Our "Portrait" series introduces the people and organizations that are part of the Percumedia client community.
For this second presentation, we meet psychologist Antonio Zadra, professor and researcher at the University of Montreal, and director of the Zadra Dream Lab where the mysteries of sleep and dreams are studied.
Professor Antonio Zadra was born in the city of Sept-Iles where he attended elementary and secondary school. He then moved to Montreal at age 17 to pursue his education at the college and university levels. After considering going into medical studies, a particularly significant dream caught his attention and, after a lot of reading about sleep and dreams, he decided to go into psychology.
After completing a Master's degree in Experimental Psychology and a PhD in Clinical Psychology at McGill University, he pursued a postdoctoral research in Dr. Tore Nielsen's Dream and Nightmare Lab at Sacré-Coeur Hospital in Montreal.
Parasomnias and dream disorders
Antonio Zadra is currently professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Montreal. He is particularly interested in certain kinds of sleep disorders: parasomnias, which are undesirable behaviors that occur during sleep (sleepwalking, night terrors, etc.). He is also involved in the study of dream disorders: everything that is unpleasant in dreams, including nightmares, trauma related or not.
With his research team, he pursues two types of complementary work. The first one deals with the study of the content of dreams. This research is mainly done through questionnaires and dream diaries that participants fill in over periods ranging from weeks to months.
Antonio Zadra's second type of research is more technical and is mostly conducted at the Centre avancé d’étude du sommeil at Sacré-Coeur Hospital in Montreal. These studies rely on encephalography and brain imaging for sleep analysis.
What are these studies’ applications?
The applications or uses of this research come in two parts. The first type of research aims at better understanding why people have nightmares, how often and at what point in their lives. The application will be to better assess and treat these sleep disorders.
The second type of application is more holistic. Here, professor Zadra wants to understand in a broader way the interactions between the genetic and environmental factors in sleep disorders, such as sleepwalking or night terrors, so as to intervene on them in a more global way.
Thus, in the case of sleepwalking, one can reduce the frequency or intensity of episodes through psychological or pharmacological treatments, or simply by changing the lifestyle of some patients.
What about dream interpretation?
This is a very long and rich history, that started much earlier than Freud's work for instance. People have always been interested in their dreams and wanted to know why and how these images occurred while they slept. This is why certain techniques have been developed to understand these dreams.
From a scientific or empirical point of view, we have very little clear evidence to support these techniques. This does not mean, however, that the content of dreams is devoid of psychological meaning. However, there is no universal way to understand the meaning of certain images during dreams. The dream interpretation dictionaries are certainly amusing, but they have no scientific or theoretical basis to support the definitions presented.
What can we understand from our dreams then?
When we pay attention to a series of dreams rather than just to a single one, we can begin to see patterns emerge: the places where dreams take place, the characters we find in them and the nature of the interactions between them. By examining these models, we can discover links with relational situations experienced in the waking state.
It is now becoming increasingly clear that the interpersonal dimension of an individual is importantly reflected in his dreams, while intertwining with things seen or imagined in the more or less distant past, thus giving a particular or bizarre aspect to dreams.
What is a healthy sleep?
Unfortunately, we are part of a society that is collectively deprived of sleep. The fact that a majority of people use an alarm clock to wake up shows that our sleeping time must be interrupted.
After oil and its derivatives, caffeine is the second most important substance in terms of transactions in the world. Such an important and comprehensive consumption of caffeine informs us that people are tired and need a stimulant to go about their daily lives.
All of this is bad, because we now know that sleep is far from being a passive state, or even a waste of time. Sleep helps to consolidate learning, regulate our emotions and even our hormones. It is related to our appetite, the regulation of insulin, the prevention of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It is therefore not by chance that evolution has made all mammals sleep. On the long term, sleep deprivation clearly entails consequences.
The importance of popularization
Since our research is supported by public funds collected from our own taxes, it is important to give back to the community, not only by informing people about things that can be discovered, but by popularizing what we discover and know, and what remains to be studied.
Especially in the field of sleep and dreams, people have beliefs and opinions without being aware of all the research that is done in this area. This research can help demystify some characteristics of our dreams and can help us understand them.
It is therefore important, just as in other scientific fields, to know what science has to say about dreams and sleep in general.
What to watch for in the near future
In the coming year, we will continue our research, particularly on the brain activity of sleepwalkers. Even when they are asleep, we observe that certain parts of their brain are awake while others are simultaneously in a state of sleep, and even before the episodes of sleepwalking come up.
We are also conducting a very interesting study on erotic dreams with a sample of almost ten thousand dream stories. The research shows interesting differences depending on gender, marital state, age, and so on. A research that will surely interest the media ...
Want to know more? Go to antoniozadra.com.