Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dream weavers

All my life, I've been plagued with vivid dreams.  I use the word "plagued" deliberately, because more often than not my dreams are disturbing, chaotic, and odd, leaving me unsettled upon waking.  I remember more than once thrashing about so violently during a dream that I've found myself in the morning on the floor in a heap of blankets; I've also had the residuum of unease from a bad dream stay with me through much of the following day.  And given that I've also spent most of my adult life fighting chronic insomnia, it's a wonder I get any sleep at all.

Of course, I've also had good dreams.  A series of flying dreams I had as a child were so realistic, and so cool, that for a while I was convinced that they were true; that I could go into my parents' front yard, angle my body to the wind, and be caught up and thrown into the air like a kite.  I've had dreams of running effortlessly, dreams of winning the lottery, and the inevitable (but admittedly pleasant) dreams of the non-PG-13-rated variety.

Through it all, though, I've never had a lucid dream.  Lucid dreams are dreams in which you are aware you're dreaming -- and apparently, with some people, dreams in which you are able to control what happens.  If such a thing were commonplace, who would need virtual reality or computer games, when every night you could create your own reality and then interact with it as if it were real?

The first step toward making such a thing possible for ordinary schmoes like myself, who dream frequently but never lucidly, may just have hit the market.  Called "Remee," the product looks like a sleep mask, but on the inside of the mask are six red LED lights.  Even with your eyelids closed, your eyes receive enough light to remain aware of your surroundings, and when the lights activate -- late in the sleep cycle, when you are most likely to be in REM (Rapid Eye Movement, the stage of sleep in which you dream) -- your brain becomes aware of them.  At that point (so the theory goes), your perception of the red lights becomes a signal, alerting you to the fact that you're dreaming.  From there, the lucid dream is initiated.

So, the lights act a little like the totem objects in Inception -- giving you an anchor, something that clues you in with regards to what is going on.  But unlike the totem objects, whose purpose was to check to see if you were dreaming so you could get out, if need be, here the purpose is to let you know that the fun is about to begin.

The inventors of Remee, Duncan Frazier and Steven McGuigan, told The Daily Mail (read the story here) that their tests have indicated that the lights are unlikely to cause seizures or any other ill effects.  If they fire during non-REM sleep, for example, the brain simply ignores them -- as it does if a faint light (say the distant headlights of a car) shine briefly into your bedroom window at night.

Remee masks are priced at $95 each, and are available here.  Frazier and McGuigan report that since Remee masks first came on the market, they've received over 7,000 orders.

Me, I find this intriguing, but I do wonder about what long-term (possibly psychological) effects such a thing might have, as we still don't have much of an idea what dreaming actually does.  That dreams are important seems obvious, given their ubiquity amongst mammal species -- both of my dogs clearly dream, apparently about chasing squirrels judging by how their feet move and the little muffled woofing noises they make.  Features that are widespread amongst many different, distantly-related species are called evolutionarily conserved features, and the usual interpretation is that they have been maintained through evolutionary history because they serve some sort of essential purpose.  As such, you have to question the wisdom of monkeying around with something like dreaming until we know more about it.

Be that as it may, if I had a Remee mask, I'd definitely try it.  Whatever harm it might do, I would guess, is unlikely to happen from occasional use.  And if you decide to get one, do let me know by posting here what your results are.  Given the unsettling nature of many of my nightly forays into the dream world, it might be nice to have a strategy for taking charge and having a little fun.


  1. I suffer from the same affliction. Vivid, chaotic,and negative (more often that not) dreams. I am also not a lucid dreamer.

    Not wanting these dreams to continue to degrade the quality of my sleep, I began, in my teenage years, to request of my mind that I not remember my dreams. I have had success with this. I obviously dream, but I am less aware of them, even through my sleep, and even the really bad ones that wake me up, fade away within five minutes until I can't recall much of anything from them.

    My internal dialogue upon waking goes something like this:
    My mind: "Phew! Oh my gawd! Did you see that guy falling from the sky and then the city streets started to cave into the earth and, and..."
    Me: "Mind?"
    My mind: "What? Why are you interrupting me?"
    Me: "I know it's an exciting movie and all, and I know you're all giddy to talk about it but if you wouldn't mind could you SHUT UP? Thanks."

    If you can't beat 'em, find a way to ignore 'em.

    To quote Doug Stanhope:
    "Do you have one of those brains that just won't shut the f*** up?"

    1. Boy, do I relate. My brain not only wakes me up in the middle of the night with some dreadful dream, it then entertains itself for hours by coming up with worst-case scenarios about whatever events might be looming on the horizon. I'm going to be spending two weeks in Malaysia in August -- and whoo-wee, my brain is already having a field day with that.

  2. I'm apparently very fortunate, I've had fewer disturbing dreams than I can count on the fingers on one hand throughout my life, and most of my dreams are either weird or pleasant (or both).

    However, when I was younger, I also had a couple of experiences of lucid dreaming. I was aware I was dreaming and could control events to some degree. Hasn't happened in many years, though.

    Not interested in making it happen using some gadget, though. Of course, if I had mostly bad dreams, my perspective might be a bit different.