promoted online or in bookstores, particularly on the topic of dreaming. Toward this end, suggested here are some introductions to the field of sleep and dreaming by investigators and clinicians who have also published extensively in the scientific literature. Two of these sources, Sleep (Hobson 1989) and The Dreaming Brain (Hobson 1988) are written by J. Allan Hobson, one of the field’s leading scientists who made important discoveries on the brain bases of sleep in animals and later became a leading expert on the neurobiology of dreaming. William Dement (Dement and Vaughan 2001) is one of the principal founders of the field of sleep medicine. Lawrence J. Epstein (Epstein and Mardon 2006) is a leading sleep physician and educator in sleep medicine. Carlos Schenck (Schenck 2007) is an international authority on the unusual wake-like behaviors that can happen during sleep (the parasomnias). Associations with a mission to disseminate scientific research provide suggested readings on sleep (National Sleep Foundation) and on dreams (International Association for the Study of Dreams) on their websites. Deirdre Barrett and Patrick McNamara are leading researchers and writers on dreaming and provide both an extensive scientific compilation (Barrett and McNamara 2007) and books for the general public (Barrett 2001). In addition to books, there now exist a wide variety of formats in which to explore this field including e-books, other electronic media like DVDs, such as Heller 2013, as well as archived podcasts and public television programs.

  • Barrett, D. 2001. The committee of sleep: How artists, scientists, and athletes use dreams for creative problem-solving—and how you can too. New York: Crown.

    A fascinating volume detailing the many ways in which dreams have contributed to society and culture, written by the editor of the journal Dreaming—the official publication of the International Association for the Study of Dreaming. Dr. Barrett provides authoritative accounts of the many well-known as well as more obscure discoveries, artistic creations and problems solved during sleep and dreaming.

  • Barrett D., and P. McNamara, eds. 2007. The new science of dreaming. 3 vols. Westport, CT: Praeger, Greenwood.

    A three-volume set that discusses recent research on the biology (Vol. 1), content (Vol. 2) and societal effects (Vol. 3) of dreaming. Different chapters are written by a wide variety of leading investigators who delve into the many different ways in which the study of dreaming can be approached. Although intended also for a scientific audience of sleep specialists and dream psychologists, many of the chapters, especially those in Volumes 2 and 3, are fully accessible to general readership.

  • Books on Dreams and Dreaming. International Association for the Study of Dreams.

    This website provides a list of books on the scientific, clinical, as well as popular explorations of dreams and dreaming.

  • Dement, W. C., and C. C. Vaughan. 2001. The promise of sleep: A pioneer in sleep medicine explores the vital connection between health, happiness, and a good night’s sleep. London: Pan.

    Dement and Vaughan give both an overview of sleep science and medicine as well as a wealth of practical advice on the connections of sleep with physical and mental health.

  • Epstein, L. J., and S. Mardon. 2006. The Harvard Medical School guide to a good night’s sleep. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Epstein and Mardon give advice on “sleep hygiene”—ways in which to maximize one’s quality of sleep—as well as practical information on insomnia and other sleep disorders.

  • Heller, C. H. 2013. Secrets of sleep science: From dreams to disorders. DVD. Chantilly, VA: The Great Courses Teaching Company.

    Professor H. Craig Heller of Stanford University is an expert on circadian rhythms. This presentation covers twenty-four topics ranging from neuroanatomy to seasonal rhythms and the disorders of sleep that are treated by sleep physicians.

  • Hobson, J. A. 1988. The dreaming brain. New York: Basic Books.

    An engaging historical account of dream research and the discovery of the neural mechanisms of sleep architecture (the pattern of sleep stages across the night). This volume contains an extended exposition of the first biological theory of dreaming, the Activation-Synthesis Hypothesis (see Heller 2013), and applies it to a lengthy dream journal complete with the dreamer’s illustrations of his dreams.

  • Hobson, J. A. 1989. Sleep. New York: Scientific American Library.

    A concise summary of sleep science up to the late 1980s, much of which remains accurate to this day. An abundantly illustrated volume, Sleep gives a historical overview of the physiological discoveries leading to modern sleep science, covers basics of human sleep physiology as well as sleep across the human lifespan and in the animal kingdom, and gives an exposition of the first biological theory of dreaming, the Activation-Synthesis Hypothesis. This hypothesis posits that self-stimulation of the forebrain by the brainstem during REM sleep is interpreted by the sensory cortex as incoming sensory information leading to hallucinations (mainly visual) that the brain then tries to knit together into a coherent narrative.

  • Schenck, C. 2007. Sleep: The mysteries, the problems, and the solutions. New York: Penguin.

    An introduction to sleep medicine, with a focus on the parasomnias which include sleep-walking, acting out of dreams (REM Behavior Disorder), night terrors, nightmares, and more recently discovered phenomena such as sleep eating.

  • Sleep Books. National Sleep Foundation (NSF).

    Provides a list of books on sleep and health useful to anyone interested in learning more about topics such as sleep disorders, the effects of insufficient sleep on driving, children’s sleep, and improving one’s quality of sleep.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.