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  • There's nothing like drifting off to sleep and having a night full of dreams.

  • Usually they're pleasant nonsense, but sometimes they can get scary and unsettling.

  • Ultimately, though, they're just dreams and have no bearing on our waking lives...right?

  • Not exactly.

  • Experts have discovered that our dreams can say a lot about what's on our mind, and

  • that they might be essential to the process of getting a good night's sleep.

  • Without dreaming, our minds don't clear out the clutter in our memory and can't

  • be properly refreshed to take on a new day's worth of information.

  • So it's no surprise that scientists have spent a lot of time trying to understand,

  • study, and even influence the process of dreaming.

  • Wait, influencing dreams?

  • That's not possible, is it?

  • Not in the way Hollywood might want you to think - there are no undead sleep demons looking

  • to turn your dreams into a haunted house, or crack teams of thieves trying to break

  • into your subconscious to steal your ideas.

  • But what might soon be possible is to use technology to hack dreams and make it easier

  • to enter the dream state and get the closure your mind needs from dreams - even if you

  • can't seem to get there naturally.

  • And that dream salvation may come in the form of a glove.

  • The device is called Dormio, and it looks a little like the notorious failed Nintendo

  • gaming device Power Glove.

  • This isn't designed to help your favorite plumber jump on some turtles, though - it's

  • designed to manipulate the dreaming process, record data, and even insert specific themes

  • into your subconscious.

  • While still in its early stages, this revolutionary idea started at one of the most famous scientific

  • hubs in the world - the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, at the Media Lab.

  • This unconventional division doesn't have a specific area of study, but fuses elements

  • from technology, science, media, art, and design.

  • They've tackled projects including neurobiology, bionics, and artificial intelligence.

  • And now, dreams.

  • The world first became aware of Dormio when the Lab published a paper titledDormio:

  • A Targeted Dream Incubation Device”.

  • The Media Lab doesn't always announce its research projects to the public, so this bit

  • of mad science took the world by surprise.

  • But head researcher Adam Haar Horowitz and Fluid Interfaces head Professor Pattie Maes

  • had been working extensively on their prototype, and the project was presented in a surprisingly

  • advanced form.

  • And the key may have been in our brains all along.

  • The people behind Dormio aren't the first to gain some level of control over dreams.

  • Some people can enter a dream state called lucid dreaming, where they are aware that

  • they're dreaming and can even influence the events of their dreams - going on personally

  • shaped adventures and sometimes encountering terrifying sights.

  • Dormio uses a similar process called Targeted Dream Incubation that starts while the person

  • is still awake and continues through an early sleep stage called hypnagogia.

  • While those using Dormio don't control their dreams, they are able to influence the direction

  • they'll take before they start.

  • It all starts in a moment we're all familiar with.

  • Do you remember trying to fall asleep and getting an odd sensation, like you're just

  • about to drift off?

  • And then the dog barks, and it's back to square one.

  • Those moments are hypnagogia, the transitional moment between wakefulness and sleep.

  • This can be a weird period, as people have reported hallucinations, lucid thoughts and

  • dreams, and even sleep paralysis.

  • While not everyone experiences these things during the transition, the Dormio team believes

  • that the mind is especially susceptible to influence during this period - and this might

  • be the key to hacking your dreams.

  • The problem is, it can only last seconds and is hard to track.

  • So they built a device to track it.

  • Dormio might look like a glove, but it's much more than that.

  • It's a high-tech sensor that tracks multiple metrics in the body like heart rate, electricity

  • level on the skin, and the position of the fingers to sense when the brain is entering

  • hypnagogia.

  • That's the golden moment for the second part of the Dormio program to enter the fray

  • - an app that is programmed to go off at the exact moment hypnagogia starts, and deliver

  • specific audio input that is supposed to influence the dreams of the subject.

  • The subject wakes up, and this cycle is repeated several times.

  • Later after the subject is allowed to sleep, they report the dreams they have, which are

  • reported in the app.

  • So does it work?

  • Early indications are that it has a significant impact.

  • For a test case where a tree was mentioned in the audio stimulus, two-thirds of the subjects

  • reported that they had some element of a tree in the dreams that followed.

  • Sometimes it was a weird side turn, like a car shaped like a tree or an old man sitting

  • under a tree, but it seems like Dormio's process is the first proven scientific innovation

  • that can actually influence our dreams.

  • But a question on everyone's mind is - is it safe?

  • Our brains are tricky things, and many are concerned about what hacking the dream process

  • could do.

  • After all, jailbreaking your iPhone so you can install different apps on it will void

  • the warranty - could this be getting close to jailbreaking the brain?

  • While there haven't been any adverse effects reported long-term in using Dormio, subjects

  • did report that as the dream-hacking process was repeated on them with the same prompt,

  • their dreams became more intense, more immersive, and more surreal with every passing cycle.

  • This could just be the mind processing the increased stimuli - but as everyone who's

  • woken up from a particularly intense nightmare and felt sweat pouring off them knows, intense

  • and surreal dreams can stick with you for a long time.

  • How does the mind and its dreams have such an influence on the body?

  • It's all about three letters - REM.

  • REM, or Rapid Eye Movement sleep, is the stage when we do most of our dreaming.

  • It's the final stage of sleep after hypnagogia, light sleep, and deep sleep.

  • This is when we're deepest in the dream world, and virtually all intense dreams will

  • take place during this period.

  • Any influence of the dreams we have will have to take place before this stage, and Dormio

  • aims to ease us into the stage by working prompts into our mind in various ways - starting

  • before we're even lying down for sleep.

