• Targeted Dreaming Increases Waking Creativity [April, 2022]

    The link between dreams and creativity has been a topic of intense speculation, given their commonly hyper-associative structure and specific anecdotal reports of artistic and scientific discoveries made while dreaming by the likes of Edison, Mendeleev, Dalí, and Proust. Dream-mediated creativity can be understood within a framework of cognitive flexibility. Creative solutions can result from identifying and strengthening remote associations between existing memories. Dreaming is thought to reflect a brain state that favors spreading activation among memory traces within cortical networks. However, the scientific literature linking dreams and creativity remains sparse, mostly correlating sleep physiology with waking creative traits. While research has shown that periods of sleep contribute to post-sleep enhancement of creativity, few experiments have collected relevant data on the specific contribution of phenomenological content, i.e. dreams. We present a protocol that uses serial auditory incubation of dream content at sleep onset, wherein repeated exposure to specific auditory stimuli is given during the hypnagogic period, enabling targeted dream incubation (TDI). We use Dormio, a wearable electronic device that tracks the hypnagogic state and executes TDI automatically. We present an experiment (N=49) using the Dormio device to incubate a target word (“Tree”) and show direct incorporation of the target word into dream content. We further present evidence that incubation of dream content confers a creative benefit on tasks related to the incubated theme of ‘Tree,” including the Alternative Uses Task, Verb Generation Task and Creative Storytelling Task. These benefits are significant, as evaluated by both computationally objective and consensually subjective measures. We present evidence that incubated dreams can also increase creative self-efficacy, i.e., one’s self-assessed creativity. To our knowledge this is the first controlled study demonstrating a causal role for dream content in the enhancement of creative performance. We propose that the Dormio device, and the TDI protocol at sleep onset more broadly, can serve as a tool for controlled experimentation on dream content related to creativity.

  • Development and Study of Ezzence: A Modular Scent Wearable to Improve Wellbeing in Home Sleep Environments [March, 2022]

    Ezzence is the first smartphone-controlled olfactometer designed for both day and night conditions. We discuss the design and technical implementation of Ezzence and report on a study to evaluate the feasibility of using the device in home-based sleep environments. The study results (N = 40) show that participants were satisfied with the device and found it easy to use. Furthermore, participants reported a significant improvement in sleep quality when using the device with scent in comparison to the control condition (p = 0.003), as well as better mood the following morning (p = 0.038) and shorter time to sleep onset (p = 0.008). The device is integrated with a wearable EEG and real-time sleep staging algorithm to release scent during specific sleep stages (N1, N2, N3, and REM), which is important for certain use cases (e.g., to study the effect of scent on REM dreams, or to improve memory consolidation with a re-exposure of scent during N2 and N3). Ezzence can be used for several applications, including those that require scent triggered day and night. They include targeted memory reactivation, longitudinal health treatments, therapy, and mental or physical exercises. Finally, this article proposes an interaction framework to understand relationships between scents and environments based on proxemic dimensions and passive or active interactions during sleep.

  • Combined treatment of nightmares with targeted memory reactivation and imagery rehearsal therapy: a randomized controlled trial [February, 2022]

    Nightmare disorder (ND) is characterized by dreams with strong negative emotions occurring during rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. ND is mainly treated by imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT), where the patients are asked to change the negative story line of their nightmare to a more positive one. We used targeted memory reactivation (TMR) during REM sleep to strengthen IRT-related memories and accelerate remission of ND. Thirty-six patients (27 women) with ND were asked to perform an initial IRT session and, while they generated a positive outcome of their recurrent nightmare, half of the patients were exposed to a sound (TMR group), while no such pairing with a sound took place for the other half (control group). During the next two weeks, all patients performed IRT every evening at home, and were exposed to the sound during REM sleep with a wireless headband, which automatically detected sleep stages. The frequency of nightmares per week at 2 weeks and at a three-month follow-up was used as primary outcome measure. We found that the patients of the TMR group had less frequent nightmares (p=.026, Cohen’s d=1.05) and more positive dream emotions (p=.004, Cohen’s d=1.06) than patients of the control group after two weeks of IRT, and a sustained decrease of nightmares after 3 months (p=.006, Cohen’s d=1.45). By demonstrating the effectiveness of TMR during sleep to potentiate therapy, these results have clinical implications for the management of ND, with plausible relevance for learning-based therapies in other psychiatric diseases. Additionally, these findings show that TMR applied during REM sleep can modulate emotions in dreams.

