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The Science of Sleep and Dreams

Delve into sleep science to understand why we sleep and dream, how it affects the mind and body, and how to improve your sleep.

3,212 enrolled on this course

High angle shot of a beautiful young woman sleeping in her bed at home during the night
  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    2 hours

Explore the importance of sleep and dreams for mental health and wellbeing

We all sleep approximately one-third of our lives – a huge proportion of our time. We also know that sleep is fundamental to our health and wellbeing.

This three-week course from New Scientist will delve into the phenomenon of sleep and dreams to unpack the importance of sleeping and dreaming for cognition, mental health, and wellbeing.

Learn about the stages of sleep, such as Rapid Eye Movement sleep (REM sleep)

The sleep cycle is comprised of multiple stages of sleep which help the body and mind to recuperate. Progressing through the cycle multiple times a night allows a person to achieve a high-quality rest, which has positive effects on mental, emotional, and physical health.

On this course, you’ll learn about the stages of sleep and dreaming to understand what happens when we sleep, and how the sleep stages change over the course of a night.

Examine key theories and the latest research in sleep science

Psychologists, scientists, and researchers have examined the phenomenon of sleep and dreams for centuries to understand why we sleep and dream.

With the expertise of Professor Penny Lewis from Cardiff University and Professor Anil Seth from the University of Sussex, you’ll review and discuss key theories and experimental evidence that underpin this exciting area of research. Through an analysis of this research, you’ll expand your understanding of the links between sleep and dreams and the functions of the human brain.

Discover sleep strategies and how sleep can be engineered, with New Scientist

Sleep engineering is a fascinating emerging science based around manipulating sleep in order to improve cognition and health.

With the expertise of the trusted educators on this course, you’ll explore sleep engineering and learn tips and strategies to improve your own sleep.


  • Week 1

    Sleep and dreams

    • Welcome

      Welcome to The Science of Sleep and Dreams. This course explores the latest research into sleep science and why we sleep and dream, as well as offering tips and strategies on how to sleep better.

    • Sleep and its importance

      In this activity you will learn about the importance of sleep, what happens when we sleep and what happens when we don't get enough.

    • Why we sleep and dream

      In this activity we delve deeper into reasons why we might sleep and dream - from regulating the brain to helping us consolidate memories.

    • Bringing it all together

      You've reached the end of Week 1 – it's now time to bring it all together with a short quiz and a chance to reflect on what you have learned so far.

  • Week 2

    Learning in your sleep and sleep engineering

    • Learning in your sleep

      Welcome to Week 2. We start the week by delving into the scientific research around learning in your sleep.

    • Sleep engineering

      In this activity we explore the tantalising opportunities around sleep engineering.

    • Bringing it altogether

      You've reached the end of Week 2 – it's now time to bring it all together with a short quiz and a chance to reflect on what you have learned so far.

  • Week 3

    How to sleep better

    • Sleep-wake cycles

      Welcome to Week 3. We start the week by taking a look at sleep wake-cycles and then asking how much you sleep and whether you are a lark or an owl.

    • Sleeping well

      In this activity we take a look at strategies for sleeping well and ask you to share your top tips for getting a good night's sleep.

    • Bringing it all together

      You've reached the end of Week 3 and the course! It's now time to bring it all together with an end of course quiz, a chance to reflect on what you have learned during the course and find out about further learning opportunities.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explain the importance of sleep and dreams
  • Describe what happens when we sleep and the various stages of sleep and dreaming
  • Explain various theories on why we sleep and dream
  • Discuss experimental evidence that support various theories on why we sleep and dream
  • Describe ways we can engineer our sleep to reduce cognitive decline, increase memory reactivation and to decouple emotions from memories
  • Assess various approaches to improve your own sleep

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone interested in research into sleep science, or those who wish to improve their sleep.

It will also be useful for healthcare professionals and students of psychology looking to improve their understanding of sleep science.

Who will you learn with?

Head of Learning Experience, New Scientist

Who developed the course?

New Scientist

New Scientist is the world’s most popular weekly science and technology publication. Our website, app and print editions cover international news from a scientific standpoint, and ask the big-picture questions about life, the universe and what it means to be human.

New Scientist Academy

New Scientist Academy brings together the trusted editorial expertise from the world’s greatest science magazine, New Scientist, and brilliant world-class scientists to pass on their knowledge and passion, taking you on a mind-expanding journey of discovery around the hottest topics in science.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

Want to know more about learning on FutureLearn? Using FutureLearn

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