Scientists have identified a new phenomenon they describe as "interactive dreaming," in which people who experience deep sleep and lucid dreams are able to follow instructions, answer simple questions, and even solve basic math problems.
In addition to adding a new level of understanding to what happens to our brains when we are dreaming, the new study could teach us how to control our REM phase to help us achieve a particular goal, for example, or to treat a particular mental health problem. .
REM phase and sleep psychology
Much about sleep psychology remains a mystery, including the rapid eye movement (REM) phase in which dreams usually occur. Therefore, being able to get real-time answers from those who are dreaming could be extremely useful.
We found that REM individuals can interact with an experimenter and engage in real-time communication. “We have also shown that people who are dreaming are able to understand questions, engage in working memory operations and produce answers. Most people may think this is not possible. And to this day it is an established opinion that people wake up when asked questions, or do not answer, or do not understand the question while they are dreaming.Ken Paller, a psychologist at Northwestern University
The researchers worked with 36 people in experiments in four different laboratories. One volunteer suffered from narcolepsy and often had lucid dreaming, while the others varied in terms of their experience with lucid dreaming.
During the REM phases monitored by the electroencephalogram (EEG) instruments, the scientists interacted with the dreaming participants. They did this through spoken audio, flashing lights, and physical touch. The tests included simple math questions, counting light flashes or physical touches, and basic questions (like "can you speak Spanish?").
The answers were given through eye movements or movements of the facial muscles agreed in advance. THEn 57 sleep sessions, at least one correct answer to a question was observed in 47% of the sessions in which lucid dreaming was confirmed by the participant.
Confirmation of REM and lucid dreaming states was done in a blinded manner, with the sleeper's responses having to be agreed upon by several witnesses.
We've put the results together. We did this because we felt that the combination of results from four different labs with different approaches more convincingly attests to the reality of this two-way communication phenomenon. In this way, we see how many different means can be used to communicateKaren Konkoly, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University
The people involved in the study were usually awakened after a positive response to get them to report on their dreams. In some cases, external inputs were remembered as external or superimposed on the dream; in others, they have been told as coming from something within the dream (eg a radio).
In the published study, the researchers draw a comparison between trying to communicate with dreaming people and making contact with an astronaut in space. It is the immediacy of the responses that makes this new approach so exciting.
Communicating with those who are dreaming in the REM phase: possible applications
The research could be useful for the future study of dreams, memory and the importance of sleep in fixing memories. It may also be useful in treating sleep disorders. Later it might even give us a way to "train" what we see in our dreams during REM sleep.
“These repeated interactive dream observations, documented by four independent laboratory groups, are crucial. They show that the phenomenological and cognitive characteristics of dreams can be interrogated in real time, ”the researchers write in their paper.
This channel of communication with the REM phase is relatively unexplored. It can allow for a variety of practical applications and a new strategy for the empirical exploration of dreams.