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Electric Stimulation Makes Lucid Dreamers

May 12, 2014 11:25 AM EDT

Electrical currents may help people consciously experience their dreams, no shaman or spirit-guide required. Dreamers zapped with low-intensity currents reported having what they described as lucid dreams more than 75 percent of the time, according to a new study.

Conscious dreaming, also called lucid dreaming, has been a sought-after ability ever since the concept first became publically popular in the late 1960s. Even ancient Greek philosophers - Aristotle in particular - talked about the possibility that the mind is always at least subconsciously aware of the difference between dream and reality.

By 1990, the idea that there were people gifted with being able to consciously acknowledge their dreaming state even while still asleep was put to the test in a scientific setting. A study published by the American Psychological Association (APA) in the journal Sleep and Cognition details how self-proclaimed "lucid dreamers" were able to indicate to researchers that they were aware they were dreaming with pre-designated eye-movement signals.

Now however, supposedly anyone can be made a lucid dreamer. In a small-sample-size study, German researchers working with scientists from Harvard Medical School found that stimulating a dreamer's brain with an electrical current of 40 Hz - and to a lesser extent at 25 Hz - granted the dreamer at least an awareness that they were dreaming.

According to the study, electrical currents that varied from 2 Hz to 100 Hz were applied to 27 dreaming men and women for 30 seconds at a time two minutes after the sleepers entered the rapid-eye-movement (REM) state - a state of sleeping that indicates dreaming. This was conducted four nights in a row and some participants served as control subjects, not receiving any electrical stimulation while dreaming. None of the participants reported being lucid dreamers before the study, nor did any have any history of mental disorder or trouble sleeping.

Interestingly, subjects who were stimulated with 40 Hz of current reported having been conscious of their dream 77 percent of the time. Electroencephalography (EEG) scans back these claims, showing gamma activity increased during stimulation with 40 Hz, and to a lesser degree during stimulation with 25 Hz. This did not occur with the other currents, nor in the brains of unstimulated dreamers.

It is important to note that while the researchers report finding an association between brain stimulation and lucid dreaming, they did not find a cause-and effect relationship, and further testing will have to be done in that regard.

The study was published in Nature Neuroscience on May 11.

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