London: Researchers in Japan have found a way to "read" dreams after using MRI scans to predict the images that people see when they enter into an early stage of sleep.
They reported that they could do this with 60 percent accuracy.
The team now wants to see if brain activity can be used to predict other aspects of dreaming, such as the emotions experienced during sleep, the BBC reported.
Professor Yukiyasu Kamitani, from the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories, in Kyoto, said, "I had a strong belief that dream decoding should be possible at least for particular aspects of dreaming... I was not very surprised by the results, but excited."
People have been trying to decipher dreams since ancient Egyptian times, but the researchers who have carried out this study have found a more direct way to tap into our nighttime visions.
The team used MRI scans to monitor three people as they slept.
Just as the volunteers started to fall asleep inside the scanners, they were woken up and asked to recount what they had seen.
Each image mentioned, from bronze statues to keys and ice picks, was noted, no matter how surreal.
This was repeated more than 200 times for each participant.
The researchers used the results to build a database, where they grouped together objects into similar visual categories. For example, hotel, house and building were grouped together as "structures".
The scientists then scanned the volunteers again, but this time, while they were awake and looking at images on a computer screen.
With this, they were able to see the specific patterns of brain activity that correlated with the visual imagery.
During the next round of sleep tests, by monitoring the brain scans the researchers could predict what the volunteers were seeing in their dreams.
"We were able to reveal dream content from brain activity during sleep, which was consistent with the subjects` verbal reports," Professor Kamitani said.
The researchers now want to look at deeper sleep, where the most vivid dreams are thought to occur, as well as see whether brain scans can help them to predict emotions, smells, colours and actions that people experience as they sleep.
The findings are published in the journal Science.