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Conversing with dreamers in REM sleep: New strategies for dream science

11 March 2022
3:00 pm
San Ponziano Complex - Conference Room

Each night, we spend hours immersed in vivid hallucinations—in our dreams. Yet, much is unknown about how and why we dream. Scientifically studying individuals in the midst of lucid dreams—aware that they are dreaming while still asleep—is a helpful methodology for exploring the cognitive neuroscience of dreaming. Lucid dreamers can make volitional signals within dreams, such as with eye movements and sniffing, that can be recorded objectively to transmit information out of dreams. By coupling this technique with sensory stimulation during sleep, we communicate with dreamers bidirectionally. Because lucid dreams are notoriously rare, in a first study my colleagues and I sought to develop a more reliable method of inducing them. We paired sound and light cues with a lucid state of mind before sleep, and then presented cues again during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep to trigger lucid dreams with a high success rate. In a next study, we demonstrated that two-way dialogue was possible with novel questions and answers that were not pre-determined before sleep. In ongoing studies, we are working to optimize how often participants have lucid dreams and succeed in two-way communication, as well as exploring how this method can be used to address fundamental questions about dreaming. For instance, visual imagery is extremely prevalent in REM-sleep dreams, yet how and why the sleeping brain generates visual experiences during sleep remains poorly understood. We studied brain activity when lucid dreamers closed their eyes within their dreams and reported on their visual experiences in real-time using sniffing signals. Pursuing this line of research will hopefully shed light on the more general question of how dream visuals are generated.


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Karen Konkoly - Northwestern University (USA)