The Dormio and TDI work together to manipulate dreams. The device and protocol were used on 50 participants. (Image Credit: Helen Gao)


Scientists from MIT have started using the wearable sleep-tracking device, Dormio and a protocol called the Targeted Dream Incubation (TDI) in sleep experiments. Dormio and TDI are designed to study and manipulate people’s dreams while they are asleep. It works by making them remember certain cues that trigger dream themes and experiences. The team says that Dormio and TDI are tools meant to help researchers better understand how dreams work and their effect on memory, emotion, and creativity.


TDI can be utilized within an app on Dormio, worn on the wrist like a glove, to record the wearer’s dreams. Similar to an experimental technique called targeted memory reactivation (TMR), TDI can be used as a learning tool application, improving memory consolidation. As the wearer falls asleep, audio cues, such as “Remember to think of a tree,” are played through an app. This dream theme was used on 49 participants in the experiment.


So, how does it work? The Dormio sensors pick up on physiological data that signals the wearer has fallen asleep. Then, the system awakened them briefly, instructing them to talk about what was on their minds while asleep. All of this happens while an app records their dream report. After being briefly interrupted, the participants went back to sleep for a short while. While asleep, they went through a series of repetitive dreams, awakenings, and prompted recordings. All of which revolves around a state of controlled hypnagogia.


While the prototype is still being perfected, the experimental results suggest that it’s capable of influencing dreams while documenting the content. Dormio instructed each participant to think of a tree before and during the hypnagogic sleep state.  In total, 67% of dream reports included references to a tree when a participant woke up from this state.  However, reports from a control group, who were assigned to observe their thoughts, indicated there were no references to trees.


Additionally, the Dormio device and TDI can also be used for a wide range of learning techniques that involve sleep-based memory consolidation. It can also be used to improve creativity and problem-solving skills by prompting participants to recall the fluid and vivid thinking of their hypnagogic state.


“Dreaming about a specific theme seems to offer benefits post-sleep, such as on creativity tasks related to this theme. This is unsurprising in light of historical figures like Mary Shelley or Salvador Dalí, who were inspired creatively by their dreams. The difference here is that we induce these creatively beneficial dreams on purpose, in a targeted manner.” says Adam Haar Horowitz, lead researcher of the study.


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