Altered States of Consciousness


Altered states of consciousness (ASC) refers ‘to any deviations from a normal state of consciousness’. ASC can be evoked in multiple ways including for example pathology (i.e., induced by psychosis, epilepsy, brain damage, burn-out, traumatic experiences), pharmacological agents (i.e., psychoactive substances such as psilocybin, cannabis and ketamine), various practices (i.e., fasting, sweat lodge, sex, yoga, sensory deprivation, and oxygen deficiency, breathwork, freediving), psychological practices (i.e., meditation) and spontaneous events (i.e., day-dreaming, lucid dreaming, and near death experiences). 

When you come to think about it, everything we do is impacting our state of consciousness – in one way or the other which in turn impacts our quality of life. From the coffee we may drink in the morning, to our exercise regimen, the food we eat, the psychedelics we may ingest.. And so on. In essence, everything we do and/or ingest into our bodies, creates a chemical reaction between us and ‘it’ that evokes a certain subjective experience of reality. This experience can be assessed through various psychological, physiological, and biological markers. 

Somnivore is working with world-leading experts and researchers across various fields including sleep, psychedelic science, freediving and ecophysiology, to explore uncharted territories in the realm of altered states of consciousness research in both humans and animals. We believe that conducting scientific investigations in these fields will not only help ascertain a broader understanding of consciousness, but may also lead to important findings that could lead to ground-breaking insights that can help optimize our quality of life and help develop treatments for a range of disorders including for example post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders such as for example narcolepsy, genetic disorders such as down syndrome, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.


Sleep is the cornerstone of health and performance. It is a process consistently preserved across the whole animal kingdom, from humans, all animals, and even insects. It is integral to cognitive functions related to attention and memory, while also maintaining emotional regulation and cellular homeostasis. Somnivore is involved in several studies investigating sleep physiology, primary sleep pathology, how disrupted sleep leads to other conditions and how diseases themselves degrade our ability to sleep. Our research teams have so far co-facilitated the following studies:

Bleakley, L. E., Keenan, R. J., Graven, R. D., Metha, J. A., Ma, S., Daykin, H., … & Jacobson, L. H. (2023). Altered EEG power spectrum, but not sleep-wake architecture, in HCN1 knockout mice. Behavioural Brain Research437, 114105.

Keenan, R. J., Daykin, H., Chu, J., Cornthwaite‐Duncan, L., Allocca, G., Hoyer, D., & Jacobson, L. H. (2022). Differential sleep/wake response and sex differences following acute suvorexant, MK‐1064 and zolpidem administration in the rTg4510 mouse model of tauopathy. British Journal of Pharmacology.

Pittaras, E., Colas, D., Chuluun, B., Allocca, G., & Heller, C. (2022). Enhancing sleep after training improves memory in down syndrome model mice. Sleep45(4), zsab247.

Sun, Y., Tisdale, R., Park, S., Ma, S. C., Heu, J., Haire, M., … & Kilduff, T. S. (2021). The development of sleep/wake disruption and cataplexy as hypocretin/orexin neurons degenerate in male vs. female orexin/tTA; TetO-DTA mice. bioRxiv.

Clark, J. W., Daykin, H., Metha, J. A., Allocca, G., Hoyer, D., Drummond, S. P., & Jacobson, L. H. (2021). Manipulation of rapid eye movement sleep via orexin and GABAA receptor modulators differentially affects fear extinction in mice: effect of stable versus disrupted circadian rhythm. Sleep44(9), zsab068.

Allocca, G., Ma, S., Martelli, D., Cerri, M., Del Vecchio, F., Bastianini, S., … & Gundlach, A. L. (2019). Validation of ‘Somnivore’, a machine learning algorithm for automated scoring and analysis of polysomnography data. Frontiers in neuroscience13, 207.

Ma, S., Allocca, G., Ong-Pålsson, E. K., Singleton, C. E., Hawkes, D., McDougall, S. J., … & Gundlach, A. L. (2017). Nucleus incertus promotes cortical desynchronization and behavioral arousal. Brain Structure and Function222(1), 515-537.

