The Role of Somatic Events in the Alteration of Sleep in David Koulak’s in “Our Bodies, Our Dreams”: Integrating Lived Experiences into Dreams

What can dreams tell us about our bodies and our minds? Apparently, nothing, but David Koulack, an experienced researcher into the study of dreams, showed us in chapter 6 of his book, To Catch a Dream: Explorations of Dreaming how the nature of dreams as well as sleep patterns can be influenced by somatic events. The chapter, entitled “Our Bodies, Our Dreams”, looks upon the connection between dreams and the manner in which people feel as a result of external and internal factors which acted upon the body and altered its normal functions. By organizing the chapter into sections and providing sufficient and relevant evidence, Koulack makes it clear that certain dreams and a disturbed sleep cycle may represent a direct consequence of an unexpected somatic event. He provides interesting ideas in this respect, based on findings concerning the manner in which lived experiences of the dreamer are integrated into dreams and are able to alter sleep quality.

The chapter “Our Bodies, Our Minds” begins by suggesting that somatic events are able to alter ongoing dreams, so that a feeling or a state of the body may be reflected in the dream and in the sleep pattern.  The chapter is organized into sections, each being dedicated to a certain stimulus that is able to modify dreams and sleep patterns, namely “Thirst”, “Exercise”, “Sleeping Pills”, “Menstrual Cycle” and “Illness”.  The author first describes a dream of his own, in which the pain he experienced was really produced by an awkward position of the body. Each section describes how certain stimuli are able to influence the dreamer, the author basing his claims upon findings from his previous studies, as well as studies conducted by other researchers.

Easy to grasp and extremely interesting, the chapter provides the reader with an understanding on how the way people feel reflects in the way they sleep and dream. Whereas not all information was new to this reviewer, and the chapter does not offer groundbreaking new information, it does explore some of the ways in which dreams are more than the reiteration of past events. Rather, the author maintains throughout his chapter, they have important functions, such as helping the body cope with an unpleasant state by providing him, in the dream, with the kind of relief that was denied to him. The author also explores the manner in which sleeping pills and alcohol affect dreams, but his findings are not as conclusive as in the case of exercise and thirst.

Overall, this chapter perfectly integrates into the style and the kind of information provided by the book and makes an important contribution to the book. Whereas the chapter may be qualified as undemanding, or straightforward, and not of monumental importance for the study of dream, it does provides interesting information on how dreams and sleep are affected by somatic events and also, contains new and necessary findings concerning such issues as the ‘convenience’ dream, and the ‘compensatory’ dream. In particular, his findings that “dream life may be complementary to waking life” (Koulack, 1991, p. 102) allow readers to see how dreams function so as to provide dreamers with the missing elements from their life, be them emotions or activities. Another interesting point is the relation between alcohol and sleeping patterns, as well as the manner in which illness, and fear of death is reflected in the content of the ill person’s dream.

All these results cast light upon some previously unclear or unknown functions of dreams and direct researchers towards new areas of study, which were left undeveloped by the researcher. The chapter, framed by Freud’s initial studies in the topics attacked by the author, and based upon the author’s own dreaming experiences, is a valuable contribution to the study of dreams and sleeping patterns, both due to its richness in findings from studies and experiments, and to its clarity and ease of reading. The chapter directs the reader’s interest towards the effect of somatic events upon sleep and leaves enough questions unanswered to stimulate the researcher’s interest and curiosity.


Koulack, D.  (1991). To Catch a Dream: Explorations of Dreaming. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.

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