The Twenty-Four Hour Mind – Rosalind D. Cartwright (8/10)

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Rosalind Cartwright is a leading sleep researcher, with expertise in behaviour and neuroscience. Her work has led to her becoming known as the ‘queen of dreams’ in her field. In this book she shares some of her theories and findings from laboratory tests and experiments with sleep patients.

Dreaming is a big area of interest for me, and although I largely subscribe to Jungian analysis I am always interested to keep up to date with new research on the subject. It is an area which, according to Cartwright, it is fairly difficult to obtain funding for, due to the application of knowledge about dreams in general being unproven, and being costly in terms of time and resources. The Twenty-Four Hour Mind describes why it is so important, and how furthering our understanding could be beneficial in the treatment of mental illness, behavioural problems, and even in law.

One of the most interesting sections of the book for me was the write up of some work the author did in exploring the link between depression and dreams. Cartwright follows the theory that dreams are part of our information processing function. While we sleep, our unconscious mind takes the new impressions received during the day and tries to match them to similar experiences in our memories. It is in effect filing things away for future use to keep the conscious mind current and clean. But when we become preoccupied with something, for example when a strong emotional impression is left by an event that is new to us, we can’t match it to anything and don’t immediately know what to do with the information.

Sleep is a busy time, interweaving streams of thought with emotional values attached, as they fit or challenge the organisational structure that represents our identity. One function of all this action, I believe, is to regulate disturbing emotion in order to keep it from disrupting our sleep and subsequent waking function’

One of the experiments she carried out on a group of people who were going through divorce, supported this theory in that the ones who were dealing with it well had few or no dreams that obviously related to the divorce. The ones who were depressed as a result of the divorce dreamed more frequently about it (it was taking more processing for them), and from recounting the dream content it was even apparent what stage of recovery they were in.

There is also some evidence that depressed people reach a state of REM sleep much quicker than mentally healthy controls. It is as though they need to reach dreaming more quickly as they have strong emotions to process, problems they need to solve. Unfortunately this means that the first stage of restorative, restful sleep is skipped and never recouped during the night, making those suffering from depression perpetually tired until they find resolution to their issues.

There is quite a lot of focus on sleep disorders in this book: what happens to us if we get too little sleep, the phenomena of sleep walking, and nightmares. Cartwright has been called upon to give her professional opinion in lawsuits involving criminals who claim to have committed their crimes – some most severe – whilst asleep. This is a fascinating subject, as at first it seems completely impossible. But with the explanations in this book we are shown that there is actually plausible theoretical evidence to support the claims. I found this to be a disturbing but mind-opening concept.

I really enjoyed Cartwright’s writing style. The subjects dealt with are quite detailed, and could easily be too heavy for the layman. However it is presented in such a way, with humour and simple (but not condescending) language, that it is surprisingly accessible. There are useful diagrams, and the text is broken up into manageable chunks. No prior knowledge is expected.

There are some references to psychoanalytical models of dream interpretation: Freudian in particular. But these are limited. I can understand why this would be the case, and why it could be considered beyond the scope for a book dealing with newer research. However I would personally have liked to read more on this kind of application from the more modern perspective of neuroscience.

Towards the end of the book I found some of the ideas to be repeated, and less and less new material introduced. This was only a minor irritation in what was otherwise a very well thought out publication. The Twenty-Four Hour Mind has had a memorable impact upon me and the way I think about dreams and sleep, so it comes with my warm recommendation.

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