“Dreams are one of the great mysteries of science. In their bizarre complexity, they can reveal deeper truths about who you are at the most basic level.” Researcher at Harvard University and the World’s leading expert on sleep paralysis, Dr. Baland Jalal
✔ Who is Dr. Baland Jalal, and how did he find his way to study neuroscience and sleep, becoming the world’s leading expert on sleep paralysis?
✔ How is Dr. Baland connected to Francis Crick, who discovered the double helix of the DNA structure and Dr. V.S. Ramachandran?
✔ What is sleep paralysis and what happens to the brain while this is occurring?
✔Why is the time just before we go to sleep and the time just before we wake up important for increasing our creativity or gaining insight?
✔ Are premonitions real, and can we access important information from our dreams?
✔Can we actually travel to places we have never been?
✔ What is lucid dreaming and how can we gain insight from what we see in these dreams?
✔Can lucid dreaming be beneficial for our waking hours?
✔What advancements in neuroscience do you think could help us in the future with our dreams?
For returning guests, welcome back, and for those who are new here, I’m Andrea Samadi, author, and educator, with a passion for learning, understanding difficult concepts, and breaking them down so that we can all use and apply the most current research to improve our productivity and results in our schools, sports environments, and modern workplaces. On today’s EPISODE #224 (that was postponed from April due to our guest’s busy travel and work schedule) we are going to go beyond where we’ve ever gone before on this podcast, and cover some topics that you might have questions about, like I did, and I’ve found Dr. Baland Jalal[i], from Harvard, the world’s leading expert on sleep paralysis, who has published 48 peer reviewed academic papers as well as a book from Cambridge University Press, to answer our questions. We’ve covered dreams before, on EPISODE #104[ii], with Sleep Scientist Antonio Zadra and his book When Your Brain Dreams: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep but I left out some parts of the dream world that I thought might be too weird for this podcast, until I heard Dr. Jalal connecting the brain to our dreams, and this changed everything for me.
I mentioned on EPISODE #211, that when I first was introduced to Dr. Jalal, his team sent me an email with his Harvard Bio and a write-up about his work on dreams but little did I know that his work would open my mind to places it’s never been before, as I began to explore sleep paralysis (something I’ve experienced—just once which was enough for me, I just had no idea there was a name for it), lucid dreams (that I flat out thought I was crazy for having), and learning how my brain operates while dreaming, which revealed more truths about who I am at the core than I knew before coming across Dr. Jalal’s work. I’ve gone on to study English scientist and professor of neuroscience, Mathew Walker and often tune into his podcast that’s all about sleep, the brain and the body[iii] to see how we can all learn more about ways to improve our sleep, which we all know to be one of our top 5 health staples.
I did create this podcast to bring credibility to some of the concepts that used to be considered weird, but now, science and FMRI scans show why these practices that 20 years ago were not mainstream, are now commonly used in our schools and work environments. Before watching Dr. Jalal’s lectures, I don’t think I would openly talk about the experiences I’ve had with the dream world, but I thought if I’ve experienced these things, what if our listeners have also, wherever you are listening to this podcast in the world, and perhaps hearing from Dr. Jalal WHAT these bizarre things called dreams actually are, WHY we have them, and see if they can expand our self-awareness, and open up our world to a new level and even be used in a way to improve our productivity, creativity and results in our waking life.
My mentor Bob Proctor was always challenging me to stop looking at life through the key hole, and instead, open up the door and expand my level of awareness. He would say, “Once the mind has been expanded, it will never go back to its original state. Awareness is not something you lose.” (Bob Proctor)
When Dr. Jalal and I were working on rescheduling our interview, he asked me how early on a Sunday I would wake up, since he is currently in Europe, and my response to him was that I would wake up at midnight to speak with him about this topic because it’s fascinating and I know will help all of us to expand our thinking. Let’s meet Dr. Baland Jalal, and see if he can shed some light with what neuroscience can tell us about our dream world.
Welcome Dr. Jalal, thank you for coming on the podcast, and helping all of us to expand our thinking about what happens in our dream world—especially knowing that this time takes up 1/3 of our life and that our sleep is such an important health staple. Thanks for being here today…I know you have been busy recording your second TED TALK and that you are in Europe now?
I’m hoping you can shed some light for ways we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves through our dreams, and what neuroscience can tell us about our sleeping brain.
Intro Q: I’ve watched all of your most recent podcasts, and had no idea how much I would learn from them. I really enjoyed your interview on The Ranveer Show[iv] as Ranveer seemed like such an open-minded person. You mention your beginnings on this podcast that I think are important to begin with since there’s a lot more to you than we see without listening to your story, so I’ve got to ask, can you take us back to your humble beginnings, and then how you met your mentor (Dr. V.S. Ramachandran)?[v]
Q1: Until I heard your lectures, I probably wouldn’t ever admit to the fact that I had felt sleep paralysis. It’s such a weird and scary experience, and you explained it EXACTLY as I felt it over 20 years ago. For those listening, can you explain what sleep paralysis is, why we become paralyzed during REM sleep, and what’s happening in our brain to make this happen?