Psychedelic science

Psychedelics are substances that are best known for their distinctive ability to cause powerful sensorial distortions (hallucinations) across all senses, affect the internal flow of personal narratives, problem solving, prediction models, all the way to the most fundamental belief systems and the sense of identity (or ego). These effects are increasingly shown, under controlled conditions, to lead to powerful transformations often associated with remission from a wealth of conditions. Further, these substances are also showing promise outside the clinic, aiding cognitive performance, creativity, and spiritual practice. Somnivore is at the present time involved with the following ongoing psychedelic studies:

  • Investigating the effects of i) extended intravenous infusion of nn-DMT (DMTx), and ii) intranasal 5-MeO-DMT; in collaboration with the Centre for Psychedelic Studies at Imperial College London
  • Exploring the holistic effects of 5-MeO-DMT administered per intramuscular injection in collaboration with Swinburne University of Technology


Ecophysiology refers to the study of ‘how the environment interacts with the physiology of an organism’. Through researching wild species such as migratory geese, pigeons, and Alaskan bears in their natural habitat, researchers can gain an understanding over what factors in the environment affects wild species for the better or worse. This information can be used to understand animal physiology, and how human progress affects the natural environment. This can inform better ways to take care of the rest of the animal kingdom and inspire more eco-friendly ways to develop technology and urban environments. Our research team have so far co-facilitated the following studies:

Is hibernation in Alaskan brown bear a sleep stage or its own altered state of consciousness? (ongoing)

A study investigating polysomnography and phenomenology in elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) using a novel immersible polysomnography device (ongoing) 

A study on REM sleep homeostasis in the day-active tree shrew (Tupaia belangeri): cold-induced suppression of REM sleep is not followed by a rebound (ongoing)

van Hasselt, S. J., Verhulst, S., Piersma, T., Rattenborg, N. C., & Meerlo, P. (2022). A comparison of continuous and intermittent EEG recordings in geese: How much data are needed to reliably estimate sleep–wake patterns?. Journal of sleep research31(3), e13525.

van Hasselt, S. J., Mekenkamp, G. J., Komdeur, J., Allocca, G., Vyssotski, A. L., Piersma, T., … & Meerlo, P. (2021). Seasonal variation in sleep homeostasis in migratory geese: a rebound of NREM sleep following sleep deprivation in summer but not in winter. Sleep44(4), zsaa244.

van Hasselt, S. J., Hut, R. A., Allocca, G., Vyssotski, A. L., Piersma, T., Rattenborg, N. C., & Meerlo, P. (2021). Cloud cover amplifies the sleep-suppressing effect of artificial light at night in geese. Environmental Pollution273, 116444.


Freediving consists in breath-hold diving without any tank. Little is known about the impact of freediving on wellbeing to date. What we do know is that it can bring about changes in physiology (i.e., mammalian dive reflex) and cause a distinct altered state of consciousness. While anecdotal evidence points to the powerful benefits of freediving on both athletes and amateurs, the details of these acute changes and adaptations are currently understudied. At Somnivore we consider extreme sports to hold exciting promise in studying consciousness, its alteration, and how we can optimise health and peak performance. In collaboration with UCSC, Maastricht University, and AIDA Croatia at Somnivore we are trying to unravel the factors that contribute to freediving-performance and changes in consciousness via EEG and survey analysis. Brain activity is captured from professional freedivers using an experimental immersible sports device.


Epilepsy is a disorder of hyper-excitability within the central nervous system. Electrical activity becomes dysregulated, causing hypersynchronous discharges to storm local, or global brain structures. The end-result is loss of function within specific areas, or in extreme cases most of the brain, leading to loss of consciousness, muscle spasms and potentially brain damage. While advancements in epilepsy research have yielded remarkable insights, this condition is still poorly treated for most of those affected. We are working with several of our academic and pharmaceutical partners, offering and continuously improving upon our accurate seizure detection, prediction, and analysis methods.