Talking About Sleep: Possible Conversations During Vivid Dreams

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Beware: If you have to say that your sleeping kids are jerks or idiots, be sure to keep enough distance between the conversation and their sleeping selves.

They might hear you, understand what’s being said… and end up having bad feelings. Or refuse to go back to bed.

How come?

American scientists have found that people in REM sleep, in the midst of a “vivid dream,” are able to understand what is being said, can perceive questions and provide answers through eye movements and facial contractions.

In addition, they can perceive and respond to simple number problems.

The sleepers were aware that they were dreaming, a common experience.

The researchers – led by Ken Paller, professor of psychology and
Director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Program at Northwestern University – calls this style of communication “interactive dream”.

Say what?

“We found that people in REM sleep can interact with an experimenter and engage in real-time communication,” said Professor Paller, lead author of the study. He was speaking in a prepared statement.

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“We have also shown that dreamers are able to understand questions, engage in working memory operations, and produce answers.”

The professor admitted that most people could “predict that it wouldn’t be possible – that people would wake up when asked a question or not answer, and certainly not understand a question without misinterpreting it.”

IN (lower left) refers to the methods by which information was transmitted from the experimenter to the dreamer. OUT (lower right) refers to the methods by which information was transmitted from the dreamer to the experimenter. Examples of three dreams (color coded for each input method) are shown below from relevant excerpts from corresponding dream reports obtained after waking up. Graphic: Northwestern University

What motivated the experience?

Professor Paller said that while dreams are a common experience, scientists still haven’t explained them well enough.

Relying on a person’s dream account is also fraught with distortions and forgotten details, he said.

This prompted researchers to attempt to communicate with people during lucid dreams.

“Our experimental goal is to find a way to speak with an astronaut who is on another world, but in this case, the world is entirely made out of memories stored in the brain,” the researchers write.

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Their findings “could open the door to future investigations to learn more about dreams, memory, and how memory storage depends on sleep.”

How did they do that?

In four separate experiments, conducted at universities in the United States, France, Germany and the Netherlands, 36 people were wired for what is known as polysomnography, also known as the sleep study: the test recorded their brain waves, the level of oxygen in the blood, heart rate and breathing, as well as eye and leg movements.

The volunteers were stimulated by words and audible beeps from a speaker, flashing lights and touch keys. The experiment worked better on some people than on others.

One of the participants who “succeeded easily with two-way communication had narcolepsy and frequent lucid dreams”.

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Of the rest, some had “a lot of lucid dreaming experience” and some did not.

Overall, the researchers found that it was possible for people who dreamed of following instructions, doing simple arithmetic, answering yes or no questions, and differentiating between different stimuli. sensory.

Aside from the fun factor, what’s the useful point?

The researchers say that future dream studies could use these same methods “to assess cognitive abilities” during dreams rather than being awake.

They could also help verify “the accuracy of post-wakeful dream reports.”

In a clinical setting, they suggest that the experimental setup could be used to help people solve problems while sleeping or provide nightmare victims with new ways to cope.

And follow-up experiments are underway, in all four locations, to “learn more about the connections between sleep and memory processing, and how dreams can inform this memory processing.” “.

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