  • Brain reactivity to emotion persists in NREM sleep and is associated with individual dream recall [January, 2022]

    The waking brain efficiently detects emotional signals to promote survival. However, emotion detection during sleep is poorly understood and may be influenced by individual sleep characteristics or neural reactivity. Notably, dream recall frequency has been associated with stimulus reactivity during sleep, with enhanced stimulus-driven responses in high vs. low recallers. Using electroencephalography (EEG), we characterized the neural responses of healthy individuals to emotional, neutral voices, and control stimuli, both during wakefulness and NREM sleep. Then, we tested how these responses varied with individual dream recall frequency. Event-related potentials (ERPs) differed for emotional vs. neutral voices, both in wakefulness and NREM. Likewise, EEG arousals (sleep perturbations) increased selectively after the emotional voices, indicating emotion reactivity. Interestingly, sleep ERP amplitude and arousals after emotional voices increased linearly with participants’ dream recall frequency. Similar correlations with dream recall were observed for beta and sigma responses, but not for theta. In contrast, dream recall correlations were absent for neutral or control stimuli. Our results reveal that brain reactivity to affective salience is preserved during NREM and is selectively associated to individual memory for dreams. Our findings also suggest that emotion-specific reactivity during sleep, and not generalized alertness, may contribute to the encoding/retrieval of dreams.

  • Sleep onset is a creative sweet spot [December, 2021]

    The ability to think creatively is paramount to facing new challenges, but how creativity arises remains mysterious. Here, we show that the brain activity common to the twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness (nonrapid eye movement sleep stage 1 or N1) ignites creative sparks. Participants (N = 103) were exposed to mathematical problems without knowing that a hidden rule allowed solving them almost instantly. We found that spending at least 15 s in N1 during a resting period tripled the chance to discover the hidden rule (83% versus 30% when participants remained awake), and this effect vanished if subjects reached deeper sleep. Our findings suggest that there is a creative sweet spot within the sleep-onset period, and hitting it requires individuals balancing falling asleep easily against falling asleep too deeply.

  • Can lucid dreaming help us understand consciousness? [November, 2021]

    Dream engineers Michelle Carr, Benjamin Baird, Daniel Erlacher, Nirit Soffer-Dudek, featured in The Guardian article on lucid dreaming.

  • Dreaming of the sleep lab [October, 2021]

    The phenomenon of dreaming about the laboratory when participating in a sleep study is common. The content of such dreams draws upon episodic memory fragments of the participant’s lab experience, generally, experimenters, electrodes, the lab setting, and experimental tasks. However, as common as such dreams are, they have rarely been given a thorough quantitative or qualitative treatment. Here we assessed 528 dreams (N = 343 participants) collected in a Montreal sleep lab to 1) evaluate state and trait factors related to such dreams, and 2) investigate the phenomenology of lab incorporations using a new scoring system. Lab incorporations occurred in over a third (35.8%) of all dreams and were especially likely to occur in REM sleep (44.2%) or from morning naps (48.4%). They tended to be related to higher depression scores, but not to sex, nightmare-proneness or anxiety. Common themes associated with lab incorporation were: Meta-dreaming, including lucid dreams and false awakenings (40.7%), Sensory incorporations (27%), Wayfinding to, from or within the lab (24.3%), Sleep as performance (19.6%), Friends/Family in the lab (15.9%) and Being an object of observation (12.2%). Finally, 31.7% of the lab incorporation dreams included relative projections into a near future (e.g., the experiment having been completed), but very few projections into the past (2.6%). Results clarify sleep stage and sleep timing factors associated with dreamed lab incorporations. Phenomenological findings further reveal both the typical and unique ways in which lab memory elements are incorporated de novo into dreaming. Identified themes point to frequent social and skillful dream scenarios that entail monitoring of one’s current state (in the lab) and projection of the self into dream environments elaborated around local space and time. The findings have implications for understanding fundamental dream formation mechanisms but also for appreciating both the advantages and methodological pitfalls of conducting laboratory-based dream collection.

