A new study led by Goethe University Frankfurt has found a small current of electricity could be the key to controlling dreams.
The findings, published over the weekend in Nature Neuroscience, revealed that by applying small electrical currents in certain frequencies to just above the forehead of a sleeping person, individuals were able to recognize they were in a dream and view it from a third-person perspective — the qualifiers for lucid dreaming.
Tests conducted by the team were based on earlier examinations of lucid dreamers that found a certain electrical signal in the frontal and temporal parts of the brain were stronger during lucid dreams. The new research effort set out to recreate that signal and determine if it was the cause of the dreams, a byproduct of them, or totally unrelated.
The team’s findings imply the signal is indeed the cause of the advanced stage of dreaming, potentially stimulating areas of the brain related to higher-order consciousness — specifically gamma brainwave activity. The application of two main frequencies correlated with subsequent lucid dreams — the application of a 40Hz signal led to lucid dreaming 75 percent of the time, while applying 25Hz resulted in lucid dreaming 50 percent of the time.
The currents were only applied for a few short seconds after test subjects entered REM sleep and were stable for a few minutes. Though the experiences described by test subjects qualified as lucid, dreams weren’t necessarily afforded a wide range of control over their dreams — a quality widely associated with lucid dreaming.
“I was dreaming about lemon cake. It looked translucent, but then again, it didn’t. It was a bit like in an animated movie, like ‘The Simpsons,’” one test subject said describing the experience. ”And then I started falling and the scenery changed and I was talking to Matthias Schweighöfer [a German actor] and two foreign exchange students. And I was wondering about the actor and they told me ‘Yes, you met him before,’ so then I realized ‘Oops, you are dreaming.’ I mean, while I was dreaming! So strange!”
While the results were limited by the small number of test subjects (27), researchers maintain that the 40Hz signal results were enough to prove the method successfully induces a level on consciousness within a dream state.
As far as its medical benefits, researchers said the method could eventually be used to treat patients with post-traumatic stress manifested in dreams, by letting them change the content within; or neurological conditions like schizophrenia by restoring dysfunctional pathways in the brain.