Modulating dream experience: Noninvasive brain stimulation over the sensorimotor cortex reduces dream movement
Abstract: Recently, cortical correlates of specific dream contents have been reported, such as the activation of the sensorimotor cortex during dreamed hand clenching. Yet, despite a close resemblance of such activation patterns to those seen during the corresponding wakeful behaviour, the causal mechanisms underlying specific dream contents remain largely elusive. Here, we aimed to investigate the causal role of the sensorimotor cortex in generating movement and bodily sensations during REM sleep dreaming. Following bihemispheric transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) or sham stimulation, guided by functional mapping of the primary motor cortex, naive participants were awakened from REM sleep and responded to a questionnaire on bodily sensations in dreams. Electromyographic (EMG) and electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings were used to quantify physiological changes during the preceding REM period. We found that tDCS, compared to sham stimulation, significantly decreased reports of dream movement, especially of repetitive actions. Other types of bodily experiences, such as tactile or vestibular sensations, were not affected by tDCS, confirming the specificity of stimulation effects to movement sensations. In addition, tDCS reduced EEG interhemispheric coherence in parietal areas and affected the phasic EMG correlation between both arms. These findings show that a complex temporal reorganization of the motor network co-occurred with the reduction of dream movement, revealing a link between central and peripheral motor processes and movement sensations of the dream self. tDCS over the sensorimotor cortex interferes with dream movement during REM sleep, which is consistent with a causal contribution to dream experience and has broader implications for understanding the neural basis of self-experience in dreams.
Funder: Signe ja Ane Gyllenbergin Säätiö (Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation); doi: https://doi.org/10.13039/501100004325