During lucid dreaming, we become aware of the current dream state, however despite this wake-like cognitive clarity still keep on sleeping. Although a rare state of consciousness in general, lucid dreaming can be trained, and a growing number of interventions are known to increase the probability of having a lucid dream .
The phenomenon of lucid dreaming has been described already in ancient scriptures of different cultures, and was a matter of scientific debate during much of the 20th century. Despite being an object of rigorous physiological research since the late 1970s , lucid dreaming has only slowly found its way into the mainstream of sleep research.
In lucid dreamers compared to other people, the prefrontal cortex enabling self-reflection is bigger.
© MPI for Human Development
Since a couple of years, however, an increasing number of scientific studies investigates into the psychological and neurobiological mechanisms underlying lucid dreaming. A typical result of the lucid insight into the dream state is an increased control over the course of the dream. Lucid dreamers experience to act out their intentions more freely during such dreams , and are even able to perform predefined tasks that can be objectively measured with neuroimaging methods .
Brain lucid dreamers compared to other people, the prefrontal cortex enabling self-reflection is bigger.
© MPI of Psychiatry
A study using high-density EEG found increased 40 Hz oscillations over prefrontal areas of the brain during lucid dreaming , a frequency band that had already been associated with conscious processing before. Recently the same researchers demonstrated that experimental induction of such a 40 Hz rhythm on prefrontal brain regions using transcranial alternating current stimulation markedly increased dream insight ratings in a lucid dreaming questionnaire after awakening .
Using a combination of EEG and fMRI, we confirmed frontopolar and dorsolateral prefrontal regions, but also medial parietal brain areas to be involved in lucid dreaming . Also during wakefulness, these regions are involved in many higher cognitive functions including metacognitive processes, i.e. the ability to reflect on ones own thinking. This link between metacognition and lucid dreaming was recently confirmed by a further neuroimaging study: a greater grey matter volume was found individuals with frequent lucid dreams when compared with less frequent lucid dreamers, and they also engaged these brain regions more strongly during a metacognition task during wakefulness .
Impairments of metacognition and self-reflective thinking that are a hallmark of normal dreaming have often been compared with the inability of many schizophrenia patients to acknowledge the pathological nature of their psychotic state. When comparing the neural mechanisms underlying these metacognitive impairments in both dreaming and psychosis, similar brains regions can be identified . Lucid dreaming might thus be a promising new option for schizophrenia research.
Another clinical application of lucid dreaming is nightmare therapy: the realization that the current dream content is just an illusion takes much of the sting out of the nightmare. Consequentially, patient groups with frequent nightmares report that dream lucidity indeed provides relief during nightmares , and systematic lucid dreaming therapy has repeatedly been demonstrated to be effective in nightmare disorder.
While lucid dreaming has further practical applications in diverse fields as motor training or creativity enhancement, many lucid dreamers use their skills just for the fun of fully consciously experiencing an almost perfect virtual reality.
If you are one of these very frequent lucid dream oneironauts, we would be happy if you’d be willing to spend some nights in our sleep laboratory! If interested, please drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
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