Researchers at RMIT University, Melbourne recently investigated whether an interactive virtual reality experience could induce sleepiness.
The multisensory experience involves wearing a VR headset while lying on a gently oscillating bed and is based on the principles of neurofeedback – a way to train brain activity. The brain’s electrical activity is monitored with an EEG and fed into the VR headset and the visuals in the headset then take on different colours and properties in response to the different brainwaves.
This results in a distinct visual representation of an individual’s electrical activity in the brain creating a feedback loop that may enable participants to focus on relaxed and positive thoughts – thus affecting the transition into sleep.
In a small study, participants reported a 55% reduction in feelings of fear and anxiety and a 21% reduction in negative feelings in general. They also reported a small increase in positive feelings and the state of mind linked to mindfulness – emptying the mind while focusing on the moment – and thus reducing stressful thoughts. Some of the participants relaxed in the VR session, while others creatively interacted with the technology – which is interesting because it has been documented that positive effects on emotion can be associated with creative expression.
Currently, the technology is not yet developed enough to offer as a sleep-health tool, though it certainly shows potential for a brain/computer interface system to promote healthy sleep in the future.