Are we completely cut off from the world during our sleep, truly absent from ourselves and others, without the possibility of communicating with our environment? Research work opens a breach in this dreamlike world of the dreamer and offers new perspectives for better decoding the activity of the brain when we fall into the arms of Morpheus.Do you like our News? Subscribe to the Daily newsletter to receive our latest News once a day.
When we dream, we are at first sight cut off from the world, unable to receive information from the world. environment and respond to it. For the first time, a collaboration between researchers from Inserm, AP-HP, Sorbonne University and CNRS with several American, German and Dutch groups, shows that two-way communication, from experiencer towards the dreamer and vice versa, is possible during the dream. These results, published in Current Biology, pave the way for a better scientific understanding of dreaming and sleep.
Why do we dream? What exactly are we dreaming of? What happens in our brain during this mysterious experience? These are all questions that fascinate researchers in neuroscience and which are particularly difficult to answer. Indeed, scientific knowledge of dreams today is mainly based on the dreamer's account of them when he wakes up. Memory, self-censorship or storytelling biases are therefore possible.
To advance research, scientists have therefore turned to "lucid dreamers", individuals who are aware of dreaming when they are dreaming and, for some, capable of influencing the scenario of their dream. Studies have shown in particular that these dreamers were able to inform of their lucidity and therefore of the beginning and end of a predefined task carried out in dream (for example, to hold one's breath), thanks to a previously learned ocular code. This communication was however one-way, only the dreamer being able to send a signal that he is aware that he is dreaming.See alsoLove and flight, the favorite dreamlike escapades of lucid dreamers
Where does the mind escape during sleep? What does the brain perceive during this “absence”? Will this new study give the key to dreams? © Кристина Гурелич (Kristina Gurelic), Adobe Stock
“The idea of two-way communication might seem like an unattainable ambition. How to communicate with someone asleep? But if we showed that it was possible, fascinating new avenues would open up for the study of dreams,” explains Delphine Oudiette, Inserm researcher at the Brain Institute (Inserm, AP-HP, Sorbonne University, CNRS).
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The team first used a very experienced lucid dreamer to try to establish this double communication. The researchers used different types of stimulation, such as open-ended questions asked aloud: “Do you like this or that? », tactile stimuli (tapping on the hand to count) or even semantic discrimination tasks (distinguishing between simple words such as "high", "low"...). The sleeping subject then had to answer these questions by contracting the muscles of his face (for example, smiling to say "yes" and frowning to say "no").
The results of these experiments suggest that the subject was able to respond to a number of these stimuli while asleep. Upon awakening, he also reported that the experimenter's voice came as a "divine voice" in the middle of his dream, in which he was partying with friends. “So we had a first proof of concept that a dialogue with a dreamer is possible. We then realized that several other laboratories around the world were conducting similar experiments. In our team, we conduct our studies with narcoleptic subjects because their access to paradoxical sleep, during which lucid dreaming occurs, is privileged, but others carry out their experiments on subjects without sleep disorders", continues Delphine Oudiette. .
Narcolepsy is a rare chronic disease — which affects 1 in 3,000 to 5,000 people — and not curable, which most often occurs between the ages of 10 and 30. This sleep disorder is characterized by nighttime sleep of normal duration but of poor quality, excessive daytime sleepiness and uncontrollable drowsiness that can occur at any time of the day, even during full activity. Moreover, unlike healthy subjects, narcoleptics very quickly reach paradoxical sleep, the stage of sleep during which lucid dreams occur. They are also spontaneously big lucid dreamers compared to the general population.
The different groups, French, American, German and Dutch, have therefore decided to put their data, obtained from studies carried out independently, into commmon. This collaboration allowed them to confirm with additional data that it is possible to have two-way communication during dreaming. In the various studies, the subjects were for example able to answer the questions of the experimenters (such as mental arithmetic exercises) by means of an ocular code or the contraction of the facial muscles. By combining these tasks with electrophysiological recordings, the researchers showed that the dreamers were always in REM sleep when answering the questions.“Researchers have shown that dreamers were always in REM sleep when answering questions
If this is proof of concept at this point that two-way communication is possible (the conditions in which it was established being particularly difficult to set up outside an experimental context), the implications for research on sleep, dreams or even consciousness are major.
These works challenge the idea that we are completely cut off from the world during sleep, unable to receive or send information to our environment. The possibility of communicating with the dreamer also opens up prospects for identifying physiological markers of consciousness and dreaming, and decoding the activity of our brain during the dream experience, in order to better understand the role of dreaming and sleep. .Interested in what you have just read? Subscribe to the newsletter The Daily: our latest news of the day. All our newsletters
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