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Keywords:

  • dreaming;
  • frontal cortex;
  • posterior parietal cortex;
  • Stage 2 sleep;
  • transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCs);
  • visual imagery

Summary

REM sleep is a unique brain state characterized by frontal deactivation alongside activation of the posterior association and limbic cortices. Human brain lesion studies have found that the loss of dreaming is characterized by damage to the frontal and posterior parieto–temporo–occipital association cortex. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the function of these brain regions might encapsulate the neural processes of dreaming. The aim of the following two experiments was to investigate the effect of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCs), applied simultaneously to the frontal and right posterior parietal cortex during Stage 2 sleep, on dreaming. In Experiment 1, 17 healthy participants received tDCs (cathodal–frontal, anodal–parietal) and low-intensity tDCs as well as no tDCs (blank control) during Stage 2 sleep in a counterbalanced order across the night. Dream reports were collected upon awakening after each of the three conditions. In Experiment 2, 10 participants received tDCs (cathodal–frontal, anodal–parietal), no tDCs (blank control) and two additional control conditions (reversed polarity and other-cephalic tDCs). In both experiments a significantly greater number of imagery reports were found on awakening after tDCs (cathodal–frontal, anodal–parietal), compared to the blank control conditions. However, in Experiment 2 the frequency of imagery reports from the tDCs (cathodal–frontal, anodal–parietal) was not significantly different from the other two tDC conditions, suggesting a non-specific effect of tDCs. Overall, it was concluded that tDCs (cathodal–frontal, anodal–parietal) increased the frequency of dream reports with visual imagery, possibly via a general arousing effect and/or recreating specific cortical neural activity involved in dreaming.