Can You Control Your Dreams?

Scientists studying sleep and dream activity claim they have successfully induced lucid dreams in a group of individuals by stimulating their brains with an electrical current while they were sleeping. The ability to induce lucid dreams is significant and could lead to new ways to treat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Why do we Dream?

There are many theories as to why we dream at night. According to Psychology Today, popular theories include:

1. Dreaming to practice responses to threatening situations – Our dreams often place us in threatening situations and some scientists believe that this is a way for us to rehearse fight-or-flight responses while safely asleep. They theorize that we dream in this way due to evolutionary adaptation. Rehearsing behaviors at night can help us to deal with real life threatening situations.

2. Dreaming to create wisdom – Some scientists believe that we dream as a way of separating useful memories and information from those that we don’t need. This helps us to retain useful information for situations when we may need it in the future.

3. Dreaming as a form of psychotherapy – Ernest Hartmann, a doctor at Tufts, has developed a theory that dreams are a way for us to deal with difficult emotional content in a safe situation. When you dream, you are naturally in a less defensive and rational state of mind, which can help you to work through your emotions in a way that’s impossible when you are awake.

What is a Lucid Dream?

A lucid dream is simply a dream where you are aware that you are dreaming. You don’t necessarily have to be in control of the dream, but many people aim for this ability. Researchers are excited at the possibilities of lucid dreaming, as it has huge potential for the field of psychotherapy.

Inducing Lucid Dreams through Electrical Brain Stimulation

In a new study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers found that they were able to induce lucid dreams in a number of people by applying an electrical current to their brains. Scientists developed the experiment after previous studies found that people experiencing lucid dreams displayed electrical activity in their brains known as gamma waves. This type of brain activity is usually linked to higher-order thinking, and awareness of mental state.

Scientists applied the same gamma wave frequency to the brains of study participants, and found that upon waking, they reported that they had been aware that they were unconscious and as a result were able to control certain aspects of their dreams. Researchers are excited as having the ability to induce lucid dreams could mean potential new treatments for people suffering from mental illness. While the study was successful, it’s important to note that as the sample size was fairly small, scientists still need to conduct more research to determine how reliably lucid dreams can be induced.

How to Experience a Lucid Dream

If you want to try lucid dreaming, mobile app developers have created a range of apps that they claim will help. Here are two of the most popular apps on the market:

  • Dream:ON – This app is available on the iPhone and is currently free. It works by detecting the optimum moment in your sleep cycle to begin playing a soundscape of your choice. The soundscapes were developed to induce a state of lucid dreaming. Online reviews give this app mixed results, with suggestions to keep using the app as it often doesn’t work on the first night.
  • Dreamz – This app is again available on the iPhone at a price of $3.99. Dreamz again monitors your sleep cycle and detects when you are in a state of REM sleep. The app plays audio cues while you are in this state to switch your dream from a regular dream to a lucid one. Reviews for the app are mixed but slightly better than for Dream:ON.