Executives at Aladdin Dreamer didn’t win a Super Bowl-weekend entrepreneurs’ contest in Minneapolis with their idea for a headband that improves athletic performance by charting sleep and influencing dreams.
But they sure surprised the judges and drew the most questions.
Their concept is based on research regarding the manipulation of lucid dreams — intense, memorable dreams achieved at the deepest stages of sleep in which people have awareness and even control over the narratives playing out in their heads.
Aladdin’s headband device, which is still under development, would at a minimum read brainwave patterns and send data to smartphones, which people could use to learn how well they slept. But the company also proposes to use electrical stimulation when people are dreaming to coax them into being conscious during their dreams.
“We’re so excited to give people the ability to live out their dreams,” said Craig Weiss, chief executive of the Scottsdale, Ariz., startup company, in an online presentation.
The research basis for these ambitions is limited, but growing. German researchers reported in Nature Neuroscience in 2014 that electrical stimulations, at strengths of 25 hz to 40 hz, could induce “self-reflective awareness” during dreams. Aladdin’s patent proposes to use a similar frequency range.
Sleep specialists have tested simpler approaches to spark dreams, such as MILD (short for mnemonic induction of lucid dreams). It involves waking after five hours, telling yourself to remember your dreams, and then going back to sleep.
Aladdin’s approach would not disrupt sleep. Weiss said a key component of the technology, in terms of its ability to boost real-life performance in athletics or other activities, is a video app that people would view before sleeping. Watching videos before bedtime of people shooting free throws properly, or doing other tasks, creates a 50-50 chance that these topics will come up in dreams, he said.
Exactly how dreaming about activities improves real-life performance is unclear, but a Swiss researcher has pioneered studies in this area. Daniel Erlacher showed in one trial that people improved at throwing coins in a pot after dreaming about that activity. In another, he reported that sleepers showed physiological signs of exercising if asked before bedtime to dream about doing knee bends.
Erlacher reported last year that study subjects improved at dart throwing with their nondominant hands if they had lucid dreams in which they practiced the task.
Only those with focused practice in their dreams succeeded, though. One participant reported that he kept changing the dartboard, which started out as a mirror, in his dream. Such people with distracted dreams did not improve.