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Researchers watched brain signals from a sleeping participant in the lab. Picture: Northwestern University

Sleep no obstacle for maths: study

It's possible to chat to someone and even do maths while you’re asleep, scientists say.

A new study of 36 people experiencing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which produces vivid dreams, has shown they can still respond to questions and produce answers despite their slumber.

“We found that individuals in REM sleep can interact with an experimenter and engage in real-time communication,” said Ken Paller, senior author and professor of psychology at Northwestern University in Illinois.

“We also showed that dreamers are capable of comprehending questions, engaging in working-memory operations, and producing answers.

“Most people might predict that this would not be possible - that people would either wake up when asked a question or fail to answer, and certainly not comprehend a question without misconstruing it.”

Pall said the goal of the study was to find ways to reach sleepers akin to chatting with an “astronaut who is on another world”.

The paper included four independently conducted experiments using different approaches to achieve a similar goal.

“We put the results together because we felt that the combination of results from four different labs using different approaches most convincingly attests to the reality of this phenomenon of two-way communication,” said Karen Konkoly, a PhD student in psychology at Northwestern and first author of the paper.

“In this way, we see that different means can be used to communicate."

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