  • Olfaction-Related Factors Affecting Chemosensory Dream Content in a Sleep Laboratory [September, 2021]

    Mental activity in sleep often involves visual and auditory content. Chemosensory (olfactory and gustatory) experiences are less common and underexplored. The aim of the study was to identify olfaction-related factors that may affect the occurrence of chemosensory dream content. Specifically, we investigated the effects of all-night exposure to an ambient odour, participants’ appraisal of their current olfactory environment, their general propensity to notice odours and act on them (i.e., odour awareness), and their olfactory acuity. Sixty pre-screened healthy young adults underwent olfactory assessment, completed a measure of odour awareness, and spent three nights in weekly intervals in a sleep laboratory. The purpose of the first visit was to adapt to the experimental setting. On the second visit, half of them were exposed to the smell of vanillin or thioglycolic acid and the other half to an odourless control condition. On the third visit, they received control or stimulation in a balanced order. On each visit, data were collected twice: once from the first rapid eye movement (REM) stage that occurred after 3 a.m., and then shortly before getting up, usually from a non-REM stage. Participants were asked to report the presence of sensory dream content and to assess their current olfactory environment. Neither exposure, nor participants’ assessments of the ambient odour, or olfactory acuity affected reports of chemosensory dream content but they were more frequent in individuals with greater odour awareness. This finding may have implications for treatment when such experiences become unwanted or bothersome

  • Real-time dialogue between experimenters and dreamers during REM sleep. [February, 2021]

    Recent paper published in Current Biology features interactive dreaming. From the abstract: "Here we show that individuals who are asleep and in the midst of a lucid dream (aware of the fact that they are currently dreaming) can perceive questions from an experimenter and provide answers using electrophysiological signals. We implemented our procedures for two-way communication during polysomnographically verified rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep in 36 individuals. Some had minimal prior experience with lucid dreaming, others were frequent lucid dreamers, and one was a patient with narcolepsy who had frequent lucid dreams. During REM sleep, these individuals exhibited various capabilities, including performing veridical perceptual analysis of novel information, maintaining information in working memory, computing simple answers, and expressing volitional replies. Their responses included distinctive eye movements and selective facial muscle contractions, constituting correctly answered questions on 29 occasions across 6 of the individuals tested. These repeated observations of interactive dreaming, documented by four independent laboratory groups, demonstrate that phenomenological and cognitive characteristics of dreaming can be interrogated in real time. This relatively unexplored communication channel can enable a variety of practical applications and a new strategy for the empirical exploration of dreams."

  • Recent article in The Scientist features several Dream Engineers. [December, 2020]

    Scientists Engineer Dreams to Understand the Sleeping Brain By Catherine Offord | Dec 1, 2020 "Technologies such as noninvasive brain stimulation and virtual reality gaming offer insights into how dreams arise and what functions they might serve."

  • Blog Posts in Psychology Today Review Dream Engineering Papers. [September, 2020]

    Several recent posts on Michelle's Dream Factory blog for Psychology Today review articles from the Special Issue. Including posts on links between lucid dreaming and positive morning mood; Flying dreams induced by virtual reality; Re-creating real-world scenes in lucid dreams; and a failed replication study attempting to induce lucid dreams using electrical stimulation.

  • Special Issue in Consciousness and Cognition. [July 2020]

    The Special Issue brings together a collection of papers on the theme of Dream Engineering – applying techniques and technologies for influencing, recording, and manipulating dreams to benefit memory, creativity or wellbeing. Invited contributors include those who attended the first international workshop on Dream Engineering hosted at the MIT Media Laboratory in January 2019, which was very successful in bringing together over 50 leading scientists, dream researchers and engineers who have an interest in influencing, recording, or studying dreams through innovative technological developments. Topics explored at the workshop included the science of lucid dreaming, physiological/sensory influences on dreaming, and memory replay and directed reactivation in sleep and dreams. Technologies explored included flexible circuit boards, optogenetics, portable olfactometers, and wearable cortisol sensors, each an opportunity for translating sleep laboratory dream influencing techniques into real-world settings.