The neural correlates of lucid dreaming

I’ve always had a deep fascination for lucid dreaming and only a handful of times have I been fortunate enough to experience such a wondrous and relatively rare state of consciousness. In one instance I decided to meditate and that blissful experience has no doubt left an indelible memory. So what’s really going on in the brain during a lucid dream?

In a recent study Voss and colleagues over in Germany in collaboration with Hobson at Harvard Medical School decided to investigate the electrophysiological correlates of lucid dreaming. They attempted to train 20 undergraduate students in the art of lucid dreaming via pre-sleep autosuggestions over a four month period and were able to successfully train 6. These subjects then spent a few nights at a sleep lab hooked up to an EEG machine. Only half were able to experience lucid dreaming during their stay(now you can see how tough it actually is to induce a lucid dream).

You may be wondering at this point how the researchers know subjects are in a lucid dreaming state. Apparently subjects can be trained to make voluntary horizontal eye movements during sleep indicating lucidity.

The authors found that during lucid dreaming there was a shift in EEG power, especially in the 40hz range and in the frontal regions of the brain. They suggest that this change in brain physiology is somehow associated with the lucid dreamer’s ability to self-reflect and gain volitional control; activities absent in regular REM dreaming. They conclude that lucid dreaming involves features of both REM sleep and waking, categorizing it as a “hybrid state”. They hypothesize that “lucidity arises when wake-like frontal lobe activation is associated with REM-like activity in posterior structures”.

I can’t help but wonder what the different factors are that make certain individuals adept at lucid dreaming. And just imagine the endless possibilities if we were only able to figure out a sure-fire way to lucid dream on command. Perhaps an artistic outlet, a method of coping, a form of therapy? Maybe I’m just dreaming.

I provide a wikihow link on how to lucid dream. I’m not sure how well it’ll work but try it out for yourself and remember…don’t be afraid to dream big.

Voss U, Holzmann R, Tuin I & J A Hobson (in press). Lucid dreaming: a state of consciousness with features of both waking and non-lucid dreaming . Sleep, 32, 1191-1200.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.