Cue the Inception soundtrack music now. What if I told you there was a free application for your smartphone that allows you to have control over the setting and subject matter of your dreams? Sounds more like the premise for a SyFy TV show (airing right after Sharknado) than a real product, right? Well I assure you, such an app actually exists, and it’s called Dream:ON, and it may just transport you to the middle of a backpacking trip that goes horribly wrong. I’ll get into that later.
Studies have revealed that most dreams occur during the REM stage of sleep, and that our minds are particularly susceptible to other senses during this stage. With this knowledge in mind, Richard Wiseman, an accomplished psychology professor at the University of Hertfordshire (UK) and former professional magician (not kidding), designed the Dream:ON app in 2012. It was Wiseman’s hope that this app would serve as a social experiment that would offer new insights into the science of sleep, particularly in the area of lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreaming is basically a fancy term for having a dream in which you know you are dreaming. Usually this is triggered by something out of the ordinary that occurs in the dream itself, and causes an individual to become aware that what he or she is experiencing is in fact a dream instead of reality. There are different levels of lucidity and these types of dreams naturally occur at various rates of frequency depending on the individual. Lucid dreaming doesn’t necessarily equate to complete dream control, but at higher levels of lucidity individuals may choose to exercise control over their dream. The ultimate goal of Dream:ON is to access your subconscious during the period of sleep in which your mind has a heightened sensitivity to other senses by playing soundscapes that will encourage lucid dreaming.
In a recent Mashable article, Wiseman said, “Getting a good night's sleep and having pleasant dreams boosts people's productivity, and is essential for their psychological and physical well being. Despite this, we know very little about how to influence dreams. This experiment aims to change that."
Like several other apps, Dream:ON includes a fully functional ‘smart alarm’ that lets users choose the time they want to wake up and the tone they want to hear when waking. The second and main feature of the Dream:ON app is the menu that allows users to indicate what type of dream they would like to have. The app offers roughly forty unique soundscapes, with a few featured soundscapes being offered for free and the rest ranging in price from $0.99 to $3.99. The more expensive soundscapes are advertised as “enhanced” and more likely to trigger lucid dreaming. The website didn’t offer a scientific explanation for why these soundscapes were more effective, so we’ll just assume that more money gives you more control over dreams.
Notable soundscapes include “Travel the World,” “Wild West,” “Relaxing Rainforest,” and “Pool Party.” For more adventuresome dreamers, the app also offers zombie, dungeon, and 50 Shades of Grey-themed soundscapes (which I wanted no part of, but I’ll get into my experience shortly).
Both the smart alarm and soundscape functions can be used independently from one another, and regardless of whether you use one or both functions, Dream:ON will provide you with a sleep graph every morning when you wake up. This sleep graph tells you how long you slept the night before and charts when you experienced the different stages of sleep. You can also write in the “Dream Journal” section what your dream was about.
Because lucid dreaming happens at different paces for different people, I allowed myself roughly two weeks to experiment with this app every night. My primary focus was on whether or not Dream:ON was able to deliver on its promise to influence my dreams, but I also paid special attention to how user-friendly it was since hard to navigate websites and apps are a huge pet peeve of mine.
I’m happy to report that Dream:On is extremely user-friendly. The home page provides a menu displayed in a very cool animated graphic that highlights links to the different subpages of the app. Additionally, the smart alarm is easy to set and the tones are much more aesthetically pleasing than the tones provided by the alarm app I used previously. The dream influencing aspect of the app was also very user-friendly, as step-by-step instructions clearly guided me through choosing a soundscape, changing my settings, and placing my phone in the proper location so that I would (hopefully) experience the optimum results.
Unfortunately, I found these optimum results to be difficult to come by. During the two-week period, I experimented every night with a few different soundscapes – some regular $0.99 cent ones and some enhanced ones. On the nights when I used the regular soundscapes, I either heard the soundscape but dreamed of something unrelated or failed to hear the soundscape altogether. I found marginally better success, however, when using the enhanced soundscapes. Twice when using the enhanced “Travel the World” soundscape, I had dreams about doing just that. One night I had a dream about backpacking through Europe, which started with cities, mountains, and foreign women, and ended with me losing my backpack while running from a pack of wolves somewhere in the European wilderness and falling into a river (not a result of the soundscape, just bad luck I suppose).
All in all, Dream:ON is a very interesting app I recommend checking out. But keep in mind that lucid dreaming is something that naturally comes easier to some, so don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to see results.
For more information about user experiences with the Dream:ON app and the concepts behind it, check out: