Today’s post was written by Guest Professor Austin, a Chemical Engineering major who is interested in robotics and, of course, pokémon.
Darkrai’s name literally translates to “dark king”, and he is a nightmare. It comes out during the new moon, which is the darkest phase of the moon, to inflict nightmares on unsuspecting towns. Its signature move is Dark Void, which causes its victims to fall asleep, but how? Let’s look at the move description from the games:
Opposing Pokémon are dragged into a world of total darkness that makes them sleep.
And from the anime:
Darkrai puts its hands together and forms a crimson and black or purple and black ball in its hands. It then fires it at the opponent. When the opponent is hit, a crimson or pink bubble appears around the opponent's body that soon disappears and makes them fall asleep.
From this description, we can gather that Darkrai causes them to fall asleep just from forming a bubble around them. How does the bubble accomplish this? Well, first of all, we need to establish exactly what sleep is.
Sleep is a state of mind where the body becomes inactive, however the brain remains active. It is a stable conditions for animals. Being awake is also a steady condition for animals; however, the transition states are unstable and the body tries to quickly transition between being awake and being asleep. In most animals, falling asleep or waking up follows an electronic flip-flop model.
Now back to Dark Void. It’s possible that there is an anesthetic chemical released during the process that knocks its victims out, but there’s nothing that would particularly support this theory. Instead, Dark Void likely tricks the brain into thinking it is night time and falling asleep; an accelerated version of placing a blanket over a bird cage.
Animals have a biological clock called the circadian clock. This clock is basically the brain’s clock that tells it when it needs to sleep. In mammals, this clock is controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is just a small part of the brain. The retina (of your eye) contains specialized ganglion cells that are photosensitive and project directly to the SCN. The SCN passes the information onto the pineal gland, which produces the hormone melatonin. Melatonin, in animals, helps regulate blood pressure, reproduction, and when you fall asleep. Production of melatonin peaks at night, and is believed to speed up the darker it is.
In other words, when it gets dark, your internal biological clock triggers a response in the brain to produce a chemical that makes you fall asleep. The darker it is, the faster this chemical will be produced. So, when Darkrai hits a victim with Dark Void, it surrounds them with a bubble that creates an artificially dark environment, tricking the body into mass producing melatonin. The victim then quickly goes into the transition state of falling asleep, which, being very unstable, causes them to fall asleep quickly.
Darkrai’s signature move, Dark Void, creates an artificially dark environment around its victims. This tricks the victim’s brain into producing massive amounts of melatonin, which causes them to quickly fall asleep.
Darkrai is most known for giving people and pokemon nightmares. Unfortunately, dreams and nightmares are still not well understood, still sort of a mystery in science today. All we know is that nightmares tend to be correlated with stress. The target of Dark Void might get nightmares just from the stress of being trapped in an unknown, dark sphere; or Darkrai might tamper with the stress hormone cortisol as well. He might give them nightmares after they’re asleep, or perhaps he uses another unknown supernatural force altogether.