Now a phone app originally launched at the Edinburgh International Science Festival has been scientifically proven to help people sleep peacefully and wake up happy and refreshed – especially when there is a full moon.
The free iPhone app monitors sleep patterns and plays carefully composed sounds designed to evoke pleasant dreams.
Results of a new mass-participation experiment show that the “Dream:ON” download really does influence dreaming.
One unexpected finding was that a full moon appeared to bring on bizarre dreams in study participants.
A possible reason is that moonlight streaming through the bedroom curtains creates feelings of unease inherited from our prehistoric past, when predators were a constant threat.
Psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, who carried out the study, said: “People fall asleep later when there’s a full moon, sleep about 20 minutes less, and spend less time in deep sleep. We know that poor sleep is associated with disturbing dreams.”
For the two-year dream control study, Prof Wiseman’s team collected millions of dream reports from volunteers who downloaded the app, created by London firm Yuza.
The app works by using a motion detector to sense when a person is dreaming and then playing a chosen “soundscape” that conjures up thoughts of a particular scene, for example a forest or the seaside.
“If someone chose the nature landscape then they were more likely to dream about greenery and flowers,” said Prof Wiseman. “In contrast, if they selected the beach soundscape then they were more likely to dream about the sun beating down on their skin.
“Having positive dreams helps people wake up in a good mood, and boosts their productivity.
“We have now discovered a way of giving people sweet dreams, and this may also form the basis for a new type of therapy to help those suffering from certain psychological problems, such as depression.”
People who are depressed dream about five times more than average, he said.
“One of the most effective ways of curing depression is to stop depressive dreaming, but you can’t maintain that kind of therapy,” Prof Wiseman added.
“Its possible we might be able to do stuff during the night that’s useful during the day.”
The full moon’s link with strange dreams was also detected last year by neuroscientists at the University of Basel in Switzerland.
“That’s something we weren’t looking for – it’s completely bizarre,” said Prof Wiseman.
Prof Wiseman, who first introduced the app to the public at the Edinburgh International Science Festival in 2012, pointed out that melatonin, the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, is highly sensitive to light.
He was not convinced by the evolutionary theory but accepted that the effect was probably psychological. “It’s one of those cases where you say let the data speak for itself,” he said.
He describes the findings in more detail in his book Night School published by Pan Macmillan.
HOW IT WORKS
1. Download app on to phone.
2. Before bed, press the app’s “start to dream” button, selecting the wake-up time, alarm tone and dream soundscape. Then place phone face-down on the bed next to you.
3. Throughout the night, the phone will monitor and log your movements.
4. The app waits until you are lying especially still – a sign that you are dreaming – and gently plays the soundscape selected earlier. The theory is that your subconscious will incorporate the pleasant sounds into your dreams.
5. In the morning, the app will start to sound the alarm. Once awake, it will prompt you to log a brief report of your dream to University of Hertfordshire.