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A Visit to a Sleep and Dreams Lab

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Understanding Sleep and Dreaming
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The development of the modern sleep lab in the 1950s was important for several reasons. Prior to its development, it was not possible to accurately determine whether a person was asleep. Additionally, it was discovered that there are different types of sleep. And sleep labs encouraged widespread scientific study of sleep and dreaming. In a sleep lab, a person’s brain waves, eye movements, and neck muscle tension are recorded. From this, it can be determined whether the person is awake or in NREM (N1, N2, N3), or REM sleep and, importantly, when and for how long each of these stages occurs. It was not long before the process of dreaming and the content of dreams were studied in the sleep lab. This is done by waking a person when they are in one of the stages of sleep, but especially REM, and asking what was going on in their mind when they were awakened. What has been learned by research in sleep labs is what makes up the vast majority of this textbook, so it is important to first take a tour of a sleep lab.

Adapted from Moorcroft (1993), with permission of the publisher.

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  1. 1.

    Diane Black, a polysomnography technician at the Sleep Disorders Center of the Rockies in Fort Collins, Colorado, is actually the person who came up with the idea of “sock” to contain the electrode wires.


  • Aserinsky, E., & Kleitman, N. (1953). Regularly occurring periods of eye mobility and concomitant phenomena during sleep. Science, 18, 273–274.

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  • Moorcroft, W. H. (1993). Sleep, dreaming, and sleep disorders: An introduction (2nd ed.). Lanham, Md: University Press of America.

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Correspondence to William H. Moorcroft .

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Moorcroft, W.H. (2013). A Visit to a Sleep and Dreams Lab. In: Understanding Sleep and Dreaming. Springer, Boston, MA.

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