Real-time dialogue between experimenters and dreamers during REM sleep

Karen R. Konkoly, Kristoffer Appel, Emma Chabani, Anastasia Mangiaruga, Jarrod Gott, Remington Mallett, Bruce Caughran, Sarah Witkowski, Nathan W. Whitmore, Christopher Y. Mazurek, Jonathan B. Berent, Frederik D. Weber, Başak Türker, Smaranda Leu-Semenescu, Jean Baptiste Maranci, Gordon Pipa, Isabelle Arnulf, Delphine Oudiette, Martin Dresler, Ken A. Paller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Dreams take us to a different reality, a hallucinatory world that feels as real as any waking experience. These often-bizarre episodes are emblematic of human sleep but have yet to be adequately explained. Retrospective dream reports are subject to distortion and forgetting, presenting a fundamental challenge for neuroscientific studies of dreaming. 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1417-1427.e6
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 12 2021


  • REM sleep
  • consciousness
  • dreams
  • interactive dreaming
  • lucid dream
  • sensory processing
  • sleep learning
  • sleep mentation
  • targeted memory reactivation
  • two-way communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)


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