Researchers have conducted an experiment that sounds like something out of the movie Inception. A group of researchers from Northwestern University has worked with independent laboratories in France, Germany, Netherlands, and the US on the study, which was able to have a real-time dialogue with people who were asleep and dreaming. Researchers say the dreamers were able to solve simple math problems and answer yes or no questions.
The researchers studied people who were attempting to have a lucid dream where the person is aware they are dreaming. Study participants were briefed in bidirectional communication methods before going to sleep. Some of the participants also practiced with sensory stimulation such as beeps or lights.
Participants were instructed to signal the researchers when they experienced a lucid dream, typically with the sequence of eye movements to the left and right. Lucid dreaming can occur during the REM phase of sleep, and the team used polysomnographic data to confirm that the participants were in the REM stage of sleep.
The team found individuals in REM sleep could interact with an experimenter and engage in real-time communication. They also showed dreamers could comprehend questions, engage in working-memory operations, and produce answers. Scientists believe the research could open the door for future investigations to learn more about dreams, memory, and how memory storage depends on sleep.
Interestingly, one participant in the study who succeeded easily with two-way communication suffered from narcolepsy and had frequent lucid dreams. In the future, dream studies could use the same methods to assess cognitive ability while dreaming versus while awake. The video above is from the NOVA | PBS program showing footage of the experiment.