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The Electrophysiological Landscape of Dreams

Project description

The brain’s role in dream creation

Dreams, while imaginary, seem very real to us because our brains are responsible for creating them. The EU-funded Dreamscape project seeks to find answers about the brain’s role in dream creation. It will examine a set of electroencephalographic potentials that emerge during both sleep and wakefulness to demonstrate if and how these brain potentials generate dreams. To get the results it seeks, Dreamscape will use a combination of innovative experimental approaches including pharmacological manipulations and movement analyses. The findings will increase our understanding of how and why we dream, will contribute to the fields of neuroscience, neuropsychiatry and consciousness, and may lead to practical solutions for those who contend with sleep disorders.


Why and how do we dream? Although this question has fascinated humankind since the earliest ages, it remains largely unanswered. Each night, when we fall asleep, we progressively disengage from the external world until we cease to perceive it and to act upon it. Despite this sensorimotor disconnection, in our dreams we perceive and act, and although we do so in a purely imaginary world, our experiences bear so much resemblance with the real world that we almost invariably take them for real. How does the brain create such a real-world analogue, and why? Based on my previous work, in which I identified a neural signature of dreaming, I propose to answer this question by studying a set of electroencephalographic (EEG) potentials, which not only occur spontaneously during sleep, but in a similar form also during wakefulness, as part of reactions to unexpected environmental stimuli. The overarching objective of this proposal is to understand the precise role of these brain potentials in the generation of dreams. Specifically, I will 1) provide a systematic characterization of these potentials in the sleeping and waking brain, 2) clarify their relation to arousal systems, 3) assess how they relate to sensory and motor features of dreams and 4) manipulate them to causally affect dreams. To achieve these aims, I will employ a unique combination of cutting-edge experimental approaches, including 256-channel-high-density EEG sleep recordings combined with controlled sensory stimulations, serial awakening paradigms, pharmacological manipulations, closed-loop acoustic slow wave modulation and movement analyses in neurological patients who act out their dreams. These projects will contribute to the basic understanding of how and why we dream, with implications for the fields of consciousness, neuroscience and neuropsychiatry. They will also provide technological and pharmacological tools to manipulate sleep and dreams, with clinical relevance for patients with sleep disorders.


Net EU contribution
€ 1 748 906,00
Kloveniersburgwal 29 het trippenhuis
1011 JV Amsterdam

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West-Nederland Noord-Holland Groot-Amsterdam
Activity type
Research Organisations
Other funding
€ 0,00