Just as lifehacks help you optimize your waking hours, there are ways to hack the time you spend dreaming. For members of Consciousness Hacking, the goal is not to wake better rested or to reduce the number of hours of sleep you need, but to attain greater self-knowledge.
On Monday evening, more than 60 people gathered in the Wolff Conference Room at The New School to discuss this at a “Dream Hacking” meetup hosted by the Consciousness Hacking NYC group. Topics included What are the brainwaves of dream states?, What is collective dreaming? and How are dreaming technologies applied to science, technology, the creative arts, and our contemplative traditions?
To kick off the event, organizer Spiros Antonopoulos asked the audience to introduce themselves to someone new and share what brought them here. It was diverse group. Students from the New School met alumni of NYU Poly and ITP programs; someone in finance with a passion for neuroaesthetics shook hands with a user-experience designer interested in biosensing.
After a few housekeeping announcements from Antonopoulos, the first speaker, Jennifer Dumpert, took the stage.
“Human beings are inherently driven to experiment with consciousness,” Dumpert told the audience. “When we’re kids, we’d roll down hills, and press our hands into our eyes, hold our breath. As adults, we use drugs, we dance all night, we have sex and we drink.”
Her talk, “From Total Technology to Pure Practice,” explored dream-hacking tools from the most technologically advanced (“some would say technologically invasive,” she quipped) to the most organic. All are meant to help us explore consciousness through dreams.
Explaining the stages of sleep, Dumpert pointed to a chart illustrating the stages we reach during a typical night’s sleep. (“I’m a big fan of analogue objects,” she said.)
Sleep stages, she said, are defined by three fundamental measurements: eye movement, muscle tone and brain wave activity.
When you first lay your head on your pillow, you’re experiencing beta waves, at 13 to 30Hz. You might also experience alpha waves (8 to 12Hz); this more relaxed state is common among meditators. Next, you’ll enter stage one, characterized by alpha and theta waves (4 to 7Hz), often punctuated by sudden twitches or hypnic jerks.
Stage two brainwaves are mostly in the theta range. Stage three, characterized by delta waves (.5 to 3Hz), is the deepest sleep, the point when brainwaves are least like waking.
Finally, toward the end of your sleep cycle, you experience rapid-eye-movement or REM sleep. This cycle lasts about 90 minutes, and repeats itself until you wake up. Over the course of the night, the amount of deep sleep wanes and the amount of REM sleep lengthens in each cycle.
The sweet spot for dreaming is a period called hypnagogia, the transitory state between awake and stage two in the sleep cycle.
“The closer to awake you are, the better the dreams will be,” Dumpert told the audience.
It’s here in your cycle, when your brainwaves are oscillating rapidly, that you’ll be able to hack your dreams. Dumpert recommended a series of tools for the job. At the most technical and expensive end of the spectrum are TDCS devices, neurofeedback phone apps. On the low-tech end, she pointed to oneirogens, including soundscapes (especially “Somnium” composed by Robert Rich) and supplements like Galantamine.
(For more about sleep hacking, read R.U. Sirius’ earlier reporting on Van Winkle’s.)
After Dumpert, Thomas Peisel, author of A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming, took the stage (replacing Hunter Lee Soik, co-founder of Shadow, who canceled at the last minute). Peisel spoke about lucid dreaming.
“It can be used for fun, but that gets old really quick,” Peisel advised. “I spent a lot of years having dream sex and flying around.” Peisel said he now leverages his lucidity for physical and emotional healing. He also shared tips for achieving this state of full consciousness, including the Wake Back to Bed method, keeping a dream journal and reality checks.
The night ended with a 10-minute casual Q&A session between the panelists and audience members.
On Tuesday, I spoke with Antonopoulos about why he held this event and about his goals for the meetup. He told me about attending the first Consciousness Hacking Meetup, founded by Mikey Siegel in San Francisco. When Antonopoulos moved to New York in 2014, he decided to start his own chapter with friends Chris Kelley and Stefanie Syman.
“If there’s a way of creating a thread through my whole life — going to India, practicing yoga, psychedelics,” he said, “it’s experimenting with what consciousness is. And what being is.”
With Consciousness Hacking, Antonopoulos’s goal is more about sharing experiences than self-improvement; the latter is the typical endgame for movements like the Quantified Self.
“I’m more about presence than achievement,” he said.