The ability to become lucid during a dream and gain control of the dream itself has been coveted, examined and practiced for centuries; resulting in many methods and exercises that cultivate lucid dreams. The opportunity to consciously explore the dream-space can provide insights into the mysteries of the unconscious mind; lucid dreaming can also be used therapeutically to address traumatic memories or chronic nightmares.
Recently a team of scientists led by psychologist Ursula Voss of the Goethe University in Frankfort, Germany successfully induced lucid dreams in test subjects by stimulating specific brain regions with an electrical current. The study, published in Nature Neuroscience in May, provides some of the first data necessary to understand the biology of lucid dreaming.
Voss’ early studies found that participants’ reports of lucid dreams tended to occur during REM sleep. At the beginning of a sleep cycle, the brain slows from high frequency gamma and beta waves associated with waking, processing and alertness. The patterns of brain activity progress through slowing alpha waves to deep sleep’s delta and theta frequencies.
Paradoxically, the sleep cycle apexes in REM, and the brainwaves speed up. Dreams normally occur during REM sleep, when many regions of the brain appear to be functioning as if it were awake. When subjects reported a lucid dream, there was distinct gamma activity, the highest frequency range of brainwave, in the frontotemporal region.
The frontotemporal region is associated with executive functioning, decision making, processing complex stimuli, and self-awareness. Voss and her team theorized that lucid dreams occur when the frontotemporal region of the brain is active at a gamma level during REM sleep. To test this theory, they used a non-invasive method called Transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation. TACS uses electrodes placed on the scalp to stimulate the surface of the brain. When they sent an electrical current in the Gamma frequency into the frontotemporal region of the scalp, the participants overwhelmingly reported a self-aware dream upon waking.
The ability of physicians to induce lucid dreams could provide new treatment models for sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress, and even anxiety and depression. Sleep, especially REM, is vital to the formation of memories, the consolidation of stimuli into larger concepts, and the regeneration of the brain. If Voss’ research provides a consistent method of psychic exploration, scientists and psychonauts will be able to further understand the mysteries, mechanisms and potential self-discoveries of dreams.
Lucid Dreaming with Electrical Stimulation
Elliot Hill seems to miss the point in the video above, but I’ve left it in since some people would rather see a video about the study rather than read about it.
Elliot glosses over the multitude of benefits lucid dreaming offers and instead says he doesn’t want to be alertly conscious all of the time, claiming dreams are his last bastion of unconscious musings. It is laughable that Elliot believes he is fully conscious and aware throughout his entire waking life, a feat that many of us struggle with hourly!
Much like psychedelics, lucid dreaming can be a tool to help further your understanding of yourself and the universe, and honestly, what is more important than that?
For those uncertain of taking the mental plunge into lucid dreaming or psychedelics or with experience on the subject sound off below with your thoughts.
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