Q1B: Why does it feel so scary? I had an experience that if I had not heard you say this, I probably wouldn’t be mentioning it at all—but I thought there was a ghost laying on my chest. I could see him (in my head) and he definitely “felt” evil. Did my brain play a trick on me with what I was seeing and feeling or was there really a ghost in this sleep paralysis experience?
Q1C) How did you become known as the world’s leading expert on sleep paralysis and then I saw the topic of your most recent TED talk you how are you have designed one of the first treatments for sleep paralysis to help people who experience this terrifying phenomenon regularly?
Q2: I think it’s crazy that most of us have had these experiences, but we would just leave them off the table of our regular conversations with people, since they are just so weird. I actually remember asking a sleep expert years ago why I could “see things” in my head in those moments that I was drifting off to sleep. He wrote down the term “hypnagogia[vi]” and told me to study that. I can sometimes see people’s faces and sometimes what I see foreshadows important events many years later. What can you tell us about the importance of this time before sleep and wake, and how insights can be drawn from what we see so we can trust what we see to be useful?
2B: Sometimes during this time, we can have the sensation of floating above our body. I know you’ve talked about this often, and explain what’s happening in the brain for this to occur. Can you explain the part of our brain that’s responsible for our self-awareness, (Temporal Parietal Lobe) and how we could possibly see another version of ourselves floating above our self? (Sup Parietal Lobe)
Q3: Premonitions? Is there any TRUTH to what we are dreaming? Are there messages from our waking hours in our sleeping world? I think there are (after seeing common themes in my dreams from my waking hours) but what do you think? After your research and connecting science to dreaming, why do we have dreams? Are we supposed to learn from them?
What part of our brain can help us to interpret our dreams?
Q4: What about lucid dreaming. At the time I first wrote these questions (in April) I didn’t know there was a name for this. There are times just before I wake up, or times just before I go to sleep, that I can see things. My eyes are closed, (but I can feel them opening and moving around in my head as I’m trying to see this vision in my head) that I think are lucid dreams. Some of these visions have helped me in life with massive life-changing decisions and others I have no idea what I’m supposed to be learning from them. One example I can give you that I have no idea what the purpose of the vision is—there’s a hallway, and I can see people walking down the hallway. I know where this hallway is, and who the people are from what they are wearing. I’ve never been there before, but there’s certain things in the hallway, in addition to the people, that tell me where it is. The last time I saw this hallway, I was able to (for the first time) zoom in on certain parts of the hall, and see photos on the wall, or the light at the end of the hallway, where the people were walking. I know this hallway is a real place, because I saw a news clip of it, and had this immediate feeling of recognition like “that’s the hallway” but the camera in the news clip was shooting from a different angle than what I saw in my dream and I kept thinking…turn around, so I could see the hallway as I saw it in my head. What’s happening here? How can see “see” places in our mind where we have never been before? I don’t need to ask if it’s real because I’m certain it is from what I have seen, but what’s the purpose of have a lucid dream?
5: When we are “lucid dreaming” I recently learned from Mathew Walker’s research that in this state, our PFC that usually shuts down usually in dreaming, lights up and this explains why we can actually interact with people in our lucid dreams, or gain control of our dream. I’ve always just been an observer (like my hallway example I’m standing behind the people) but recently saw that I could zoom in and out of the hallway and see the pictures on the wall--wouldn’t it be neat if we could interact with the people we see, or even bring back something to show we really were there, like a pen from someone’s desk or something. You mention that you had this experience, and that you put a piece of paper in your pajama pocket. Can you explain what happened to the paper? Do you know how to control lucid dreams so they could be beneficial for us?
Q6: If lucid dreaming is real, and I think it is, couldn’t we use this skill for improved productivity or creativity in our waking hours? Could athletes use this for mental rehearsal since dreaming of doing something is almost equivalent to actually doing it?
What about in the workplace to gain access to ideas or answers to problems? Is there a way to enter lucid dreaming at will vs just randomly happen (which is how it happens for me)? I can’t control what I see, it just happens.
Q7: How can we “test” ourselves to see if we are dreaming or not so we can develop Lucid dreaming more? Is it like the MATRIX when Neo puts his hand on the wall and it either stops, or goes through? Can we do this to test if we are dreaming or not? What are you learning from your dream experiences to help yourself and others?
Q8: For people to learn more about your work, is the best place to follow you on YouTube where you post your lectures?
Thank you very much Dr. Jalal, for coming on the podcast, opening up my awareness BEFORE the interview, and giving us all an understanding of how our brain connects to our dream world. I hope it can help others to not be afraid of what they see during REM sleep, and keep searching for answers to help them in their waking hours, with whatever it is they are working on. It’s been such a pleasure to speak with you.