New study unearths electric dreams’ power

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Inception-style lucid dreams can be induced by applying a specific frequency of electric current to sleepers’ brains, a study has found.

Lucid dreams involve a state of heightened awareness that allows the sleeper to recognise the dream and control what happens within it. A similar concept was explored in the hit movie Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

People who have lucid dreams talk of “waking up” in a dream and being able, for instance, to fly at will or manipulate the imaginary world around them.

In the new study, researchers tested 27 participants with no previous experience of lucid dreaming over several nights.

After three minutes of uninterrupted Rapid Eye Movement sleep, the phase when most dreaming occurs, a weak current was applied to their scalps.

The scientists targeted the frontal and temporal brain regions where high-frequency “gamma” brainwaves had previously been associated with lucid dreaming. A few seconds after the brain stimulation the volunteers were awakened and reported having lucid dreams.

Stimulation at a frequency of 40 hertz raised gamma activity and induced lucid dreaming. It also correlated with specific aspects of lucid dreams, such as insight, realising you are dreaming and control over the dream plot.

Writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the team from the JW Goethe-University in Frankfurt, speculated on the use of lucid dreams to help victims of post-traumatic stress disorder.