Scientists have discovered that it is possible to induce lucid dreaming in sleepers by applying mild electrical currents to their scalps, a recent study reported in the publication Nature Neuroscience says.
Professor J Allan Hobson, from Harvard Medical School co-authored the paper. He said:
“The key finding is that you can, surprisingly, by scalp stimulation, influence the brain. And you can influence the brain in such a way that a sleeper, a dreamer, becomes aware that he is dreaming.”
It is a continuation of previous research in this field led by Dr Ursula Voss of Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University in Germany who said:
“Lucid dreaming is a very good tool to observe what happens in the brain and what is causally necessary for secondary consciousness.”
Prof. Hobson also thought it could have medical benefits:
“As a model for mental illness, understanding lucid dreaming is absolutely crucial. “I would be cautious about interpreting the results as of direct relevance to the treatment of medical illnesses, but [it’s] certainly a step in the direction of understanding how the brain manages to hallucinate and be deluded.”
By examining the sleepers’ REM (Rapid Eye Movements- the indicator of deep sleep dreaming) and brainwaves over a range of frequencies, scientists have found that lucid dreamers demonstrate a shift towards a more “awake-like” state in the frontal and temporal parts of the brain, with the peak in increased activity occurring around 40Hz.
The study involved 27 volunteers, none of whom had experienced lucid dreaming before. The researchers waited until the volunteers were experiencing uninterrupted REM sleep before applying electrical stimulation to the frontal and temporal positions of the volunteers’ scalps. The applied stimulation had a variety of frequencies between two and 100Hz, but neither the experimenter nor the volunteer was informed which frequency was used, or even whether a current was applied. Five to 10 seconds later the volunteers were roused from their sleep and asked to report on their dreams. Brain activity was monitored continuously throughout the experiment.
The results showed that stimulation at 40Hz (and to a lesser extent at 25Hz) resulted in an increase in brain activity of around the same frequency in the frontal and temporal areas. They found that such stimulation, more often than not, induced an increased level of lucidity in the dreams of the sleepers.
The authors suggest triggering lucid dreaming in sleepers might enable them to control nightmares, for example returning soldiers suffering with PTSD; post-traumatic stress disorder.
But for others, the chance to be “awake within a dream” may be possible… perhaps a dream come true?