Magazine article Science News

First Brain Image of a Dream Made: Feat Opens a Door to Probing the Stuff of Nocturnal Dramas

Magazine article Science News

First Brain Image of a Dream Made: Feat Opens a Door to Probing the Stuff of Nocturnal Dramas

Article excerpt

The contents of a person's dream have been revealed by brain scan for the first time, scientists report in the Nov. 8 Current Biology. By monitoring the brain of a man who has unusual control over his dreaming, the accomplishment brings researchers closer to understanding how the brain spins its nightly yarns.

"It's really exciting that people have done this," says sleep researcher Edward Pace-Schott at Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. "And it also brings back lucid dreaming as a very powerful scientific tool."

Lucid dreaming is the rare ability to direct behaviors while in a deep sleep. By all objective measures, the person is dead to the world: Most muscles are paralyzed and the eyes are doing the quick jitters that characterize REM, a vivid dreaming phase of sleep. But at the same time, the lucid dreamer knows that he is dreaming and can control the scenes, says study coauthor Michael Czisch of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich.

Czisch and his team set out to catch a lucid dreamer's brain activity with a machine called a functional MRI. Instead of creating complex fantasias of flying over the Alps or slaying dragons, six experienced lucid dreamers were asked to squeeze their left hands and then their right hands repeatedly in a dream. "It's a rather easy thing to do," Czisch says.

The dreamers and scientists worked out a "ready" signal. After the participants entered a dream while sleeping in the fMRI machine (a challenge because the machine is very noisy), they would look back and forth quickly with their eyes, which are still able to move during REM sleep. …

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