Asleep in the MRI Scanner

When I half-woke in the middle of a very vivid dream, I made a sleepy mental note to look into the neurological research of dreaming. I could almost still see the vibrant colors and meticulous detail of the pins and fabric around my sewing machine, and I was certain neurons in my visual cortex must have been working overtime to produce images so real.

Properly awake a few hours later, logic dictated that I would find very little concrete information on the sleeping brain. The best methods for localizing activity to specific regions of the brain are those like MRI, which involves a scanner rather too cramped and noisy to allow for a good night’s sleep.

But perhaps I’m just a light, side sleeper. Others turn out to have no major difficulty falling asleep in such conditions – superheroes to me already, because they are lucid dreamers. Who have dreamed in scanners well enough for scientists to determine that dreamed actions activate the same motor-planning regions of the brain as wakeful imagined actions, and identify which regions of the brain support lucid dreaming – and, perhaps, consciousness in general.

The success of these studies suggest that sleep and dreams will soon get the same intense brain-based investigation as more conscious mental activities. I would not quite go so far as to say that MRI will be the next big tool in dream interpretation…but then, I wouldn’t have guess the lengths that some people would go to have their brains scanned during other intimate activities, either.

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