Have you ever woken up to the exciting realization that you knew you were dreaming? The phenomenon of lucid dreaming, if experienced correctly, allows you to control your dreams and exist without limits in a fantasy world. Though it sounds like high-concept science fiction, lucid dreaming is real and backed by science. And one Miamian has invented a headband that allows users to experience lucid dreams on a regular basis: the Aurora Dreamband.
Miami native Daniel Schoonover, 33, is the CEO and cofounder of iWinks, the company behind the Aurora Dreamband. His background in academia, where he studied electrical engineering, brain-computer interfaces, and computational neuroscience, inspired him to invent the device. Schoonover left a PhD program in neuroscience to work full-time on the Aurora Dreamband.
“The lucid dreaming experience has been validated repeatedly... but there is skepticism for the audiovisual induction of lucid dreams... [because] it’s unclear how it works," Schoonover says. "There’s not a lot of funding for dream research, so it’s up to grassroots groups like us to crowdfund the tech.”
Published research by sleep scientists such as Ursula Voss, Stephen LeBerge, and Daniel Erlacher confirm the existence of lucid dreaming, but Schoonover says there’s a lack of research exploring the mechanism of the induction of dreams by audiovisual stimuli. And that’s where the Aurora Dreamband comes in.
“In early studies, while they were promising, there wasn’t a clear success rate," Schoonover says. "We’re leveraging all the devices we’re shipping to create the world's largest [lucid dreaming] experiment. We're hosting and opening the results of the experiment to researchers and competitors, and seeing the results.”
Though Schoonover says the scientific rigor of the experiment is not optimal because of limitations of the Kickstarter campaign set up to fund the project, he pledges transparency in the process of collecting and presenting the research, which will be published and discussed online.
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The Dreamband functions in two ways: to track REM sleep and to induce lucid dreams through audiovisual cues. The device tracks brain waves, which monitor sleep cycles, and contains an accelerometer, which tracks body movements throughout the night. When you fall into a dream state, which happens almost exclusively during REM sleep, the Dreamband gives audiovisual cues, such as a flashing light, to help users recognize they are in a dream state. The cue isn't meant to wake you, but to notify you that you’re dreaming and allow you to do whatever you want in a consequence-free zone.
It sounds fun, but there are benefits other than a plunge into the possibilities of your wild imagination. In a scientific review of lucid dreaming benefits, Schoonover presents data about the links between lucid dreaming and improved physical performance, promotion of personal development, and enhanced cognitive function. The practice of lucid dreaming has also been shown to help in performance enhancement, especially for athletes, and reducing the frequency of nightmares.
The Dreamband got its start in a Kickstarter campaign that launched in 2014. The funding goal was $90,000, but 1,428 people pledged a total of $239,094. The original estimated delivery was nearly four years ago in February 2014, but Schoonover says the launch has taken longer than expected because the scope of the project was larger and more complex than he had initially envisioned. The Aurora Dreamband is now in its final stages of production. According to the Kickstarter page, the devices are being shipped to U.S. facilities for order fulfillment. The Kickstarter campaign has closed, but the Dreambands are still available from the company for $299.
That's a hefty price tag, but Schoonover says lucid dreaming is for everyone. “I think, based alone on science about lucid dreaming, that everyone has something to gain from reengaging with their dreams,” he says. “Everyone wants to be successful and pull themselves up. Dreams are one of the powerful ways to do that.”