In two previous I covered research that suggested articles electrical brain stimulation could make you more creative. However, it still seemed far from becoming affordable and off-the-shelf. Until now, that is.
Aladdin Dreamer, a fresh startup in Paradise Valley (I couldn't make up a more appropriate city name even if I wanted to), Arizona, has launched a Kickstarter campaign that will fund the development and production of a device that, according to founder and CEO Craig Weiss, will allow people to control their dreams.
The device is a headband with electrodes that uses transcranial alternating-current stimulation (tACS) to control lucid dreams (dreams that you know are not real, yet they feel very real at the time). Before going to sleep, you will have to concentrate on what you want to dream about, or use a smartphone App that the company provides you to view selected content. You will then put the headband on, activate it, and fall asleep.
"Every person goes through four to six 90 minute sleep-cycles throughout the night," says Weiss. "Each sleep cycle consists of various stages of sleep which include deep sleep, shallow sleep and REM. We are only stimulating during the REM period and are not otherwise impacting the quantity or quality of one's deep sleep, which is very important."
A clinical study conducted at the Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Disorders and Research Center and published in Nature Neuroscience in 2014 demonstrated that low-current electrical stimulation was capable of inducing lucid dreams. Study participants were monitored in a sleep lab to determine when they were in the REM or dreaming stage of sleep. Once they were dreaming, a gentle low-current electrical stimulation was applied to their foreheads which resulted in the majority (58%) of subjects self-reporting a lucid dream upon awakening. Aladdin set out to build a product based on this discovery, developing a comfortable headband that provides electrical stimulation during REM to bring the rare yet exhilarating experience of lucid dreaming to everyone. Aladdin successfully completed its own clinical study earlier this year in which the company was able to replicate the Nature findings.
But is it safe?
Dr. Rachel Wurzman, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Laboratory for Cognition and Neural Stimulation at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, is one of 39 researchers who, in an open letter, warned that this kind of brain stimulation is not all it's cracked up to be.
"Published results of these studies might lead DIY ["Do it yourself"] tDCS users to believe that they can achieve the same results if they mimic the way stimulation is delivered in research studies. However, there are many reasons why this simply isn't true..." Wurzman writes. "It is important for people to understand why outcomes of tDCS can be unpredictable, because we know that in some cases, the benefits that are seen after tDCS in certain mental abilities may come at the expense of others."
"We don't know how the stimulation of one brain region affects the surrounding, unstimulated regions," said a co-author of that open letter and an assistant professor of Neurology and the director of the Laboratory. "Stimulating one region could improve one's ability to perform one task but hurt the ability to perform another." Finally, they warned, different people may experience different results, some of which could potentially be adverse. In other words--don't try this at home! Not yet, anyway. Give science time to bring this technology to the masses. For now, just do what works and doesn't have adverse side effects.
To my question about safety, Weiss replied that Aladdin developed a commercial device which carefully implements a protocol developed by neuroscientists in a sleep laboratory, published at the highest levels of medical science (Nature), which was then independently validated scientifically through the company's own sleep lab study. He further stated that Aladdin's technology is stimulating at less than one tenth the maximum level recommended by an expert panel to FDA (An expert review lists as standard parameters for tDCS that current be less than 2.5 mA (Fregni et al., 2015)). An expert review for tACS lists 23 studies on attention and memory in normal adults (Fröhlich, Sellers, & Cordle, 2015). The median electrical current in this study was 1000 µA (1 mA), which the new product is far below as well.
Aladdin Dreamer has set a $250,000 funding target in its Kickstarter campaign, offering a pre-production price of $299 (compared to the expected $499 retail price). They intend to use the proceeds of the campaign to finalize product design, complete smartphone app, and setup manufacturing. Weiss expects the product to be available for purchase in 12 months.