Image source: Fitbit

Researchers want to use Fitbit smartwatches to induce lucid dreaming

A bunch of scientists at Northwestern University are researching whether they can induce lucid dreaming with the help of Fitbit smartwatches. Those interested can download an app to participate in this exciting study, providing they have an Android device.


Volunteers needed

The team has already had some success as reported by Science magazine about a year ago. This involved a combination of training before sleep and presenting sounds in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) to teach people to recognize lucid sleep. But rather than with Fitbit smartwatches, scientists did this in a professional sleep lab.

For those not in the know, a lucid dream is a type of dream where the person is aware they are dreaming. This enables the individual to gain some control over the dream narrative and its surroundings. Lucid dreaming typically occurs during the REM phase of sleep. About 50% of people have experienced a lucid dream at least once in their life, and about 1 in 10 experience it regularly.

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The Northwestern University scientists are now recruiting volunteers (18 and over) for a second study and this one will attempt to use data from Fitbits to detect REM sleep. The app requires an Android smartphone or tablet and a Fitbit Ionic, Versa or Sense. Unfortunately, no joy for iOS users.

Once you download and install the app, it will ask you a few questions about your sleep and dreams. There will also be mindfulness exercises to go through before bed. The app will then play soft sounds while you are in REM sleep in an attempt to teach you to recognise that you’re dreaming.

And that is the purpose of the second study. To see whether the researchers can induce lucid dreams by presenting sounds that remind you that you’re dreaming during REM sleep.


Researchers have managed to communicate with dreamers

The results of the first study were very encouraging. Scientists actually managed to have “conversations” with dreamers asking them questions and assigning math problems. These are the first findings that demonstrate that lucid dreamers are able to receive and process complex external information. Contrary to popular belief the brain is connected and aware of the outside world during sleep.

Four independent teams in the United States, France, Germany and the Netherlands participated in the research. First, the 36 individuals in the study were thought to recognize when they were dreaming. Lucid dreaming can be thought and people become better with progress.

Each team communicated with sleepers in a different way, such as spoken questions and flashing lights. Sleepers were thought to communicate back by moving their eyes or face in certain ways while lucid dreaming. For example smiling or frowning or moving their eyes multiple times to indicate a sum. Also, the volunteers were equipped with electroencephalogram helmets in a professional sleep lab which tracked when they were in the REM phase sleep.

The results might not seem too impressive at first glance, but they are proof of concept. That this kind of communication is possible. This is made all the stronger by the fact that scientists used different means of speaking to dreamers.

As reported in peer reviewed Current Biology, out of a total of 158 questions to lucid dreamers, 18.6% of responses were correct and only 3.2% of responses were wrong. Just over 60% of the questions got no response, and the response was unclear 17.7% of the time.

What is interesting is the way lucid dreamers reported their dreams after waking up. Typically, the question was incorporated into the dream. For example, one said that a car radio asked him a math problem. Another, that someone at a party asked him whether he spoke Spanish.

Lucid dreaming is certainly an exciting area of study. The results of this study give hope a technique can be developed that can be used to influence people’s dreams so that they are better equiped to deal with trauma or anxiety. Or perhaps enable people to solve problems and come up with creative new ideas while in a sleep state.

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