Dream Catcher

The neuroscience of our night life

A Plea For Collaboration Among Online Sleep and Dream Orgs

Online sleep and dream communities should collaborate not fight one another

People who share a common interest, or perhaps a common affliction, often gather together to share experiences and knowledge. Participants in these communities have the opportunity to pool their resources in order to accomplish astonishing things. In the health care world so-called online healthcare communities, or OHCs (e.g., van der Eijk et al., “Using Online Health Communities to Deliver Patient-Centered Care to People With Chronic Conditions”, J Med Internet Res 2013;15(6):e115) doi:10.2196/jmir.2476) are indeed accomplishing astonishing feats of health care innovation such, as patient-doctor collaborations that actually improve a variety of patient outcomes over time. It seems logical that online communities can accomplish similarly innovative breakthroughs for healthy people as well. People interested in sleep and dreams, however, have yet to develop stable online collaborative communities. Till Roeneberg from the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, recently (The human sleep project. Nature, 2 7 June, vol., 4 9 8, 427-8, 2013) called for creation of just such a community in order to unlock the secrets of sleep. “This would involve inviting millions of people to fill out online questionnaires, tens of thousands to keep online sleep diaries and several thousand to submit real-time data from recording devices. A subset of these people would then be asked to supply their DNA” (Roeneberg, 2013, 428). I too, in the pages of this blog, have called for creation of a community people interested in sleep and dreams where people would post their basic sleep data and their dreams over many months or years such that we would have a longitudinal dataset of sleep/dream data from millions of people who represent all cultures, ages and classes. Once absolute safeguards are created to protect privacy and to anonymize data records, these huge databases would go a long way towards solving many of the mysteries of sleep and dreams. There are stirrings in the sleep and dreams field that some online communities are beginning to be established. There are several excellent sleep-related data apps and there are some excellent web portals and smartphone apps for posting of dreams and dream series. I have mentioned several in previous posts at this blog but new ones are being brought to my attention almost every day. I cannot cover them all here but honorable mention should go to a very elegantly constructed mobile app called “SHADOW” that helps you remember and record your dreams (www.discovershadow.com), dreamscloud (www.dreamscloud.com), where you will find an easy to use platform to upload your dreams, as well as a wealth of information on dreams, and Remee (http://sleepwithremee.com) an eyecover that can deliver light pulses to your eyes while you are asleep. When they pulses occur during REM they can give you a cue that you are dreaming and thus boost your capacity to dream lucidly (i.e. realize that you are dreaming). It should go without saying that I do not personally endorse any of these applications or sites. They nevertheless deserve honorable mention because they and many other sites/apps like them are attempting to build platforms that can create a community of like-minded people interested in sleep and dreams. As these new apps and websites dedicated to creation of millions of data records on sleep and dream habits of millions of people worldwide begin to proliferate two things can happen. The organizations and people behind these apps and sites can pursue the typical business model and go all out in a futile attempt to dominate “the market”. This strategy will only create vitriol and useless forms of competition. A second option is to adopt the scientific model and to attempt to collaborate. To collaborate means to adopt, right at the birth of the field, similar data formatting conventions on the premise that someday all stakeholders will want to pool their data in order to get a bigger band for the buck, to increase the signal to noise ratio in the data and so forth. Unfortunately to date I see no signs of collaboration across all the organizations behind emerging technologies on sleep and dreams.

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Patrick McNamara, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Neurology at Boston University School of Medicine and the author of numerous books and articles on the science of dreams.

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