Tech for Lucid Dreaming Takes Off—But Will Any of It Work?

A woman sleeping in bed wearing a black eye mask
Photo: Inteliclinic
The Neuroon Open is one of several wearable devices that promises people mastery of their dreams.

Wearable technology is invading the dreamworld. Four companies say they’re bringing products to market that will encourage lucid dreaming—the phenomenon in which sleepers become aware that they’re dreaming and can sometimes seize control of the dream narrative.

It’s an enticing prospect and the companies have easily raised money in Kickstarter campaigns. Whether any of the devices will work well enough to catch on as consumer devices, however, is another question.  

Photo of a smartphone screen with an app open that allows users to catalog their dreams
Photo: Luciding
All the devices come with apps to help users track their sleep and dreams. This app, for the LucidCatcher, includes a dream journal.

What could you do in a lucid dream? While the possibilities are limitless, there are a few activities that most people hanker for. According to a survey of lucid dreamers conducted by dream researcher Tadas Stumbrys, dreamers most commonly want to fly (231 respondents), speak with dream characters (123), and have sex (80). Considerably farther down the list: meeting God (4).

The four new devices all use sensors to detect the EEG brainwave patterns associated with REM sleep, which is when most lucid dreams occur. Then they provide some form of stimulation—lights, sounds, or electric current—in an attempt to induce lucid dreaming.

But wearable devices to induce lucid dreams have actually been around since the early 1990s, notes Stumbrys, a psychologist affiliated with Vilnius University in Lithuania. The early models typically monitored the sleeper’s eye movements to detect REM sleep and then used light and sound stimuli. The forthcoming devices that detect REM using EEG may be more effective, Stumbrys says, but their accuracy hasn’t been proven.

Stumbyrs also explains that there are well-proven mental techniques for encouraging lucid dreams that require no external gear, including the MILD technique that involves reciting mantras before bed and visualizing the desired dream. “There are some indications that external stimulation devices with light/audio cues are slightly less effective than some cognitive techniques (such as MILD),” he writes in an email.

However, if would-be dream masters are willing to put in the time required by the mental techniques and put their money down for a new gadget, they may reap the rewards, Stumbrys says: “The combination of the two seems to be the most effective.”

So if you want to shell out, here are your four options:

Neuroon Open: This smart sleep mask is the subject of a current Kickstarter campaign that runs until July 27, and which has already raised more than double its US $100,000 goal. The mask incorporates EEG electrodes that press against the wearer’s forehead to detect REM sleep. Once the mask determines that the sleeper is in that zone, it uses LED lights and audio cues that may appear in the sleeper’s dream and trigger the thought: “Oh, I must be dreaming.” The Neuroon Open can also play guided meditations while users fall asleep to increase their likelihood of having lucid dreams.

Man prepares to put on a black sleep mask that incorporates LED lights and EEG sensors.
Photo: Inteliclinic

The company behind the Neuroon Open, Inteliclinic, previously used Kickstarter to launch a first version of its smart sleep mask (simply called Neuroon). This history seems to bode well for the new product: If the company already has its hardware and production figured out, it may avoid the delays and engineering setbacks typical of Kickstarter campaigns. 

However, that first Kickstarter campaign also promised that the first Neuroon would include features for lucid dreaming, which never came to pass.

In a recent update to that first campaign’s backers, Inteliclinic CEO Kamil Adamczyk apologized: “Lucid dreaming is something that was already promised to you,” he wrote. “We know that and we are still very sorry that we didn’t deliver this feature to you on time.” His team is still working to add that functionality to the first Neuroon’s app, Adamczyk wrote… but backers might prefer to buy the new Neuroon Open.

Kickstarter backers can currently get the Neuroon Open for $139. When the campaign is over, the preorder price will be $199.

iBand: The team behind the iBand covered their bases with both a Kickstarter campaign and an Indiegogo campaign in 2016, raising a total of about $1.2 million for their smart headband. The team already missed the ship date of July 2017 that’s advertised on the Kickstarter page, but may yet meet the Indiegogo ship date of December 2017.

A woman sleeps in bed wearing a headband around her forehead.
Photo: iBand

Like the Neuroon Open, the iBand detects REM sleep and then “plays audio-visual cues that you recognize as anomalies in your dream, making you aware that you are dreaming without waking up,” an iBand spokesperson writes in an email to IEEE Spectrum.

The company also claims that the iBand enhances all phases of sleep by playing calming music as the user drops off and then switching to white noise to keep the user from being awoken during deep sleep. “As the quality of your sleep increases so does the duration of your REM sleep,” writes the iBand spokesperson, thus increasing the chances of lucid dreams.

Backers reserved their units for about $150, and the retail price will be about $300.

LucidCatcher: This headband ups the ante. Rather than just monitoring the user’s brain and then triggering lights and sounds, it actually stimulates the brain with mild electric current when the time is right. The product was unveiled in a Kickstarter campaign last spring and is supposed to ship in January 2018.  

A man sleeps on a couch wearing a black headband around his forehead.
Photo: Luciding

Luciding, the company behind the product, says on its “how it works” page that the device uses a type of electrical stimulation called tACS, or transcranial alternating current stimulation. This technique was pioneered by Ursula Voss, a sleep researcher at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. In 2014 Voss published a paper reporting that tACS stimulation of the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes, which are associated with cognitive functions such as self-awareness and volition, could induce lucid dreams.

Voss says she has received many inquiries from entrepreneurs and DIY enthusiasts about using her technique for lucid dreaming. She has not encouraged them, she tells Spectrum: “Our brain is most precious and should be treated with greatest care and precaution. Especially stimulation in higher frequencies, such as 40 Hz, must be applied VERY conscientiously and should ONLY be conducted under the supervision of a physician or trained (neuro)-psychologist.”

There’s some confusion about the LucidCatcher’s technology: Luciding CEO Maryna Vermishian tells Spectrum that its current technique is based on a 2013 study by Tadas Stumbrys, in which he tested the effect of stimulation using tDCS, or transcranial direct current stimulation.

That study by Stumbrys did find that tDCS increased the lucidity of dreams, but it noted that “the effects were not strong and found only in frequent lucid dreamers.” Stumbrys also says he worries about devices like the LucidCatcher: “I would be very cautious about the brain stimulation devices for an unsupervised home use,” he writes in an email. “While they are quite safe for a short-term laboratory use, their long-term effects are largely unknown.”

People who are intrigued and undeterred can currently pre-order the LucidCatcher for $350.

Aurora dreamband: This product has tested its backers’ patience: Its Kickstarter campaign originally promised to ship product in June 2014. However, the company behind the campaign, iWinks, has sent out beta units to “early access” testers, and in a Kickstarter update this month the company announced that its final production samples have now arrived from the factory.

A black headband sits on a table in front of a box with text that reads: Aurora.
Photo: iWinks

The Aurora headband works in the same way as the Neuroon Open and the iBand, detecting REM sleep via EEG signals and using visual and audio cues. “It’s a really exciting product, there’s really nothing out there like it,” says iWinks cofounder Danny Schoonover in the Aurora’s Kickstarter video. That may have been true when the campaign launched in December 2013, but it’s not true anymore. 

Backers reserved the Aurora for about $150; it’s now available for pre-order for $299.

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