The machine that lets you control your DREAMS by keeping you in a semi-lucid state of sleep

  • The Dormio system, created by MIT, uses a glove-like device and a robot
  • The glove tracks lucid sleep by looking at your heart rate and  muscle tone
  • Bedside robot emits noise if it notices you falling out of the lucid stage of sleep 
  • If the noise used to slightly wake the person is a word, such as ‘dog’ or ‘hammer’, the dream will incorporate these objects

Scientists have created a machine that lets you control your dreams.

Dubbed Dormio, the device exploits a semi-lucid stage of sleep known as Hypnagogia. 

This stage takes place in the moment between sleep and wakefulness, and it’s the period in which you’re more likely to remember your dreams.

Scientists hope that allowing people to control their dreams in a semi-lucid state will help spark creative thought. 

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Scientists have created a machine that lets you control your dreams. Dubbed Dormio, the device exploits a semi-lucid stage of sleep known as Hypnagogia 

The device is the work of Adam Horowitz and his colleagues at the MIT Media Lab.

It consists of two parts: a glove worn by the user and a talking bedside robot to subliminally influence a person’s thoughts. 

Sensors in the palm of the glove and on the scalp monitor the sleeping person as they descend deeper into their slumber.

The user has to clench their fist as they sleep, putting pressure on the sensor.

As the sensors detect that the person is relaxing and their brainwave patterns are changing, the robot will emit a noise. 

If the noise used to slightly wake the person is a word, such as ‘dog’ or ‘hammer’, the dream will incorporate these objects, the researchers found.   

Researchers at MIT kept eight subjects in hypnagogia, the prolonged stage of semi-lucid dreaming, for as long as possible. 

According to Horowitz’s results, all subjects ‘remembered and reported seeing the prompt word during their dream state, showing successful inception and recall of stimuli into said dream state.’

‘We have a kind of workable system for dream control,’ Mr Horowitz told Motherboard.  

Called Dormio, the machine consists of two parts: a smart-glove donned by the subject and a bedside robot to influence your thoughts. As the sensors detect that the person is relaxing and their brainwave patterns are changing, the robot will say a phrase

Sensors in the palm of the glove and on the scalp monitor the sleeping person as they descend deeper into their slumber. The person has to clench their fist as they sleep, putting pressure on the sensor

‘Hypnagogic imagery or hallucinations is a normal state of consciousness in the transition from wakefulness to sleep,’ Vladas Noreika, a psychologist at Cambridge who was not involved with Dormio, said. 

‘The big questions are whether we become more creative in this state of consciousness, and why in some cases hypnagogia leads to a full-fledged dreaming, whereas in other cases to dreamless sleep,’ Mr Noreika added.   

The machine could help boost people’s creativity, the researchers claim.

Results form the small sample of people that used Dormio are promising. They spent an average of 158 seconds longer working on their creative story after experiencing hypnagogia

Researchers at MIT kept eight subjects in hypnogia, the prolonged stage of semi-lucid dreaming, for as long as possible. They spent an average of 158 seconds longer working on their creative story after experiencing hypnagogia

Results from the small sample of people that took part in the Dormio experiment are promising.

They spent an average of 158 seconds longer working on a creative story after experiencing hypnagogia.

Almost all volunteers scored higher after using Dormio than during the control test. 

‘Ideas were not coming from me, they were just passing through my head,’ one subject reported. 

‘I felt I was nowhere really, in this kind of nowhere space where all of these ideas exist, and it made so much sense that all these ideas existed in this nowhere space.’

The same approach was taken by the artist Salvador Dali and inventor Thomas Edison in the past.

Their attempts at maximising this time of peaked creativity and innovation by their semi-conscious brain involved holding heavy balls until they drifted off. 


Salvador Dali (left) and inventor Thomas Edison (right) tried a similar method to maximise hypnogogia. Their attempts involved holding heavy balls until they drifted off. As the heavy steel balls fell, they would startle, awaken and rush to jot down any epiphanies

As the heavy steel balls crashed earthwards, they would awaken and rush to jot down any epiphanies they had experienced.

Dormio is a high-tech version of this and maximises the time spent in the unusual form of sleep purgatory. 

‘All these major thinkers write beautifully about this state of mind where the world starts dissolving, but you still have awareness of your descent into unconsciousness and memories mixing with hallucinations,’ Mr Horowitz said.

‘Hypnagogia is pretty damn cool, but the best way that anyone had come up with to find it was dropping a steel ball.’  

WHAT ARE DREAMS? 

Dreams are stories and images that are created during a period of sleep.

They can tell a convoluted story of anything which resembles deep-rooted fears to ambitious dreams. 

They are somewhat of an enigma to scientists as how they occur and what causes them is still an emerging field. 

Though a few people may not remember dreaming, it is thought that everyone dreams between three to six times per night.

It is thought that each dream lasts between five to 20 minutes.

Around 95 per cent of dreams are forgotten by the time a person gets out of bed.

Humans often form dreams as they pass through the phases of sleep towards deep sleep. 

This form of half-wakefulness occurs withing minutes and allows for the formation of microdreams.

The content of these microdreams appear to be random and we usually don’t have any memory of them when we wake.

There are five phases of sleep:

Stage 1 – Light sleep, eyes move slowly, and muscle activity slows. This stage forms 4-5 per cent of total sleep 

Stage 2 – Eye movement stops and brain waves become slower.  

This stage forms 45-55 per cent of total sleep.

Stage 3 – Extremely slow brain waves called delta waves begin to appear, interspersed with smaller, faster waves. 4-6 per cent of total sleep.

Stage 4 – The brain produces delta waves almost exclusively. 

It is very difficult to wake someone during stages 3 and 4, which together are called ‘deep sleep.’  

People awakened while in deep sleep do not adjust immediately and often feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes after they wake up.

This forms 12-15 per cent of total sleep

Stage 5 – REM – Eyes jerk rapidly in various directions, and limb muscles become temporarily paralysed.

Heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, and males develop penile erections. 

When people awaken during REM sleep, they often describe bizarre and illogical tales – dreams. 

Forms 20-25 per cent of total sleep time.

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