Gary Fireman spends many waking hours studying what makes people tick – once their heads hit their pillows each night.
Fireman, professor and chair of the Psychology Department, researches sleep quality, dreams, and nightmares with a team of graduate and undergraduate students. Their work is focused on how dreaming and nightmares impact daily life, as well as the relationship between emotion—particularly anger/hostility—and sleep quality.
“If you sleep an average of seven to seven and a half hours a night throughout your life and you live to be 80 years old, you would have spent about 23 years asleep,” says Fireman. “And about five of those years you will have spent dreaming.”
Dreaming's important role
Evidence suggests that dreams serve the purpose of consolidating memories and processing emotion.
“This is a good thing,” says Fireman. “Dreaming can help us to problem solve and function more efficiently the next day.
There are basically two types of sleep and both are necessary: REM (rapid eye movement), where dreams and nightmares primarily occur; and non-REM, during which the body repairs tissue and the immune system is strengthened.
“Everyone dreams every night. This is true whether you remember the dreams, pay attention to them, or not,” says Fireman
A major controversy in dream research is whether dreaming is essential to sleep or merely a byproduct of the brain process that occurs during REM sleep.
“Either way,” says Fireman, “disturbed dreaming is meaningful to our waking life.”
Fireman says that frequent nightmares—disturbed dreaming that results in nocturnal awakening—are strongly associated with poorer waking well-being.
Nicholas Taylor, a doctoral student in Fireman’s program who is interning at a Los Angeles community mental health organization, is researching the relationship between sleep quality and the behavioral, emotional, and cognitive components of hostility.
“The goal is to identify what mechanisms link sleep quality to hostility, so that the sleep community has a better understanding of the factors that impact an individual’s day-to-day sleeping patterns,” says Taylor,
Taylor’s practical training, coursework, and research projects are geared to a career in clinical psychology.
“Suffolk’s program is rigorous, but I’ve also appreciated the warm culture within the department,” he says. “Everyone works hard, but we also have a lot of fun working together. My classmates have become my best friends. The program has had a dramatic effect on me both professionally and personally.
“I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you cannot operate in isolation. You have to pay just as much attention to how well you match an institution’s culture as to how well the work suits you.”