Lucid dreaming

By: Grace Helmke

Dreams are where our subconscious creates fantastical and terrifying visions of life. We run away from monsters in slow motion, fall from ledges, and jolt ourselves awake. We soar above jungles, run through glowing forests, and walk on water.

But what if dreams could become more than a subconscious vision in a state of sleep? There has long been speculation that some individuals have the ability to “lucid dream,” or become conscious within their sleeping state. 

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This subject has captivated individuals as far back as 3000 BC. In ancient Egypt, they depicted three bodies: one of the corpse body (shat), one of the living body (ka), and one of the soul (ba).

In Egytian hieroglyphics, ba is generally portrayed as a bird with a human head. A famous image of a man and his ba depicts a person laying in a bed with one eye open. The bed symbolizes sleep, while the eye means awake. Ba can be seen floating above the sleeping Egyptian, symbolizing an out-of-body experience.  Putting all of this together would translate to “sleep awakening.” This Egytian portrayal is known as one of the earliest depictions of lucid dreaming.

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But the first to harness the ability to lucid dream were Tibetan monks. They taught the ability to control one’s dreams through yoga, which is a spiritual practice aimed towards enlightenment. They use techniques to maintain awareness while slipping into a state of sleep.

This method was said to be the passing on of enlightenment. Those that could lucid dream would communicate with enlightened beings, shift into the physical form of other creatures, and fly with beings of another world. They believed that awareness within a dream was the purest form of consciousness. 

The term “lucid dreaming” was developed in 1913 by a Dutch psychiatrist named Frederik van Eeden. He preached the idea that there were nine different types of dreams including: initial, pathological, ordinary, vivid, symbolic, dream-sensations, lucid, demon-dream, and dissociative. He is known for having recorded his own lucid dreaming experiences, including his thoughts and actions before, during, and after the dreams took place. He states, “In these lucid dreams the reintegration of the psychic functions is so complete that the sleeper remembers day-life and his own condition, reaches a state of perfect awareness, and is able to direct his attention, and to attempt different acts of free violation.” 

Today, we continue to study and attempt to decipher what it scientifically means to lucid dream. There have been some recent findings that will provide a basis for the research of awareness within sleep.

Lucid dreaming is a form of metacognition. In other words, you are aware of your own awareness.

While normal dreams can happen in any stage of sleep, it was discovered by British parapsychologist Keith Hearne in 1975, that lucid dreaming tends to happen in REM sleep. The state of REM, or rapid eye movement, is the last stage in the sleep cycle. All other stages are considered non-REM stages.

Some studies have found that the prefrontal cortex, which is the section of the brain that’s responsible for, is connected to lucid dreaming. While most physicalities of a person do not factor into the likelihood of lucid dreaming, it was found that the prefrontal cortex is bigger in those that can lucid dream. In addition, activity in the prefrontal cortex is comparable to levels when a person is awake. 

Lucid dreaming has occurred all over the world for centuries. This fascination with the unusual, and relatively unexplained state, continues to drive individuals to study and gain more knowledge of what causes us to control our own dreams. 

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