New Lucid Dreaming Research
Since the beginning of history, people have been mining the dream state for inspiration and insight. The ancient Greeks believed dreams predicted the future and that they offered clues about how to heal disease.1 The ancient Chinese believed the soul travelled to other dimensions during dreams, bringing back messages from these other worlds. In modern society, too, our collective fascination with dreams continues, and most particularly, with a type of dream in which the dreamer retains full awareness even though he's asleep. Witness the film Inception.2
Staying fully conscious while dreaming, otherwise known as "lucid dreaming," is actually a more common experience than popular wisdom would have us believe. A 1988 study found that one in five people have lucid dreams at least once a month, and up to half of us have had at least one such dream in our lives.3 Lucid dreams occur more frequently early in life, but unlike run-of-the-mill "junk" dreams, they're usually memorable, easy to recall even years later.
Lucid dreamers experience the sensation of being awake while dreaming. They know that they're in a dream. The contents of the dream might be as far-fetched as in any other dream--the dreamer might fly, or jump over buildings, or have sex with celebrities, but at the same time, he can reflect on what's happening inside of the dream even as he dreams it, just as he does in waking life. Sometimes lucid dreamers can actually influence or even control the events, environment, and action inside of the dream. If they don't like the location the dream takes place in, for instance, they can make a conscious decision to move the dream to a more pleasant environment. If the dream is turning frightening, they can make a deliberate decision to kill the monster with the lavender eyes, or to just end the dream.
A recent study out of Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University in Germany measured brainwave activity during lucid dreams, and found that lucid dreaming incorporates both aspects of REM sleep, the state in which dreams usually occur, and waking consciousness. Apparently, the lucid dreamers have more activity in their frontal and temporal lobes than dreamers normally do.
Recent research tells us that there are advantages to being able to lucid dream beyond the "this is really cool" aspect. For instance, a study out of Lincoln University in Great Britain found that people who have frequent lucid dreams possess significantly better problem-solving skills compared to non-lucid dreamers.4 A series of similar studies out of different research institutions have had similar results. 5 It turns out that lucid dreamers have a better ability to make connections between disparate ideas and to make sense of inconsistencies.
Do lucid dreams expand minds and make people more insightful, then? No, say the researchers. Lucid dreaming doesn't trigger superior cognitive ability, but rather, people who already have highly developed insight have the ability to recognize when they're in a dream.
"It is believed that for dreamers to become lucid while asleep, they must see past the overwhelming reality of their dream state, and recognize that they are dreaming," said study director Dr. Patrick Bourke. "The same cognitive ability was found to be demonstrated while awake by a person's ability to think in a different way when it comes to solving problems."
Lucid dreaming may trigger some other abilities, though. Studies show that lucid dreamers who practice physical activities in their sleep perform better on game day. In a recent study published in The Sport Psychologist, subjects were instructed to practice tossing coins into a cup while asleep. Those who managed to have lucid dreams about the coin toss did, in fact, perform better the next morning than they had before going to sleep. They also outperformed the subjects who hadn't managed to practice in their dreams.6
Also, preliminary studies show that lucid dreamers can pose creative problems before bed and then find solutions in their sleep, particularly by using "dream characters" as guides and helpers.7 An article published in the International Journal of Dream Research in 2010 reports research finding that subjects who were instructed to invite characters like Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud into their dreams did no better in solving logical tasks after lucid dreaming, but they definitely had a boost in their ability to solve creative, complex issues with help from their dream guides.
Perhaps the fascination that so many people have with lucid dreaming originates in the hope that such dreams might transport us into mystical realms. In any event, the quest to induce lucid dreams at will has given birth to a minor industry, with plenty of material on the market to help those with dull dreams to have the lucid experience. In fact Amazon.com lists 3,521 lucid dreaming books. A Google search of "how to lucid dream" yields 2.5 million results. There are 193,000 You Tube videos on the subject.
But can lucid dreaming actually be induced? In the past, studies have shown that it's not as easy to induce a lucid dream as the books and videos make it seem. Now, though, researchers from Harvard and Frankfurt Universities have found a way to stimulate lucid dreaming using electrodes.8 Scientists already had tracked the brainwave activity of people who reported being in a lucid dream, and so they knew that these dreams occurred in the gamma brainwave spectrum. By applying 40 Hz of electrical stimulation to the scalps of subjects who had never lucid dreamed before, they were able to replicate that gamma state. Sure enough, 77 percent of the time the subjects reported lucid dreams while being stimulated. Even when the researchers lowered the pulse to 25 Hz, which corresponds to the low end of gamma, the subjects still had lucid dreams 58 percent of the time.
Scientists hope that being able to induce lucid dreaming in subjects will open doors to healing certain psychological problems, particularly PTSD and sleep disorders. Clients with these issues could be instructed to change disturbing images in their dreams so that the manifestation of the trauma reaction would be controlled.
If you want to try to have lucid dreams yourself or increase the frequency with which you experience them, again, there are numerous avenues to pursue. The market most likely is about to be flooded with even more possibilities, as inventors scramble to rush brain wave stimulators to the shelves that promise customers the 40mz experience. In the meantime, there are devices currently available that you can wear like a mask while you sleep that have been reported to help at turning regular dreams into lucid dreams.9 And if you don't want electrodes on your head and you don't want to have to read a book to learn how to lucid dream, you can listen to eight hours of lucid dream-inducing music brought to you free on YouTube.10
- 1. "Dream Moods." 27 August 2014. http://www.dreammoods.com/dreaminformation/history.htm
- 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hP9D6kZseM
- 3. Turner, Rebecca. "10 Things You Didn't Know About Lucid Dreaming." World of Lucid Dreaming. 27 August 2014. http://www.world-of-lucid-dreaming.com/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-lucid-dreaming.html
- 4. Pederson, Traci. "Lucid Dreamers Show Stronger Insight in Waking World." 17 August 2014. PsychCentral. 29 August 2014. http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/08/17/lucid-dreamers-show-stronger-insight-in-waking-world/73693.html
- 5. Wang, Shirley. "The Benefits of Lucid Dreaming." 12 August 2014. The Wall Street Journal. 29 August 2014. http://online.wsj.com/articles/the-benefits-of-lucid-dreaming-1407772779
- 6. Daniel Erlacher, Michael Schredl. "Applied Research Practicing a Motor Task in a Lucid Dream Enhances Subsequent Performance: A Pilot Study." The Sport Psychologist. TSP Volume 24, Issue 2, June. http://journals.humankinetics.com/tsp-back-issues/tspvolume24issue2june/practicingamotortaskinaluciddreamenhancessubsequentperformanceapilotstudy
- 7. Stumbrys, Tadas and Daniels, Michael. "An exploratory study of creative problem solving in lucid dreams: Preliminary findings and methodological considerations."October 2010. International Journal of Dream Research. 29 August 2014. http://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/IJoDR/article/view/6167/pdf
- 8. Nicola, Davis. "Lucid dreaming can be induced by electrical scalp stimulation, study finds." 11 May 2014. The Guardian. 29 August 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/may/11/lucid-dreaming-electric-scalp-stimulation-study
- 9. http://www.toolsforwellness.com/88325.html#scProductReviews
- 10. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlfjhWTX0Yk