At the Dream & Nightmare Laboratory at the University of Montreal, Elizaveta Solomonova is searching for expert dreamers: people who can visit dream land and report back accurately what they see, hear, feel, and even smell. For most of us, remembered dreams are filled with sights and maybe sounds. But so much more can happen when we sleep. In order to target other modalities like movement and touch, Solomonova uses subjects trained in Vipassana meditation, a practice that focuses on bodily awareness.
An unseen presence
During sleep the body limits movement, shutting off voluntary muscles. In sleep paralysis, the muscles stay switched off, but consciousness is switched on. This temporary paralysis can be accompanied by scary hallucinations such as the sense of an unseen presence in the room or a feeling of pressure on the chest. Many people experience one episode of sleep paralysis in a lifetime, but a very small number have recurrent sleep paralysis which may require treatment.
Why study dreams?
Dreams and nightmares can wake us up, depriving us of sleep. In extreme forms like night terrors, they can make sleeping impossible and sleep-deprived days inevitable. Studying the dreaming brain also can give insight into the workings of the awake brain.