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Surprising Science

New Study Confirms Three Methods for Controlling Your Dreams

Researchers at the University of Adelaide found high success rates for lucid dreaming. 
A reveller relaxes in a hammock at the Glastonbury Festival of Music and Performing Arts on Worthy Farm near the village of Pilton in Somerset, South West England, on June 21, 2017. (Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images)

In 2014 a study in the journal, Nature Neuroscience, showed it is possible to invoke lucid dreaming. Twenty-four volunteers in Germany were electrically stimulated with 40 hz, a frequency associated with self-awareness. Though no participant was previously a lucid dreamer, 77 percent controlled their dreams under these circumstances.

Two years later further research discovered that practicing motor skills while asleep can be just as effective as physical movement performed while conscious. A team led by Dr Tadas Stumbrys split participants into four groups—“frequent lucid dreamers (25%), a mental practice group (23%), a physical practice group (24%) and a control (no practice) group (24%)”—with each volunteer practicing a sequential finger tapping exercise. Of the three practice groups, lucid dreamers improved their skills the most.

It has long been know that if you’re not a lucid dreamer, you can become one with practice. Now new research from the University of Adelaide, published in the journal, Dreaming, investigated three techniques for cultivating this skill: “reality testing, wake back to bed (WBTB), and the mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD) technique.”

The first is a common method. In reality testing you check your environment several times each day to see whether or not you’re dreaming. One particular approach is noticing certain landmarks, like a door, knocking on it when you pass to feel the sensation. This sensory input is important. If you notice the wood under your knuckles, you’re awake. If asleep you might pass right through it or fail to hear knocking. These landmarks prove critical in first sensing that you’re dreaming, then gaining control in this unconscious environment.

Wake back to bed requires that you wake up after five hours of sleep, force yourself to stay awake for a while, then return to sleep. This is the sweet spot for entering REM sleep—sometimes called the “enigmatic state,” it is the phase in which your muscles are paralyzed, save your diaphragm and certain sphincters—in which dreams are more likely. Since you had previously disrupted sleep with a stint of conscious activity you’re more likely to transition to sleep with a different awareness.

Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams also has you waking up five hours into the night, only this time you consciously intend to remember that you’re dreaming upon falling asleep. You pre-empt the dream by imagining it. A mantra is repeated in your head: “The next time I’m dreaming, I will remember that I’m dreaming.”

In the study, forty-seven people combined these three techniques. After just one week of practice they had a success rate of 17 percent, well above the week they didn’t practice at all. Those who fell asleep within five minutes of the mnemonic induction mantra experienced a whopping 46 percent success rate.

Lead author Dr Denholm Aspry explains:

The MILD technique works on what we call ‘prospective memory’ – that is, your ability to remember to do things in the future. By repeating a phrase that you will remember you’re dreaming, it forms an intention in your mind that you will, in fact, remember that you are dreaming, leading to a lucid dream.

This is particularly relevant for our evolving comprehension of the mechanisms of consciousness. Recent research shows that our ability to predict the future is dependent upon (and heavily influenced by) how we remember the past. This could help explain why the recitation of words in the present moment, soon to become a memory upon falling asleep, influences your ability to actively partake in the dream.

Aspy notes that those successful during the MILD technique were “significantly less sleep deprived” the following day. The short bout of consciousness not only didn’t disrupt their sleep, it allowed them to enter a space where they were more rested. This knowledge, he concludes, has the potential for helping those suffering from sleep problems:

These results take us one step closer to developing highly effective lucid dream induction techniques that will allow us to study the many potential benefits of lucid dreaming, such as treatment for nightmares and improvement of physical skills and abilities through rehearsal in the lucid dream environment.

Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.


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