Dreaming of the sleep lab

PLoS One. 2021 Oct 6;16(10):e0257738. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257738. eCollection 2021.


The phenomenon of dreaming about the laboratory when participating in a sleep study is common. The content of such dreams draws upon episodic memory fragments of the participant's lab experience, generally, experimenters, electrodes, the lab setting, and experimental tasks. However, as common as such dreams are, they have rarely been given a thorough quantitative or qualitative treatment. Here we assessed 528 dreams (N = 343 participants) collected in a Montreal sleep lab to 1) evaluate state and trait factors related to such dreams, and 2) investigate the phenomenology of lab incorporations using a new scoring system. Lab incorporations occurred in over a third (35.8%) of all dreams and were especially likely to occur in REM sleep (44.2%) or from morning naps (48.4%). They tended to be related to higher depression scores, but not to sex, nightmare-proneness or anxiety. Common themes associated with lab incorporation were: Meta-dreaming, including lucid dreams and false awakenings (40.7%), Sensory incorporations (27%), Wayfinding to, from or within the lab (24.3%), Sleep as performance (19.6%), Friends/Family in the lab (15.9%) and Being an object of observation (12.2%). Finally, 31.7% of the lab incorporation dreams included relative projections into a near future (e.g., the experiment having been completed), but very few projections into the past (2.6%). Results clarify sleep stage and sleep timing factors associated with dreamed lab incorporations. Phenomenological findings further reveal both the typical and unique ways in which lab memory elements are incorporated de novo into dreaming. Identified themes point to frequent social and skillful dream scenarios that entail monitoring of one's current state (in the lab) and projection of the self into dream environments elaborated around local space and time. The findings have implications for understanding fundamental dream formation mechanisms but also for appreciating both the advantages and methodological pitfalls of conducting laboratory-based dream collection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dreams / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laboratories
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Stages / physiology*
  • Sleep, REM / physiology*
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This work was supported by the Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship-Doctoral Program (NSERC; https://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/Students-Etudiants/PG-CS/CGSD-BESCD_eng.asp; CPD), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Grant (CIHR; MOP-115125; https://cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/193.html; TN) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Grant (NSERC; RGPIN-2018-05065; https://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/Professors-Professeurs/Grants-Subs/DGIGP-PSIGP_eng.asp; TN). This work was also supported by National Institute of General Medical Sciences grant: K12 GM106997 (MC). The funders did not play any role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.