Scientists Are ‘Incepting’ Dreams in Real Life

Whether it’s teeth falling out or going to school without pants, nightmares are not fun. They’re especially horrifying when they happen so often — turning what should have been a good night’s sleep into something that terrifies you.

When recurring nightmares are particularly bad, therapy can sometimes provide a solution. No form of treatment is perfect, but researchers are getting better and better. In fact, Swiss scientists have just come up with a new technique that allows you to control your emotions during sleep by using sound.

That’s right. Like in Start.

In one Article published Thursday in the magazine Current Biology, the study’s authors developed a method by which sounds associated with feeling good during the day are played through a wearable headband. As you sleep, the sound will travel through your ears and (hopefully) trigger peaceful dreams.

“There is a relationship between the types of emotions experienced in dreams and our emotional well-being,” said Lampros Perogamvros, a sleep researcher at the University of Geneva and senior author on the paper, said in a press release. “Based on this observation, we had the idea that we could help people by manipulating the emotions in their dreams. In this study, we show that we can reduce the number of very strong and very emotionally negative dreams in patients with nightmares.”

However, it’s not as easy as just downloading a playlist of your favorite music for your night’s sleep. This approach collaborates with rehearsal therapy, a process in which patients re-imagine common nightmares for a more positive outcome. Suppose you often dream that you go to high school unprepared for a test. You can rewrite that story to make sure you always appreciate it.

The new study recruited 36 patients who had frequent nightmares and gave them visual rehearsal therapy. Half were tasked with associating the positive outcome of their dreams with the sound produced by a wearable headband called Dream. They then practice this association daily for two weeks. The other half of the study group received only rehearsal therapy.

As the patient sleeps, the headband will also measure electrical signals in the brain, allowing it to initiate sounds during REM sleep – when most nightmares occur.

The results showed that both groups showed a decrease in nightmares. However, people who received acoustic therapy had fewer nightmares after two weeks of their training and at most three months after. That group also reported happier dreams.

It should be noted that the sample size for this study was relatively small and was recruited in Switzerland. The study’s authors recommend building this study with more participants to see if it might work better on a large scale. However, the results are very promising.

“We observed a rapid reduction in nightmares, along with dreams becoming more emotionally positive,” says Perogamvros. “For us, researchers and clinicians, these findings are very promising both for the study of emotional processing during sleep and for the development of new therapies.”

So, from the silver screen to your dreams, it turns out there’s a little more truth to Inception. Just remember that if you start to hear Edith Piaf’s music playingYou should probably wake up as early as possible.


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