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Brain-controlled VR Lightshows could Lull You to Sleep by Creating Sleep-inducing Visuals

It is not a rare incident for many of us to get into bed after a long day, but can’t get to sleep because our brain is buzzing about some incident. Artists and researchers from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University have come up with an idea to solve this issue. Instead of a person’s brainwaves keeping them awake, they have been experimenting with ways to combine a person’s brain waves with virtual reality to create a kind of VR lullaby machine, named Inter-Dream.

Each brain frequency is assigned a different color, and brainwave intensity is linked to movement; Image source: abc.net.au

Insomnia, also known as sleeplessness, is a sleep disorder in which people have trouble sleeping. By most accounts, technology wreaks havoc on our sleep.  It keeps us constantly exposed to an endless cycle of bad news. Also the blue light emitted by smartphone and tablet displays reduces our ability to produce melatonin, a hormone which is responsible for sleeping. Combine that with the feelings of inadequacy generated by watching other people’s picture-perfect lives on social media, and it’s no surprise that we’re all restless.

At the root of all our thoughts, emotions and behaviors is communication between neurons within our brains. Brainwaves are produced by synchronized electrical pulses from masses of neurons communicating with each other. Our brainwaves change according to what we’re doing and feeling. When slower brainwaves are dominant we can feel tired, slow and dreamy. The higher frequencies are dominant when we feel wired, or hyper-alert. It is possible to detect brainwaves using sensors placed on the scalp, such as electroencephalograph (EEG).

The experience involves lying on bed that gently vibrates, while ambient music plays; Image Source: abc.net.au

The idea is to use technology not to create restlessness but to better relax people by visualizing their own brainwaves in a VR setting. These brainwaves are picked up using EEG, which monitors electrical activity over the scalp. Each brain frequency is assigned a different color, while brainwave intensity is linked to movement. Every person’s brain activity generates unique imagery in the form of a kind of VR.

The result is a constantly moving, combination of lots of colors, shapes and patterns. More active brainwaves are associated with more active displays. The people whose minds are more active just before bed is likely to have a harder time falling asleep. By providing vibrant visuals of users’ brainwaves, Inter-Dream lulls people to sleep and helps them learn to calm their minds. It uses principles of neurofeedback, using real-time displays of brain activity to teach users how to regulate their mental states.

Blue colored brainwaves; Image source: pluginhuman.com

One of the researchers of the project, Nathan Semertzidis said to Digital Trends that “We gave people a means to creatively express and explore their own mind by designing a system that listens in on different frequencies emitted by the brain’s electrical activity, and uses these frequencies to drive generative algorithms that dynamically convert the brain’s electrical activity into art. This provides a means to engage in creativity even while you are physically inactive, almost falling asleep. What was particularly interesting is that participants noted that while being engaged in this creative process it stopped their minds wandering to life stressors which would have otherwise hindered their ability to sleep.”

These VR lightshows may lull you to sleep; Image source: abc.net.au

Nathan Semertzidis found that participants in an RMIT University study reported a 21 percent drop in negative emotions and a 55 percent drop in feelings of fear after using Inter-Dream. Their positive emotions increased 8 percent and their feelings of serenity jumped 13 percent. Theoretically, those changes should all lead to improved sleep.

“In our study, we didn’t specifically assess the system’s ability to treat sleep-related pathologies; it was more an exploration of how brain-computer interface driven systems could benefit general sleep for non-clinical populations,” Semertzidis said. “However, given that the participants reported their thoughts being redirected away from life stressors, there is reason to hypothesize that similar brain-computer interface systems could be employed in the treatment on anxiety disorder-related insomnias, with further research,” he added.

You will also find some creative activities, exercises and meditation to improve insomnia. But you will definitely find it easier and more appealing to strap on a VR headset and let their brainwaves guide them, through a world of color and light, to a state of relaxation. Semertzidis says more testing is needed before a tool like Inter-Dream could be deployed, but at the very least, it’s evidence that in some cases, tech can actually help us sleep.

Featured Image Source: facty.com

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