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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Why Lucid Dreams Matter

Lucid dreams are often defined as the ones you know you are having in real time. These are the dreams where you seem to be conscious. You are aware of the story line, and you are often a central character in the story. Sometimes, you may even consciously manipulate the dream content toward a more acceptable outcome.

Scientists have recorded physiological changes during sleep, and there are multiple episodes during sleep, especially early in the morning, that display brain waves similar to those when you are awake accompanied by rapid, jerky eye moves (REM). When people were awakened every time these signs appeared, they invariably said a dream was interrupted.
Source, with permission: Carroll Jones III, Nathaniel Graphics, 2013

Incidentally, I have studied this in animals. It appears that REM sleep is an innate property of the brains of mammals. I discovered REM sleep in ruminants, which at the time were assumed to rest without true sleep. I also discovered a rudimentary form of REM sleep in armadillos, which I studied because they are among the most primitive mammals. However, only people show numerous REM episodes lasting significant times. I have even published a theoretical paper suggesting why people need so much REM sleep.

Some people claim that they don't have lucid dreams, but there are physiological indicators that everybody does dream. It is possible that lucid dreams can occur but are not consolidated in memory. What is the first thing you do when you wake up? You start thinking about something other than what you were dreaming about, such as going to the bathroom, your aching joints, having breakfast, upcoming day's events, and so on. Such distractions interfere with memory consolidation of recent thought.

A sleep-lab study in which the EEG was recorded revealed certain physiological signs that are unique to lucid dreams, as opposed to non-lucid dreams. Subjects were trained to generate, recognize, and remember lucid dreams. Subjects who commonly reported having lucid dreams were selected for specific training, which included reminding themselves before going to sleep that they were to recognize when they were having lucid dreams and signal that to sleep monitors by a specific pattern of eye movements (in dream sleep, only the eyes move continuously because a descending motor-inhibition circuit in the brainstem is activated). During early-morning sleep, when lucid dreams were more prevalent, EEG recordings during lucid dreaming revealed REM-like activity in frequency bands δ and θ, and higher-than-usual REM activity in the γ band, the between-states-difference peaking around 40 Hz. 

Voltage power in the 40 Hz band is strongest in the frontal and frontolateral region. Moreover, the 40-Hz activity during REM is more coherent with similar activity in other regions of the cortex. The specific increase in gamma activity and the increased in 40 Hz-band coherence in lucid dreaming suggests that these are this may be the physiological basic of consciousness.
This study is important because the EEG changes are not like those in regular, non-dream sleep but are similar to what occurs in conscious wakefulness. Thus, REM sleep seems to be a form of consciousness. The lucid dreams are special because the content means something, but usually expresses it symbolically or in metaphors. Your brain has escaped the editing shackles of wakefulness and is free to reveal things you might not know about. Sometimes it is things you don't want to know about. However, you brain is trying to tell you something. You don't have to be a Sigmund Freud to figure out some of the meaning.

With my own lucid dreams, when I reflect on the content, I often find they help me to recognize and deal with deeply personal issues. They can point the way to personal insight. If you reflect on the dream content right after awakening, you are likely to remember it. Lucid dream content can change your life, one small step at a time.

Klemm, W. R. 2011. Why does REM sleep occur? A wake-up hypothesis. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 5 (73): 1- 12. Doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2011.00073

Voss, Ursula, Holzmann, Romain, Tuin, Inka, and Hobson, Allan, J. (2009). Lucid dreaming: A state of consciousness with features of both waking and non-lucid dreaming. Sleep. 32(9), 1191-1200.

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