See Inside November/December 2011

Lucid Dreams Unlock Clues about Consciousness

Becoming aware of your sleeping self could relieve anxiety or tap the creative unconscious

I moved my eyes, and I realized that I was asleep in bed. When I saw the beautiful landscape start to blur, I thought to myself, “This is my dream; I want it to stay!” And the scene reappeared. Then I thought to myself how nice it would be to gallop through this landscape. I got myself a horse … I could feel myself riding the horse and lying in bed at the same time.

So recounted a test subject in the sleep laboratory at the University of Bonn in Germany. This particular sleeper was having a lucid dream, in which the dreamer recognizes that he or she is dreaming and can sometimes influence the course of the dream. By measuring the brain waves of lucid dreamers, my colleagues and I are gaining a better understanding of the neural processes underlying this state of consciousness that exists between sleep and waking. In addition to providing clues about the nature of consciousness, research on lucid dreams is also beginning to suggest new ways to treat anxiety and learn complex movements while asleep.

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