A recent study has indicated that it may be possible to induce lucid dreaming by the application of mild electrical currents to the scalps of sleepers.
Lucid dreaming allows the sleeper to recognise that they are dreaming and they may be able to change the plot of the dream and control their own behaviour.
The co-author of the Nature Neuroscience published paper, Professor J Allan Hobson, from Harvard Medical School, stated that the research indicated that scalp stimulation is able to influence the brain. He further added that the influence on the brain can allow the dreamer to become aware that he or she is dreaming.
Previous research which was led by Dr Ursula Voss from Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Germany, suggested that lucid dreaming is a unique situation that shows aspects of both REM-sleep and waking. REM sleep is the time during sleep when most dreams occur. The scientists found that during the examination of the brainwaves of the sleeper over a variety of frequencies, lucid dreamers indicated a move towards a state of ‘being awake’ in the temporal and frontal sections of the brain. The peak in the state of activity occurred around 40Hz.
Voss stated that lucid dreaming is an excellent tool for the observation of what occurs in the brain and what is required for secondary awareness.
Dr Voss and her team issued a report which stated the possibility of inducing lucid dreaming by electrical stimulation using alternating current to the scalp of the sleeper at a certain frequency.
The study made use of 27 volunteers. None of the volunteers had experienced lucid dreaming previously. The researchers waited until the participants were in a state of uninterrupted REM sleep before they applied electrical stimulation to their temporal and frontal positions of their scalps.
They made use of a range of frequencies between two and 100Hz. The experimenter and the volunteer were unaware of the level of frequency or if the current had been applied. The volunteers were awoken about five to 10 seconds later and asked about their dreams. Their brain activity was continually being monitored during the experiment.
The results indicated that stimulation at 40Hz showed an increase in the brain activity in the temporal and frontal sections. A smaller, but similar effect was noticed at 25Hz. It was also found that the stimulation at times induced a higher level of lucidity in the volunteers’ dreams. When no current was applied, or it was applied at lower or higher frequencies, there was no change in the brain activity.
Professor Hobson stated that the results of the study may have psychiatric research implications. He said that the understanding of lucid dreaming is crucial as a model for mental illnesses. He stated that he would take caution in interpreting these results as being of direct relevance in the treatment of medical illness, but it is a step in understanding how the brain is able to hallucinate and become deluded.
The authors of the published work have suggested that the trigger of lucid dreaming may allow them to control nightmares, particularly with those individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Image Credit: Lauren Hammond