Seeking Roots of Consciousness, Scientists Make Dreamers Self-Aware

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Method to create lucid dreaming may help researchers learn more about the brain.

Researchers have figured out how to make people aware of themselves during a dream: by zapping their sleeping brains with a weak electric current.

The sensation of "Hey, this is a dream!" is known as lucid dreaming. Those who naturally become lucid while dreaming, probably a small segment of the population, also report adventures that are impossible in the real world, such as flying, that feel completely real. Some can even change a dream's narrative twists and turns to make it less scary—or even more exhilarating. (Related: "Why Do We Dream? To Ease Painful Memories, Study Hints.")

Lucid dreaming is exciting not only for dreamers but also for neuroscientists, who consider it a window into the study of consciousness. But until now, researchers have been hampered by how hard it is to provoke lucid dreaming in people who don't do it naturally. A new method published today in Nature Neuroscience might get around this difficulty, making it easier to stimulate lucid dreaming at will.

"We can really quite easily change conscious awareness in dreams," said lead investigator Ursula Voss, a clinical psychologist at Frankfurt University in Germany. She does this, she said, by delivering mild electrical stimulation to the sleeping person's brain. (Related: "Electric Jolt to Brain Boosts Math Skills.")

Zapping While Napping

In this study, Voss and her team recruited 27 healthy young adults who had never experienced lucid dreaming. Each participant slept overnight in the lab on several occasions. Two minutes after reaching the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep, which is when dreaming happens, the subjects received a weak electrical current (2 to 100 Hertz) to the frontal lobe for 30 seconds, or a sham current with no electricity.

The sweet spot was 40 Hertz. Zapping sleeping volunteers at this frequency, part of the so-called gamma wave band, led their brains to produce brain waves of the same frequency, the researchers found, which triggered lucidity 77 percent of the time, as determined by self-reports from the dreamers after they were awoken. (Related: "Dreams Make You Smarter, More Creative, Studies Suggest.")

Stimulations of 25 Hertz, at the low end of the gamma wave band, also sparked lucidity 58 percent of the time. In contrast, subjects who received sham or low-frequency stimulations never became lucid.

Written By: Virginia Hughes
continue to source article at news.nationalgeographic.com

8 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting article — anything involving consciousness research I find fascinating. I had a lucid dream once. It was remarkable having awareness that you’re dreaming and then controlling how it played out.

  2. Two or three times a year, for the past ten years, I have had lucid dreams. What’s the best way to describe them? They are wonderful, incredible actually. Although my ‘real’ life isn’t bad at all, the ‘world’ in my lucid dreams is the place where I really want to be. In my experience this world is super-realistic with an astonishing level of detail. My brain must be in complete overdrive; when I tighten my neck and shoulder muscles, I can hover and fly through rooms, and landscapes and cities that I recognize (like superman) and then stop in mid-air and look around. The other day, while flying through a crowded highway in my dream, I felt an enormous exhaustion coming up and I knew I couldn’t go on anymore. When I woke up I had a splitting headache, but it was worth it! Lucid dreams offer a hyper-reality that everybody should be able to experience.

  3. I’m not sure if this would qualify as having a lucid dream. If have occasion to get up in the middle of the night, I try to hold onto the dream in my head so that I can slip straight back into it when I get back into bed. When I do this I go back to sleep immediately however, if the dream manages to escape me, I take longer to re-enter the whole sleep/dream cycle. My dreams are usually vivid and I enjoy being in the dreaming state, as a rule. My dreams are rarely disturbing.

  4. Remembering a dream on waking has been a very rare experience for me, the last time being now some three decades ago, and only one of those dreams (when I was at primary school) seems to have been one of these lucid dreams. I still recall the disappointment I felt the next morning, when I found that I was not able in real life to alter things by willpower (I forget the details) as I had discovered I could in that dream. Little wonder, I suppose, that I have seen no benefit in remembering dreams and prefer my sleep to be entirely undisturbed.

    Hence, I will not be volunteering to participate in any of the researchers’ experiments, but I wish the researchers every success they may dream of in this interesting approach to investigating consciousness.

  5. I have lucid dreams now and then, and have become pretty adept at becoming ‘lucid’ in the middle of one if certain themes show up. These are morning dreams and I always also become conscious of the limited time I have to re-form the dream before I wake up. Sometimes I am successful, and create the scene I want, but more often I wander down halls opening doors to more doors, knowing that i am wasting my precious dream time. Does anyone else have a similar experience? Any tricks you might recommend to avoid the doors?

    • In reply to #5 by justinesaracen:

      I have lucid dreams now and then, and have become pretty adept at becoming ‘lucid’ in the middle of one if certain themes show up. These are morning dreams and I always also become conscious of the limited time I have to re-form the dream before I wake up. Sometimes I am successful, and create the s…

      I’m not sure what you mean about the doors but I often make a conscious decision to change the direction of the dream before re-entering it. ( this is in the situation I mentioned in # 3.)

    • In reply to #5 by justinesaracen:

      I have lucid dreams now and then, and have become pretty adept at becoming ‘lucid’ in the middle of one if certain themes show up. These are morning dreams and I always also become conscious of the limited time I have to re-form the dream before I wake up. Sometimes I am successful, and create the s…

      Imagine your in a forest….and if any doors appear avoid them……

  6. I’ve had a few super real ‘flying’ dreams as a kid that I still remember vividly….I’m always getting little electric shocks from metal stuff…..and a frontal lobe injury some years ago …better now….gave me strange and wonderful lucid dreams….

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