New Study Changes What’s Possible During Sleep

Researchers at Northwestern University are practically living the dream as they interview people when they are in the deepest stages of REM sleep. The absurd aspect? By shifting their gaze back and forth, those dreamers are genuinely responding to simple inquiries.

These researchers are demonstrating dreams are permeable in both directions by asking questions and encouraging people to have lucid dreams. That’s a lot.

We’ve known for a long that items from real life sometimes appear in dreams, such as a monster that turns out to be a stuffy pillow or an alarm clock noise who joins the action. The first experiment to demonstrate that dreamers may transition from their dreaming condition into waking life is this one, though.

  • It turns out lucid dreamers can go one step further and answer questions while sleeping.
  • Scientists used sleep study technology to measure and cue dreamers to do math.
  • The sleepers remembered cues from waking life to do during sleep.

The researchers report their findings in Current Biology. “Personals who are asleep and in the middle of a lucid dream (knowing that they are currently dreaming) can perceive inquiries from an experimenter and provide answers using electrophysiological signals,” they write.

According to the researchers, the study participants had “different talents” during REM sleep, such as performing “distinctive eye movements and specific facial muscle contractions” and answering questions correctly “on 29 times among 6 of the persons studied.”

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According to the Mayo Clinic, a polysomnography, which is another name for a sleep study, “records your brain waves, the oxygen level in your blood, heart rate and breathing, as well as eye and leg movements during the study.”

In this study, the researchers asked participants to count out numbers by moving their eyes back and forth. For instance, if the number was 8 minus 6, they were instructed to move their eyes back and forth twice. The individuals received instructions from the researchers while they were awake, which they carried over into their lucid dreams and recalled to be able to perform when necessary.

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The term “IN” (lower left) alludes to techniques used to transfer information from the experimenter to the dreamer.

Information was passed from the dreamer to the experimenter using several techniques, which are referred to as OUT (lower right). Relevant snippets from the related dream reports that were acquired after waking up are presented below for three different dreams (color-coded for each input method).

Only six out of the 36 participants in the Northwestern study were able to both have lucid dreams and record accurate responses to questions from within, making it a very small study. However, if that percentage accurately represented the general populace, it would suggest that more than 15% of people might lucid dream and be able to interact in this manner.

The researchers employed the full potential of their polysomnography setup to measure “sleep physiology,” which is a fancy way of saying wave your hand in front of someone’s face, to make sure the subjects were really, truly in REM sleep. According to the researchers, one challenge is that REM sleep needs to be “stabilized” because occasionally even the eye movements themselves might induce people to awaken.

The results “challenge our beliefs about what sleep is,” Benjamin Baird, a sleep scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was not involved in this study, told Scientific American.

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SciAm has more:

According to the traditional definition of sleep, which is still frequently included today, being unresponsive to environmental stimuli falls under the category of sleep, according to Baird. “This work challenges us to reevaluate some of those basic definitions about the nature of sleep itself, and what is possible in sleep,” the author writes.

The concept of learning while you sleep has long since been a comedic cliché; for example, someone might listen to a tape about dating or quitting smoking and then act strangely as a result of subconscious clues. But according to this study, people may actually be able to learn when they are asleep by memorizing knowledge or imagining high-performance activities like sports or music.

The researchers add that interactive dreaming “could also be used to promote creativity and solve problems.” The next big ideas might come through an interactive process that combines the creative benefits of dreaming with the logical benefits of being awake.

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