Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sleep and Dreams

Simply known as the director whose work makes other directors cry, Michel Gondry sets the standard in everything he does. The French director creates dream worlds of whimsy and chaos. But his work is grounded in the verities of longing and lost love.

Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School. Dr. Stickgold's work focuses on the nature and function of sleep and dreams within a cognitive neuroscience framework, with an emphasis on the role of sleep and dreams in memory consolidation and integration.

Taking an "unabashedly" neuro-scientific approach, Dr. Stickgold ponders the function of dreaming from the perspective of memory. Contrary to the historical view that the brain essentially shuts down during sleep, Dr, Stickgold states that the brain has, in fact, evolutionarily evolved to remain highly active during this period. "When everything seems to be shut off, there's all this complex machinery in action," says Dr. Stickgold. By studying EEG (Electroencephalograph) patterns, it becomes clear that sleep is divided into 90-minute periods, each revealing different brain activity and eye movement.

Although the functions of sleep remain largely unknown, one of the most exciting hypotheses is that sleep contributes importantly to processes of memory and brain plasticity. Over the past decade, a large body of work, spanning most of the neurosciences, has provided a substantive body of evidence supporting this role of sleep in what is becoming known as sleep-dependent memory processing.

The Oscar-winning filmmaker Michel Gondry and Harvard sleep researcher Robert Stickgold discuss dreams, filmmaking and the scientific method.

Listen/watch the video feature to get answers to the questions like 'What do you do with dreams when you wake up ?'

For seven minutes of highlights from the conversation between Gondry and Stickgold, click here.

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