Like many others, I have always wanted to control what happens in my dreams. Currently this ability evades me, but a select group of people have figured out how to influence their sleep worlds; the lucid dreamers. Lucid dreaming is an in interesting and rare power, and it is increasingly sought after as a result of its popularization in movies like Inception. Thankfully, there are some great studies occurring that are helping unravel the mysteries of lucid dreams and enabling us to better understand what causes the phenomenon and how we can induce it.
One such study was conducted by German researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt and the University of Goettingen, and their results were published in Nature Neuroscience. The group found that small electrical pulses during sleep cause some people to recognize when they are dreaming and subsequently manipulate their dreams. Lucid dreams usually occur during REM and it has been observed to cause an increase in activity in the prefrontal cortex. Additionally, earlier experiments have showed that lucid dreams happen at a frequency of around 40-hertz. With this knowledge, the German researchers electrically stimulated the brains of participants for about 30 seconds at frequencies between 2 and 100 hertz. Then, they woke the subjects and asked them questions about how aware they were of their dreaming state and how much control they had over their dreams. Here comes the interesting part- electrical waves that matched those observed in spontaneous lucid dreams (i.e. 40 hertz) had the greatest awareness of and control over their dreams. So 40 hertz seems to be the magic frequency: lucid dreams tend to occur at a frequency of 40 hertz, and stimulation at that level can help induce the dreams.
It seems that scientists now have a lead on creating lucid dreams, which is great for all us people who wish we could fly in our sleeping worlds. It is also great because lucid dreaming has the potential to be a useful therapy for individuals suffering from PTSD and nightmares. In fact, individuals with PTSD and nightmares have been documented to have improvements in their condition after the use of techniques that help induce lucid dreams. Such techniques include keeping dream journals, visualizing yourself having awareness in a dream, identifying dream signs, and planning a dream before falling asleep.
If you want more information on lucid dreaming, its use as a therapeutic, and maybe some tips on how you can do it (without electrically stimulating your brain!) check out this interview with dream expert Dr. Beverly D’Urso, a lucid dreamer and researcher herself!
Voss, U., Holzmann, R., Hobson, A., Paulus, W., Koppehele-Gossel, J., Klimke, A., & Nitsche, M. A. (2014). Induction of self awareness in dreams through frontal low current stimulation of gamma activity. Nature neuroscience.
“Neuroscients Hack Dreams with Tiny Shocks” NPR. Web. 20 Feb 2015. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/05/14/312285764/neuroscientists-hack-dreams-with-tiny-shocks
“Lucid Dreaming and Self-Realization.” Psychology Today. Web. 20 Feb 2015. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-superhuman-mind/201212/lucid-dreaming-and-self-realization