MAS.S63 Engineering Sleep and Dreams

Aria Xiying Bao + Marc Apicella

Our MAS.S63 Class

One of the clearest ways to build an interdisciplinary research community is to teach a multifaceted class. Our team—Dr. Pattie Maes, Dr. Robert Stickgold, Dr. Adam Haar Horowitz, Dr. Michelle Carr, Abhinandan Jain and Eyal Perry—had the chance to create a class on sleep and dreams for a collection of MIT, Harvard, MassArt and RISD graduate and undergraduate students. Our student body was mixed, with backgrounds in neuroscience, computer science, device design, architecture, art, fashion and beyond. Invited speakers ranged from practitioners of clinical psychiatry, history of science, and ethnography to experts in social determinants of health and biomedical devices. Speakers helped us understand what a dream could mean from so many perspectives: A dream as a relevant clinical marker (Dr. Azizi Seixas), as intensified mind wandering (Dr. Thomas Andrillon), as memories evolving in real time (Dr. Bob Stickgold), as cultural symbols and carriers of intergenerational stories (Dr. Matthew Spellberg), as intervention opportunities for trauma (Dr. Judith Amores and Dr. Michelle Carr), as bridges to communicate across levels of consciousness (Karen Konkoly), as unusually personal traces of medical history (Dario Robleto). 

Each weekly assignment for the course included both reading about an experiment, and experiencing it. In a week where Karen Konkoly came to speak about her 2021 lucid dreaming paper, Real-time dialogue between experimenters and dreamers during REM sleep, students spent the previous night listening to a lucid dream induction recorded by pioneering scientist Stephen LaBerge. The curriculum emphasized both knowledge of the brain systems involved in dream generation and the language necessary to grapple with and make public the personal experience of dreaming. It was, in this sense, aiming to be as much an apprenticeship in looking as a course in brain mechanisms of dreaming. 

The course ended with a final project, which asked students to propose new ways to understand, represent or alter dreams. Projects included novel dream experiments (influencing dream content with whole body hot or cold temperature applied during REM), dream-enacting environments (a public sleeping space covered entirely in oneirogenic plants and herbs), dream-representations (sculptures automatically generated by one’s sleeping brainwaves) and more. The hope of this course was community building, and our hope is that the wide range of speakers and many faces of projects produced makes it clear that no background bars someone from deepening our knowledge of dreaming. The course is documented online at, and we are hopeful readers would like to reproduce it at their institutions, so please do get in touch. 

Learn more about our new class at this link.

See the final projects from our 2022 class here.

See how our students and class speakers each define "A Dream" in their varied personal ways in this booklet  

Course Abstract

There is a new group of technologies emerging which can change how we sleep, how we dream, and how we think when we wake up. This course will introduce you to the nascent field of Engineering Sleep and Dreams, primarily from the vantage point of the Brain Sciences and Human-Computer-Interaction. How can sounds, smells, and other sensory stimulation given to sleepers change what information processing is happening in our minds overnight and consequently impact daytime behavior? How can we use these interventions to improve sleep, change nightmares, alter memories, and how can we ethically build and apply them? Our aim is to make you a proficient reader and designer of technologies which interface across levels of consciousness. 

We will learn about lucid dreaming, targeted memory reactivation in sleep, dream incubation, improving time to fall asleep and sleep quality, sleep disparities across the socioeconomic spectrum, varied religious dreaming practices, clinical nightmare therapies and more. Students will be asked to read and comment on 1-2 papers every week, participate in class discussions, and design and implement an original project (in a small group). This project will be supported by access to Sleep Science Lab office hours (led by Dr. Michelle Carr) and Engineering Lab office hours (led by Abhinandan Jain, Eyal Perry). Projects ranging from science experiments to art experiences or novel device designs are welcome. Technological platforms from the Fluid Interfaces research group will be available for experiencing and use in class projects, including some sleep tracking and stimulation devices. The class will be limited to 12 highly motivated, qualified students.

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