Have you ever had a lucid dream? Lucid dreams can be quite fun and freeing — they are when the dreamer realizes that they are in a dream, and can control the dream to be what they want it to be. And recently, researchers found out how they could cause somebody to have a lucid dream. It turns out that it just needs the right kind of electrical stimulation, and the dreamer is off to be the commander of their dream world.
Typically, when a person has dreams, they are in the “rapid eye movement” (REM) phase of their sleep (so-called because their eyes really do rapidly, and randomly, move around). And while dreams occur during the REM phase, different parts of the brain can be active depending on the type of dream. Specifically, in lucid dreams, areas of the brain that are associated with higher cognitive function are active, but these areas are inactive during non-lucid dreams. The recent study found that, during REM, when some of these inactive areas are stimulated with the right electrical signal (having a certain frequency), they become active and induce lucid dreams.
Before the current study, it was discovered that gamma brain waves in certain parts of the brain (specifically the frontal and temporal lobes) are associated with lucid dreaming. (Due to neuronal oscillations, the brain makes wave frequencies, measured in cycles per second [Hertz, or Hz]. Five different types of brain waves — Alpha, Beta, Theta, Delta, and poorly-understood Gamma — are defined by the frequencies of the waves they make.) The researchers of the current study wisely decided to investigate whether stimulating the brain in these regions with gamma frequencies (or other wave frequencies) would cause lucid dreams. They found that, sure enough, it worked — when they stimulated 27 sleeping volunteers with lower gamma frequencies (around 40 Hz) in the frontal and temporal lobes, people experienced lucid dreaming. Frequencies of the four other types of brain waves were also tested, but they didn’t cause lucid dreaming, except for 25 Hz (which didn’t induce lucid dreaming as strongly as using 40 Hz, and is on the upper end of the beta range, close to being in the lower gamma range).
While it’s thought that this improved understanding of how the brain makes lucid dreams could help us better treat people who have hallucinations and similar afflictions, let’s be honest here — who wouldn’t want to be able to control their dreams each night? There’s definitely a market for this type of technology (once the possible long-term effects are understood, which, since it’s a new technology, could unfortunately be a while).
For further reading:
- Ursula Voss et al.’s article “Induction of self awareness in dreams through frontal low current stimulation of gamma activity”
- Anna Azvolinsky’s article “Controlling Self-Awareness During Sleep”
- Teisha J. Rowland’s book Biology Bytes: Digestible Essays on Stem Cells and Modern Medicine