Guardians of Sleep Podcast

In early 2020, Professor Sharon Sliwinski, creator and editor of the Museum of Dreams, partnered with the Museum of London (UK) and the Department of Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck, University of London to collect and curate Londoner's (UK) pandemic dreams.

  • Project Origins

  • Q&A

  • Podcast Episodes

Headshot of Sharon Sliwinski with an image of a young girl in bed with the covers pulled up to her nose.

The Museum of Dreams & Guardians of Sleep

The Museum of Dreams, the research project under which the Guardians of Sleep podcast was created, was launched at the end of 2015 by Professor Sharon Sliwinski of the Faculty of Information & Media Studies at Western University. With the help of an initial internal grant, and later subsequent funding, the project took shape as a virtual museum that now houses a fascinating collection of multi-media stories about dreamers and dreams, their shape and significance, told by an array of scholars, artists, and photographers. On the site you go through recountings of dreams linked to World Wars 1 and 2, the Gestapo, Truth and Reconciliation, Freud, Jung, Nelson Mandela, a woman facing breast cancer, and others.

Dreams are a springboard for articulating the things we have trouble expressing, the stories we struggle to voice-to ourselves and to each other. - Museum of Dreams

In early 2020, with the global COVID-19 leading to a cascading series of lockdowns and shutdowns across North America, Europe, and much of the rest of the world, a unique opportunity arose for dream researchers. As people collectively move through this generation-defining event, what happens in people's dream lives? When Sliwinski began having conversations with curators at the Museum of London (UK) about ways they could collect people's COVID-19 dreams, a partnership between the Museum of London and the Museum of Dreams seemed like an obvious match. Sliwinski enlisted some of her own students from FIMS as well as researchers from Birkbeck, University of London and began the process of interviewing people and collecting dreams. The Guardians of Sleep podcast allows listeners to hear about some of those dreams in the dreamers' own voices, and from their personal experiences.

A Q&A with Professor Sharon Sliwinski

Q. How did you connect with the Museum of London (UK) on this project? 

Foteini Aravani, one of the MoL’s curators got in touch with me last summer (August 2020) asking for advice about how to collect dreams. The museum had an idea to collect COVID dreams as part of a bigger COVID collection project. After a couple of long conversations, they asked if I would like to collaborate with them on the project. We designed the study together and I put together a team of folks, some of my own former students who were working in the mental health sector as well as staff and students from Birkbeck’s Department of Psychosocial Studies — I figured we needed Londoner’s talking to Londoners.

Q. Did anything about the data you collected surprise you?

Goodness, a lot of things. I mean I had already heard lots about how COVID was changing people’s dream life — not only because the world was collectively dreaming about COVID, i.e. the pandemic produced an unprecedented global dream “event” — but because a lot of people were talking about them and sharing them in new ways (on social media). But when we spoke to people one-on-one, we heard a lot about the specific ways COVID had entered their dream life, and about how they were thinking about their dreams as part of the process of coping with the pandemic. But not only the pandemic — people were tuning into their dream life as a way to process other things that were happening during this time: the killing of George Floyd and the global BLM protests that followed, the explosive revelations in the Royal family, as well as more personal things, like their kids growing up almost entirely on screens, the death of loved ones, the huge shifts in working life, and so on. One of our interviewees actually had COVID and she spoke a lot about that experience — both its physical and psychological aspects.

Q. When did the idea of a podcast become part of the project?

Early on — before the interviews even started. I'm supervising one of our Media Studies Masters students this past year, Erin MacIndoe Sproule, who is a professional podcaster. So she put the bug in my ear early, so to speak. Then once we started doing the interviews and realized their richness, it seemed like a perfect vehicle for sharing some of these stories — and, indeed, I think this audio format works really well for listening to dreams. It helped a lot that we got to work with a fabulous composer, Andrew Braun, who is also one of our (PMC) grads.

Q. How were the folks from the Psychosocial Studies department at Birkbeck involved in the project?

I talked through the study design extensively with Professor Amber Jacobs, who is the current Head of Department in Psychosocial Studies. Then several of her PhD students joined the project as interviewers. They haven’t been involved in the creation of the podcast series, but I’ve maintained a lovely dialogue with Amber, who is working on a new project for the Museum of Dreams: a YouTube series called Telling Tales. We’re working on developing a way to feature it in the Museum now.

The Guardians of Sleep Podcast

Built out of conversations with the public and encompassing work by scientists, artists, and philosophers, The Guardians of Sleep podcast explores how dreaming serves as an integral psychological process that helps us work through the struggles we face in our waking lives. The show takes its title from Sigmund Freud, who described dreams as the “guardians of sleep and not its disturbers.”

In partnership with the Museum of London (UK) and the Department of Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck, University of London, the first season of The Guardians of Sleep investigates how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the dream-life of people living in the British capital.

The Guardians of Sleep is hosted by Professor Sharon Sliwinski and edited by Erin MacIndoe Sproule (MA'22, Media Studies) with music by Andrew Braun (MA'20, Popular Music & Culture).