Researchers announced the first two-way conversation with a person in a deep state of sleep a few weeks ago. It’s the first successful type of messaging to a person during sleep. Whether you’re looking at it in terms of the vast possibilities this offers or are looking at it through an Orwellian lens, it’s probably got you wondering how you might be able to take advantage of the time while you’re asleep. After all, if the people in the study could still do math and fight goblins (as one participant reported), what might you be able to accomplish during your shut-eye?
Biohackers, quiz masterminds, language buffs, and trivia geniuses have been tapping into those 8 hours of inactivity long before this type of sleep study was performed. You’re basically asleep for one third of your life (about 229,961 hours) which is enough for many people to try using that time to their advantage. While the rest of us are snoozing away, some people are maximizing their productivity.
We need sleep to restore brain glycogen levels, maintain brain plasticity (or the flexibility to adapt to changing situations), and keep our metabolisms running. Sleep also integrates what happened while awake into memories and encoded information called semantic memories.
Humans can learn during sleep through the auditory system, but it depends when the information is presented. If you’re trying to learn something, you’ll need to get to shallow non-REM and REM sleep. Sleep learning occurs best with a technique known as targeted memory reactivation. Memory reactivation occurs when the rhythm of brain waves changes from small waves to slower waves with sudden bursts of activity, causing neurons to replay the way your neurons fired when you first made a memory from your day. This consolidation is your brain’s way of saving and cementing the memory.
Hacking into the memory reactivation is where the magic in sleep learning lies, but you’ve got to time it just right to coincide with slow wave sleep—a feature that isn’t built into any sleep or language apps yet. With the recent buzz about the first contact into a dreamer’s world by scientists this month, sleep communication is going to be a hot topic. Nootropics have been used to maximize your waking time, and they can also maximize your dreaming time.
Take the vivid dreams that accompany magnesium, or the anecdotes about Huperzine A for dream life, for instance. What we take during the day influences where we go at night, and the current sleep research is going to take us further than before.
Konkoly, K. R., Appel, K., Chabani, E., Mangiaruga, A., Gott, J., Mallett, R., . . . Paller, K. A. (2021). Real-time dialogue between experimenters and dreamers during rem sleep. Current Biology. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2021.01.026
Navarrete, M., & Lewis, P. A. (2019). Cognition: Learning while asleep. Current Biology, 29(5). doi:10.1016/j.cub.2019.01.034