Have you ever fallen asleep after watching a superhero movie and found yourself soaring through the sky in your dreams? Wished you could dream the same dream the following night? ‘Dormio,’ a newly developed device from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), could help you do just that.
Scientists at MIT who have worked on Dormio’s development say that with the device, one can enable “targeted dream incubation,” in which dream content is influenced by verbal and sound cues received just before they nod off.
Although the device is still in testing, early results show that it could successfully influence dreams and record a significant amount of detail.
“Targeted dream incubation is a protocol for reactivating memories during sleep in a manner that leads to incorporation of the targeted memory, or related memories, into dream content,” the researchers explain in their paper.
According to a study published by ScienceDirect, Dormio takes the form of an electronic sensory gadget worn around the wrist. It works its magic when the person is in the first stage of their sleep, during which they experience hypnagogia — a borderline form of consciousness as they go from wakefulness to sleep.
“This state of mind is trippy, loose, flexible, and divergent,” Haar Horowitz, the study’s lead neuroscientist, told MIT News. “It’s like turning the notch up high on mind-wandering and making it immersive — being pushed and pulled with new sensations like your body floating and falling, with your thoughts quickly snapping in and out of control.”
During hypnagogia, a person can still hear and process audio. These sounds can thus be turned into something of a sensory gateway, through verbal and sound cues can be sent to the sleeper. As the person falls asleep, Dormio’s sensors track their physiological state, and right before the person falls into deep sleep, the device partly wakes them up with the use of a verbal or sound cue. It then prompts the sleeper, barely awake, into a conversation about their dream. This chat is then recorded by robot named Jibo, before the person is then allowed to fall back into a hypnagogic state. The person never passes the transitional sleep state, but is instead woken at intervals so that scientists can “incept the dreams and extract dream reports.”
Scientists developing the device tested it out on 49 participants, feeding them cues involving a tree, before and during the hypnagogic state. Sixty-seven per cent of dream reports collected by the app include references to a tree, once the person woke from the fluid sleep state.
“My dream did involve a tree,” one participant mentioned in a verbal report. “I was following the roots with someone and the roots were transporting me to different locations… I could hear the roots of the tree pulsating with energy as if they were leading me to some location.”
If successful, Horowitz said the device could be useful in inducing creativity post-sleep. “We showed that dream incubation is tied to performance benefits on three tests of creativity, by both objective and subjective metrics,” he told MIT News.
“Dreaming about a specific theme seems to offer benefits post-sleep, such as on creativity tasks related to this theme. This is unsurprising in light of historical figures like Mary Shelley or Salvador Dalí, who were inspired creatively by their dreams. The difference here is that we induce these creatively beneficial dreams on purpose, in a targeted manner.”