  • The most effective tests started by having the subject repeat verbal prompts while awake,

  • and then have them reinforced during the hypnagogia stage.

  • And as one scientist found out, these dreams can get very specific.

  • Tomas Vega, a former grad student at the Media Lab, went on to co-found Augmental Tech, a

  • company that specializes in integrating technology with the body.

  • He was one of the first people to experiment with Dormio, and he decided to theme his dream

  • to one of his favorite movies - Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

  • He used the app to put the music of the factory's singing Oompa Loompas into his head.

  • And when he dreamt, he was under a chocolate waterfall, surrounded by the little orange

  • men.

  • But one thing was different.

  • Tomas Vega is lactose intolerant.

  • And he noticed in his dream that the chocolate waterfall was made out of dark chocolate.

  • So the dreams we have under the influence of Dormio are still guided by our subconscious.

  • Vega's mind knew he would never wind up under a milk chocolate fountain, so it tailored

  • his dream into a safe one.

  • Dormio influences our dreams, and our mind influences them right back.

  • While it could be said that Dormio hacks our dreams, the process is maybe better described

  • as giving them a nudge in the right direction, and letting our subconscious do the rest.

  • So what are the possible benefits of this new technology?

  • Have you ever had a crazy brainstorm in your dreams, only to wake up and scramble to write

  • it down before you forget?

  • Well, what if you were struggling to come up with the right idea for a project?

  • Dormio could possibly help you brainstorm by guiding your dreams towards that subject.

  • If you're looking for, say, the next great video game idea to pitch your boss, you could

  • give Dormio the prompt and let it feed it back to you as you go to sleep.

  • The odds are that your brain will spend the night feeding video game-related content into

  • your brain - and your brain may just come up with the idea you're looking for.

  • The device could have some very practical benefits too.

  • It's a common challenge for anyone who's ever studied for a test or practiced a specific

  • activity.

  • You spend hours cramming, try to get it down pat, and then go to sleep - and when you wake

  • up you can't quite remember what you spent the last day studying.

  • But what if you could harness those hours of sleep towards reinforcing those topics

  • in your mind?

  • You study like normally, then use the Dormio app to give your mind the prompts it needs

  • related to that topic.

  • If you're lucky, you spend the night practicing your skills in your mind, and the topic buries

  • itself even deeper in your subconscious - preparing you for the big day on multiple levels.

  • But could Dormio help with thornier topics?

  • One of the challenges of therapy is helping people face past trauma.

  • But confronting your demons while awake poses challenges, including getting past the levels

  • of subconscious defense your mind puts up.

  • The subconscious is much more open to stimuli when asleep, and Dormio could set people up

  • to relive certain situations that might be too uncomfortable to confront while awake.

  • Combining Dormio's influence with therapy sessions while awake might make it possible

  • to tackle repressed trauma and get a fresh start.

  • So when might Dormio's benefits become available widely?

  • Well, I wouldn't stay up waiting.

  • Since MIT published the paper introducing Dormio to the world in early 2021, the project

  • has attracted a lot of attention.

  • But it's still in a prototype phase, and the University will continue research until

  • they're confident in their product.

  • Before it's widely available, it would likely go through outside testing to ensure it's

  • safe and reliable like any product relating to the human body.

  • While Dormio doesn't have any medical function and wouldn't need to go through those boards,

  • its influence over the sleep cycle would likely mean added scrutiny.

  • Then it would have to be purchased or licensed by a tech company that could mass-produce

  • it.

  • When it finally comes out, would it be affordable?

  • That's one of the best parts about Dormio.

  • While other sleep-tracking devices tend to be cumbersome and are often only used in medical

  • settings, Dormio only requires one piece of equipment - a portable glove.

  • The rest of the system is contained in an app that can be downloaded to any standard

  • smartphone once released to the public.

  • That means that Dormio can be mass-produced and released to the public more easily, and

  • could retail for several hundred dollars when complete - not cheap, but definitely affordable

  • for electronic fans, and possibly worth much more if it can help you make better use of

  • your sleeping hours.

  • But until it comes out, are would-be dream hackers out of luck?

  • Not exactly.

  • While the precise timing of Dormio's app can't be duplicated yet, studies show there

  • are ways to influence our dreams.

  • How you sleep can have an impact, with sleeping on your right side being the most likely to

  • create pleasant dreams.

  • Eating cheese before bed has actually been shown to influence dreams - with cheddar encouraging

  • pleasant dreams, while blue cheese can create more intense ones.

  • Your choice of media before bed can have an impact, with scary movies creating nightmares

  • - no shocker there.

  • But if you want to see some strange effects on your dreams, there are surprising ways.

  • Those who watch black-and-white movies or TV before bed have often reported experiencing

  • their dreams in shades of grey as well - showing just how susceptible our subconscious is to

  • visual influences.

  • But if you just want a good night's sleep and pleasant dreams, the best way may simply

  • be to go to sleep on a good note.

  • Take care of anything that's stressing you out before you go to sleep, and you're less

  • likely to have stress creeping into your dream.

  • Go to bed with something on your mind, and it may just follow you there.

  • It may be a while before you can hack your dreams with the power of technology, but the

  • process of harnessing them to your advantage can start now.

  • For more on the weird nature of dreams, check outWhy You Can't Punch Hard or Run Fast

  • in Dreams”, or watchMost Common Nightmares and What They Mean?” for more on the darker

  • side of dreaming.

There's nothing like drifting off to sleep and having a night full of dreams.

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Scientists Finally Discover a Way to Hack into Your Dreams

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    Summer posted on 2021/04/26
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