The researchers ran an experiment that looked like something out of the movie Inception. A group of researchers from Northwestern University worked with independent labs in France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States on the study, which were able to have a real-time dialogue with people who were sleeping and dreaming. Researchers say the dreamers were able to solve simple math problems and answer yes or no questions.
Researchers I studied people who were trying to have a lucid dream where the person realizes that they are dreaming. Study participants were taught about two-way communication methods before bed. Some participants also practice sensory stimulation such as alarm or lights.
Participants were instructed to signal to the researchers when they encountered a lucid dream, usually with sequences of left and right eye movements. Lucid dreaming could occur during the REM sleep phase, and the team used polysomnography data to confirm that the participants were in REM sleep.
The team found that individuals with REM sleep can interact with the experimenter and engage in real-time communication. They also showed that dreamers can understand questions, participate in working memory processes, and provide answers. Scientists believe the research could open the door to future investigations to learn more about dreams, memory, and how memory storage depends on sleep.
Interestingly, one study participant who easily succeeded in two-way communication experienced compulsive sleep and had lucid dreams. In the future, dream studies could use the same techniques to assess cognitive ability during dreaming versus waking. The video above is from NOVA | PBS shows snapshots of the experiment.