‘I want to create solutions’

Shasta Sheyenne Stephens with ‘two books that shaped me’…

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of reading two books that have genuinely changed me. They’ve not only influenced my education and career choices – they’ve changed my day to day life.

I don’t think I’ve been the same since I picked up Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker. I have suffered with insomnia for most of my life, and thanks to this book I now feel better able to understand my experiences with mental and physical health in relation to sleep. A key insight that struck me was the concept of dream therapy. Walker suggests that dreaming acts as a self-therapeutic experience in the way it helps us to process information and emotions. I found a lot of the information relevant to my own experiences with sleep, especially in relation to dreaming. I feel a lot better after I’ve had bad dreams about issues that are causing me stress in my day to day life. I’ve noticed that when I can remember those dreams, I feel better when I wake up; almost relieved.

The key change this book made in my life was actually a lot more than a few great tips on how to sleep better. It was the exciting introduction to the science of sleep. There is so much more research to be done on the benefits of sleep and I would love to take on some of that research and implement it into practice to help others. Although Walker has found himself in some trouble for manipulating and construing some of the data to suit his narrative, what I took away from the book is the serious potential for sleep science to really help people. I want to raise awareness and educate others on what is really happening while we’re asleep and how it can help us. I hope to someday pursue a PhD in sleep science, possibly in sleep disorders. I’d find it extremely rewarding to be part of finding a solution that works.

Stephen Hawking’s Brief Answers to the Big Questions is not a psychology book, but it really gets you thinking about life and what we’re meant to be doing with it. This book completely humbled me, reminding me that we are accidents created by the universe. I am by nature very caring and empathetic. Being reminded that we (humans) are all we’ve got, further solidified my desire to care for others and create a better world for future generations, because it's not going to happen on its own. This book confirmed for me that as long as I’m using our knowledge to attempt to relieve suffering, then I’m doing something purposeful with my life. It truly motivated me to keep pursuing neuroscience, even when it gets really difficult. This book also reminded me that even though Stephen Hawking was a genius and spent his life dedicated to science and solving the mysteries of the universe – he was human. He was not the all-knowing super-being that I and so many others might view him (and other scientists) as.

Sometimes we fail to remember that all people, despite their position, despite how they look, despite their status, are just humans. We grow up thinking that adults (particularly those in high positions) have our best interests at heart, know what they’re talking about, and somehow will do the right thing. The older you get the more you come to realise there is no cosmic referee making sure the bad players are side-lined or that people who claim to be experts are always legitimate experts, or that everything is going to be okay. We need to step in to correct things – like calling out Walker’s book, or on a larger scale, taking action on the climate crisis.

Why We Sleep and Brief Answers to the Big Questions have both re-inspired me and reminded me why I wanted to pursue psychology in the first place – to understand my own struggles with mental health, which has led to my passion for helping others. I want to know why our brains work the way they do, especially when they act in ways that are not beneficial for us or our survival, such as disorders like insomnia and anxiety. I want to create solutions! Asking questions is so important, particularly in today’s climate – we need to pursue the truth.

- Shasta Sheyenne Stephens, Student at Manchester Metropolitan University

See our collection of articles on the psychology of sleep and dreams from the archive.

We’d love to feature more psychologists on ‘a book that shaped me’. Please get in touch with your idea on [email protected].

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