Dream control within reach, experts say

By Grant Lubyckij 2 February 2015
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Psychologists are looking for volunteers who want to learn how to control the direction of their dreams during sleep

A NEW AUSTRALIAN research project is aiming to train people to control their dreams. Participants are being sought for the study which may help psychologists probe the potential medical benefits of so-called ‘lucid’ dreaming.

Lucid dreams occur when a sleeping individual realises they’re dreaming and is then able to alter the direction of their dream, almost like the film Inception.

“Lucid dreams are rare events in which people know they are asleep and dreaming while the dream is still happening. This makes it possible for people to affect or control what occurs in the dream,” says Denholm Aspy a psychology PhD student at the University of Adelaide. “Dreams can be incredibly realistic at times – so realistic that it can be hard to tell the difference between a dream and waking life.”

Frequent lucid dreams

Denholm says that most people experience a lucid dream once or twice in their lives, but his research aims to train people to have them much more often and to remember them.

Being able to fly is a common experience in lucid dreams, Denholm says. “You can feel the wind on your face, the warmth of the sun on your skin… In a typical lucid dream all the sensory functions are working at a high level, similar to that of waking life – smell, taste, touch, sound and sight.”

With just over 35 studies to date, lucid dreaming remains poorly understood, and most past projects aiming to induce them had poor success rates of just 3-13 per cent.

“A higher success rate is required in order to do further research into the many potential benefits of lucid dreaming and to explore its usefulness in treating certain mental health conditions,” Denholm says.

His research employs a ‘reality testing’ method, which involves participants doing simple tests several times a day during waking hours to confirm whether they are awake or not.

Reality testing during dreaming

“By making it a habit in your waking life to regularly question whether you’re awake or dreaming you will hopefully end up asking the same questions in your dreams,” he says.

Lucid dreams can be exhilarating, but they also have practical medical applications, for example in treating people suffering from chronic nightmares – potentially allowing the dreamer to alter the course of the nightmare or even deliberately awake from it. They may also be useful for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), one of the symptoms of which is recurrent nightmares.

It may be that stroke victims or people who have suffered physical trauma are also able to improve their motor skills by practicing them in lucid dreams.

If you’d like to know more or be involved in the study, follow this link.