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Sweet dreams: Researchers explore the mysteries of sleep

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It may be the least understood aspect of our human experience, but we all spend approximately one-third of our lives doing it. Without it, we are not only miserable, we can’t even live very long. We know we need it, but leading scientists who have devoted their lives to studying it don’t entirely understand its function.

Sleep is as important to our lives as eating and breathing. As the subject of scientific inquiry, it is just beginning to be understood. Fifty years ago, sleep was thought to be a simple process in which the brain got some rest. Now we know that sleep is a complex process that affects every aspect of our lives. More than 75 different sleep disorders have been identified and treated.

A new book explores the mysteries of sleep and the state of the science associated with slumber. “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep” (W.W. Norton, 2012) by David K. Randall is hard to put down – you may want to forgo sleep to stay up all night reading.

Randall began exploring sleep after a personal sleepwalking experience. In “Dreamland,” he delves into a gamut of sleep-related issues. From dreams to sleeping with baby, snoring and crimes committed during sleep, Randall’s book proves an informative and entertaining read. This is not a how-to book that will help readers find answers to their sleep problems. Rather, it is popular science for those who want to understand what goes on when we close our eyes at night.

For those looking for that how-to book, Dr. Barry Krakow’s “Sound Sleep, Sound Mind: 7 Keys to Sleeping through the Night” (John Wiley & Sons, 2007) may be just the book for you. Krakow offers a seven-step program he named “Sleep Dynamic Therapy” (SDT). SDT addresses both mind and body issues that impact sleep and sleep quality.

“Sound Sleep, Sound Mind” includes a number of self-assessment tools and other questionnaires to measure problems and monitor progress. Krakow, a well-known sleep specialist, advocates drug-free solutions to sleep problems. A chapter on breathing issues associated with sleep, including allergies and apnea, is especially encouraging.

For readers who really want to dig in deep and read the same research as doctors, consider “Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine” (Elsevier Saunders, 2011). Specialists consider this fifth edition the gold standard for medical textbooks on the subject. One of its three editors is William C. Dement, M.D., a Stanford University professor often called the “Father of Sleep Medicine.” The other editors include renowned sleep researchers Meir Kryger, M.D., and Thomas Roth, M.D.

“Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine” provides a thorough review of current sleep research and clinical practice. According to the editors, when beginning work on the first edition 25 years ago, there was concern that there simply wasn’t enough information available for a book. More than two decades and 1,700 pages later, the explosive growth of sleep research is evident.

The Stanford University Sleep Center, which opened in 1970, was the first university-based sleep center and a pioneer in sleep research. Still one of the premier sleep laboratories in the world, the team at Stanford changed the way the world studied sleep and sleep disorders.

For more information on sleep and sleep disorders, visit Stanford Health Library’s website at healthlibrary.stanford.edu/resources/bodysystems/neuro_sleep.html. The library carries two excellent videos featuring Stanford professor Rachel Manber, “Sleeping Well as We Age” and “Desperately Seeking Sleep,” also available online at healthlibrary.stanford.edu/videolibrary/neuro.html.

Stanford Health Library has a new location. The branch formerly located at Stanford Shopping Center has relocated across the street to the newly renovated Hoover Pavilion at 211 Quarry Road, Suite 201. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Other branches are located on the first floor of Stanford Hospital and on the main level of Stanford’s Cancer Center.

Nancy Dickenson is head librarian at Stanford Health Library. For more information, call 725-8400, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit healthlibrary.stanford.edu.

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