Lucid dreaming is an issue that has been studied as far back as 1896. A Lucid dream is one in which the dreamer is aware that he/she is dreaming and is sometimes able to take control what is happening in the dream. Lucid dreams are actual phenomena that do occur in REM sleep. REM sleep is the portion of sleep when there are rapid eye movements. Dr. van Eeden was the first recorded person to study dreams in which the dreamer is aware they are dreaming. In 1896 he began recording his dreams. Over a period of one year he recorded 352 dreams, but only eight were lucid dreams.
The actual definition of a lucid dream is a dream in which the dreamer mentally awakens in the dream and becomes aware that it is only a dream. This “awakening” is usually triggered by the dreamer noticing something in the dream that is far too unusual to be real. The actual term lucid dreaming was first used by the Dutch psychiatrist Fredrick van Olen in 1913. It simply means “clear dreaming. ” Surveys and research have shown that 50 percent of all Americans have had at least one lucid dream in their life that they could recall.
When a dreamer becomes lucid there are physical changes on the outside of the body and brain patterns also change. There are usually pauses in breathing and changes in heart rate. The amount of brain activity is more heightened than that of a regular dream, but less than when waking. It has also been observed that a person having a lucid dream shows more brain activity than a waking person under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD. A lucid dream is usually provoked by an earlier day of heightened stress or anxiety. They usually occur at the end of an eight or nine hour sleep.
Several methods have been developed for inducing lucid dreams. The simplest and most common method is known as the MILD method, or Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming. This method consists of waking in the early morning from a dream and remembering what the dream was about. Then as the dreamer returns to sleep he or she should remind themselves that the dream is not real as they return to the original dream. The second method involves work during the day. The person should constantly ask them self when they are awake, “Am I dreaming? then look for a clue to prove they are. Then when the person falls asleep they will be reminded to ask the same question and in turn realize the dream is not real. Another method involves the use some kind of an external device that will create a signal to the dreamer that they are dreaming. Keith Hearne was the first person to incorporate this strategy. He would watch the dreamers eyes for rapid eye movement (REM) to show that they were dreaming. He would then spray them with water to signal to them that they were dreaming.
This method was fairly unsuccessful. In 1989 Dr. Steven La Berge invented the “Dream Light”. This device is a mask that the dreamer wears that contains a small LED for signalling dreams and a small computer that detects when dreams begin. The “Dream Light” is available to the public and over 2,000 have been sold. It retails for about $900. This is the most simple method but few can experience it due to the cost. Once the dreamer becomes lucid they can do many interesting things such as communicating with the outside waking world.
This can be done with the eyes or through breathing. When a person falls asleep, all their muscles are paralyzed except for the eyes and internal organs. By moving the eyes from left to right a predetermined number times, a person can signal things to the outside world. Keith Hearne first discovered this in 1978 and used it to prove that lucid dreams are real and happen in REM sleep. He used a polygraph to determine that when his subject moved his eyes left to right eight times, he was indeed in REM sleep, and aware of the fact.
A person can also signal that they are dreaming by breathing rapidly. With the ability to communicate while dreaming and being able to control the dream, many questions that have remained unanswered about dreams can finally be solved. It has been proven that in the deep state of REM sleep, all muscles except for the eyes are paralyzed. Using lucid dreaming and eye movements, it has been shown that when actions are performed in a dream, the brain still sends electrical impulses to the muscles to correspond to those actions.
The impulses just have no effect. This same principle also applies to the use of different brain hemispheres. Dr. Steven La Berge performed experiments involving the use of different sides of the brain in dreams. It has been proven that when waking, the right side of the brain is used for artistic things such as singing, while the left side is used more for technical actions like math. La Berge had dreamers sing and count in their dreams and a polygraph showed that the same side of the brain shows more activity than the other, just like when waking.
Another similarity between lucid dreams and a waking state is the ability of the eyes to track smoothly from left to right. When a person closes their eyes and tries to move them smoothly from left to right, the motion is naturally jerky. The eyes need something to physically follow for them to move smoothly. Another of La Berge’s experiments showed that when the eyes follow something moving in a dream they are just as smooth as if they were following something in reality (Horgan 51). One myth that has been disproved by La Berge’s research is that dreams occur in an instant.
This is not true. The time that elapses in a dream is the same length as the time that elapses in the physical world. La Berge showed this by having his subject signal with their eyes, count to ten, then signal again. La Berge observed that the time between the two signals was eight seconds, the same time it took the person count to ten when they were awake (Blackmore 366). In addition to learning more about how actual dreams work, there many more advantages to lucid dreaming. Dreamers can perform tasks in their dreams before they must actually be done.
Take for example an athlete. A runner can run his race in his dream over and over and win. A business man who has to give a speech the next morning can practice his speech in his dreams in front of a dream audience. The possibilities are endless (Colt 49). Many great leaders have been influenced by their dreams. Samuel Coleridge claims that he wrote the great poem “Kubla Kahn” in a dream. Friedrich Kekule, the discoverer of the molecular structure of benzene, said it came to him in a dream (Horgan 50).
Study of lucid dreams continues today mostly at the Lucidity Association, founded by Dr. Steven La Berge. La Berge is the leading authority on lucid dreams today (Blackmore 368). Lucid dreams have been studied for over 100 years and still not everything is known about them. Thanks to the work of people like La Berge and Hearne, more is becoming known each day. Also technological advances such as the polygraph have helped to prove that lucid dreams are real. All may never be known but at this rate, everyone could be a lucid dreamer by the millennium.