Researchers Develop Device to Influence Direction of Your Dreams
Sleep is strange; at the end of the day we fall unconscious, our bodies become paralyzed, and we hallucinate vividly, before quickly forgetting what was just experienced. But now researchers at MIT are engineering an interface to influence this bizarre state, believing it may hold the key to our creative genius.
There is a period between wakefulness and that deep, restorative slumber, known as hypnogogia. These fleeting moments have long been considered a place where creative brilliance can be accessed.
Innovators including Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Salvador Dali all intentionally tapped into this state for inspiration, attributing much of their inventions and masterpieces to it.
Holding a pair of steel balls as they fell asleep, they would drift into the hypnagogic state for a few seconds, before their muscles would relax, the balls would fall to the floor, and they would be jolted back awake. This brief entry into the dream state would allow them to remember the bizarre hallucinations and ingenious thoughts floating in the creative ether.
This was part and parcel to Dali’s famous paranoiac-critical method that produced his most trippy and iconic work. But instead of steel balls, Dali used a metal key and an upside-down plate for it to land on, producing a loud clang.
Dali found that not only did these micro-naps spark creativity, but they also provided a refreshed mental state, without the grogginess of a longer rest.
Taking note from these innovators, MIT researchers are developing a modernized version of the steel ball technique through a worn computer interface called Dormio. But instead of waking them, the interface influences sleepers in hypnagogia, attempting to control the direction of their semi-coherent state, and they’ve had some preliminary success.
Using a glove fitted with a series of wires and biosensors, the interface tracks users’ slow descent into sleep, measuring the subtle muscle relaxations of the hand. From there, an app provides an audio cue that prevents users from going into a deeper sleep, suspending them in the hypnagogic state with a prompted word or concept to focus on.
Thus far, the words ‘fork’ and ‘rabbit’ have been used successfully as a theme for “dream content.” Users are then asked questions to capture ideas floating through their mind, without fully waking them, before they are then allowed to fall asleep.
We spend close to a third of our lives sleeping, where our minds exist in creative, fantastic hallucinatory states. Researchers on the team want to figure out how to tap into that world and potentially take advantage of it.
The unconscious mind has been the subject of study by scientists for centuries, yet we still know so little about it. It’s also been proven that we are all born creative geniuses, but through the constructs and demands of our society, our originality is constantly suppressed. Could that creativity be resurrected with hypnogogic enhancement?
Trouble Sleeping? Here Are 5 Ways to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
Getting the proper amount of sleep can be a challenge, especially for those who travel often. Our circadian rhythms are a very complex balance between our internal clocks and the rotation of the Earth. The exact function of this hypersensitive, natural mechanism hasn’t been fully understood until recently and hopefully it can help shed some light on the issues that plague the sleep-deprived.
What is a Circadian Rhythm?
Last year, a team of scientists was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for their work discovering the precise behavior of the proteins and genetic functions that regulate our sleep and waking patterns. The research of Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young uncovered a protein that accumulates at night and degrades throughout the day, signaling the secretion of certain hormones, such as melatonin which helps us fall asleep, and cortisol that helps us wake up. They made this discovery by studying fruit flies and found that every multicellular organism shares this same function to regulate a cyclical sleep/wake cycle.
Our circadian rhythms vary from person to person, meaning those who claim to be night owls and like to sleep in aren’t lazy, but are actually subject to a different circadian rhythm than those who rise early. Some scientists are calling the grogginess these people face, when forced to submit to society’s business hours, “social jet lag.”
The majority of us ascribe to a similar rhythm, based on the rising and setting of the sun, but even if you have an average rhythm, that cycle gets easily thrown off by a number of factors. In fact, most of us have an internal rhythm that is longer than the 24-hour cycle our society runs on, meaning our bodies must regulate our circadian rhythm on a daily basis to maintain that schedule.