Image of a pillow surrounded by clouds.

Sleep is a semiconscious state, but there are neurons firing in the brain even when all seems quiet. Now brain activity during the deepest sleep phase could make it possible for people to communicate with the waking world during lucid dreaming.

If someone is lucid dreaming, they are aware they are dreaming and able to manipulate what happens in the dream. Sleep expert Michael Raduga of Phase Research Center has developed a “language” that’s intended to allow people to communicate while in that state. Called Remmyo, the first language of its kind, relies on specific facial muscle movements that can occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Remmyo can be learned during waking hours like any other language. Anyone capable of lucid dreaming could potentially communicate in Remmyo while asleep.

“You can transfer all important information from lucid dreams using no more than three letters in a word,” Raduga, who founded Phase Research Center in 2007 to study sleep, told Ars. “This level of optimization took a lot of time and intellectual resources.”

Reaching lucidity

It takes about 90 minutes to transition from lighter sleep phases to REM sleep. REM sleep brings on a state of sleep paralysis—arm and leg muscles cannot move, which keeps us from playing out what is happening in the dream. Meanwhile, brain waves, heart rate, and blood pressure all become similar to the levels seen in the awake state. Breathing becomes faster and erratic. Even though eyelids remain closed, the sleeper’s eyes constantly move from side to side, giving the state its name.

This is when most dreams occur, including lucid dreams. Those are still an enigma but thought to be a hybrid of the waking and sleeping states.

Remmyo consists of six sets of facial movements that can be detected by electromyography (EMG) sensors on the face. Slight electrical impulses that reach facial muscles make them capable of movement during sleep paralysis, and these are picked up by sensors and transferred to software that can type, vocalize, and translate Remmyo. Translation depends on which Remmyo letters are used by the sleeper and picked up by the software, which already has information from multiple dictionaries stored in its virtual brain. It can translate Remmyo into another language as it is being “spoken” by the sleeper.

“We can digitally vocalize Remmyo or its translation in real time, which helps us to hear speech from lucid dreams,” Raduga said.

For his initial experiment, Raduga used the sleep laboratory of the Neurological Clinic of Frankfurt University in Germany. His subjects had already learned Remmyo and were also trained to enter a state of lucid dreaming and signal that they were in that lucid state during REM sleep. While they were immersed in lucid dreams, EMG sensors on their faces sent information from electrical impulses to the translation software.

Not ready for prime time

The results were uncertain. Based on attempts to translate planned phrases, Remmyo turned out to be anywhere from 13 to 81 percent effective, and in the interview, Raduga said he faced skepticism about the effectiveness of the translation software during the peer review process of his study, which is now published in the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research and Practice. He still looks forward to making results more consistent by leveling up translation methods in the future.

“The main problem is that it is hard to use only one muscle on your face to say something in Remmyo,” he said. “Unintentionally, people strain more than one muscle, and EMG sensors detect it all. Now we use only handwritten algorithms to overcome the problem, but we’re going to use machine learning and AI to improve Remmyo decoding.”

While Remmyo is completely new and has never been tested before, there have been other attempts to communicate with people during REM sleep. A 2021 study by Northwestern University found that people having especially realistic dreams (and sometimes lucid dreams) were able to communicate with researchers who were awake through eye and muscle movements. While there was no specialized sleep language used during this experiment, it still demonstrated they could reach out to the waking world.

Raduga’s study is the first to try to develop this sort of communication into a general language. As he continues to advance Remmyo translation software, he predicts that what may sound like science fiction will soon be mainstream. “It’s much harder than you may imagine,” he said. “But communication between asleep people will become an ordinary thing.”

Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2023.  DOI: 10.1037/cns0000353

Elizabeth Rayne is a creature who writes. Her work has appeared on SYFY WIRE, Space.com, Live Science, Grunge, Den of Geek, and Forbidden Futures. When not writing, she is either shapeshifting, drawing, or cosplaying as a character nobody ever heard of.