To sleep, perchance to control your dreams

NEW YORK Sun May 11, 2014 1:03pm EDT

A man attempts to sleep on his suitcase at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York January 22, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

A man attempts to sleep on his suitcase at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York January 22, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Kelly

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nighttime dreams in which you show up at work naked, encounter an ax-wielding psychopath or experience other tribulations may become a thing of the past thanks to a discovery reported on Sunday.

Applying electrical current to the brain, according to a study published online in Nature Neuroscience, induces "lucid dreaming," in which the dreamer is aware that he is dreaming and can often gain control of the ongoing plot.

The findings are the first to show that inducing brain waves of a specific frequency produces lucid dreaming.

For the study, scientists led by psychologist Ursula Voss of J.W. Goethe-University in Frankfurt, Germany, built on lab studies in which research volunteers in the REM (rapid-eye movement) stage of sleep experienced a lucid dream, as they reported when they awoke. Electroencephalograms showed that those dreams were accompanied by telltale electrical activity called gamma waves.

Those brain-waves are related to executive functions such as higher-order thinking, as well as awareness of one's mental state. But they are almost unheard of in REM sleep.

Voss and her colleagues therefore asked, if gamma waves occur naturally during lucid dreaming, what would happen if they induced a current with the same frequency as gamma waves in dreaming brains?

When they did, via electrodes on the scalp in a technique called transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS), the 27 volunteers reported that they were aware that they were dreaming. The volunteers were also able to control the dream plot by, say, throwing some clothes on their dream self before going to work. They also felt as if their dream self was a third party whom they were merely observing.

Voss does not foresee a commercial market in lucid-dreaming machines. Devices currently sold "do not work well," she said in an interview, and those that deliver electrical stimulation to the brain, like the one in her study, "should always be monitored by a physician."

But if the results hold up, the technique might help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, who often have terrifying dreams in which they re-play the traumatic experience. If they can dream lucidly, they might be able to bring about a different outcome, such as turning down a different street than the one with the roadside bomb or ducking into a restaurant before the rapist attacks them.

"By learning how to control the dream and distance oneself from the dream," Voss said, PTSD patients could reduce the emotional impact and begin to recover.

(Reporting by Sharon Begley; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Comments (3)
Ralphooo wrote:
Attach wires to my head to stimulate my brain so that I can consciously control my dreams? Are you serious? Worst Idea Ever.

May 11, 2014 11:08pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
morbas wrote:
Dream is cognizance of the brain’s pruning process; simplifying it’s memory of life’s complex interrelations. Repeating dreams represent a low level process stone wall against pruning a particular concept. Higher cognizance awareness allows redress of this conflicting paradigm. Awareness is knowledge of a greater whole from which synergistic advantage provides an isolation of the part.



May 12, 2014 10:00am EDT  --  Report as abuse
gregbrew56 wrote:
There are many books available that help improve the chances of lucid dreaming. Do a ‘net search. There is a great deal of information available. After much practice, some folks can lucid dream at will…no external brain stimulation necessary.

If you’ve never had a lucid dream, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s an incredible experience in which you can take any action…without consequence. Let that last bit sink in…without consequence. Fall from a great height, fly, yell at your boss. Whatever.

I highly recommend it.

May 12, 2014 10:26am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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