Distinguishing Between a Dream and Reality Just Got a Little Easier

It’s not quite “Inception,’’ but a new study’s findings could help sleepers control their own dreams.
It’s not quite “Inception,’’ but a new study’s findings could help sleepers control their own dreams.

Have you ever woken up from a deep sleep only to wonder if what you were just dreaming actually happened? Well, if researchers have their way, that type of experience will soon be a thing of the past.

According to a new study, sending a not-so-strong electrical current to one’s brain can produce a lucid dreaming experience, National Geographic reported.

The sensation of "Hey, this is a dream!" is known as lucid dreaming. Those who naturally become lucid while dreaming, probably a small segment of the population, also report adventures that are impossible in the real world, such as flying, that feel completely real. Some can even change a dream's narrative twists and turns to make it less scary -- or even more exhilarating.

Lucid dreaming can help shed some light on what happens to subconsciously when dreamers switch from little to full awareness, New Scientist reported.

Psychologist Ursula Voss of J.W. Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany led the study.

"We can really quite easily change conscious awareness in dreams," said lead investigator Ursula Voss, a clinical psychologist at Frankfurt University in Germany. She does this, she said, by delivering mild electrical stimulation to the sleeping person's brain.

The study featured 27 volunteers who, according to The Globe and Mail, said they were aware while dreaming after having electrodes applied to their scalps.

The volunteers were also able to control the dream plot by, for example, throwing some clothes on their dream self before going to work.

They also felt as if their dream self was a third party whom they were merely observing.

The study’s participants had electrical currents ranging from 2 to 100 Hertz sent to each of their frontal lobes until researchers found just the right frequency, National Geographic reported.

The sweet spot was 40 Hertz. Zapping sleeping volunteers at this frequency, part of the so-called gamma wave band, led their brains to produce brain waves of the same frequency, the researchers found, which triggered lucidity 77 percent of the time, as determined by self-reports from the dreamers after they were awoken.

It’s a small study. If replicated, the findings could potentially be used for treating the recurring nightmares that many with post traumatic stress disorder suffer from, Dr. Voss told The Globe and Mail.

"By learning how to control the dream and distance oneself from the dream," Dr. Voss said, PTSD patients could reduce the emotional impact and begin to recover.

Loading Comments...