Lucid Dreaming: Controlling Your Unconscious Brain
Lucid dreaming is a dream state where the person is completely aware that they are dreaming. In this state, a dreamer can control what happens in their dreams. How is this possible? Is there a way to increase your chances of lucid dreaming? What does neuroscience say is going on in the brain of a lucid dream? Keep reading below!
Conscious Sleeping: 4 Essential Lucid Dreaming Tips
There are plenty of tips circulating the internet that provide various avenues to improve the likelihood of lucid dreaming. These sources provide the dreamer with an arsenal of tactics to differentiate whether or not they are dreaming. Some of these tips include: keeping a dream journal, attempting to read while dreaming, looking down at your feet while in a dream, and looking up at the sky when dreaming.
1. Keeping a Dream Journal
The one trick that you can do while being awake is keeping a dream journal. After you wake up in the morning, write down everything you dreamt the night before. This will allow you to remember your dreams, as well as look back on previous dreams and see if any repeat. Once you are able to see a pattern of repeating dreams, you are able to recognize whether or not you are asleep.
For example, if you have a reoccurring dream that you are riding through the purple mountains on a unicorn, you can remember that you have experienced this specific dream before. Once this realization is made, you can recognize that you are in a dream. As this realization occurs, you have begun to lucid dream.
2. Attempt to Read While Dreaming
People who experience lucid dreams claim that words and letters appear nonsensical when dreaming. This is a form of reality check that can help your unconscious mind shift into a dissociative state that holds characteristics of both wake-fullness and dreaming. By recognizing that the letters and words do not make sense, you can then acknowledge to yourself that you are dreaming. The moment you are aware that you are dreaming, you have begun lucid dreaming.
3. Look Down at Your Feet
Another reality check that you can use to differentiate between wake-fullness and lucid dreaming, is staring down at your feet. This is a rather interesting tip and can be explained by the brain’s somatosensory cortex function. When dreaming, lucid dreamers claim that their feet are not actually on the ground, but instead are floating above the surface. This is most likely explained because when sleeping, proprioception and other somatosensations are unable to be processed.
Proprioception is the sense of knowing where in space one’s body parts are in relation to one another, as well as the surrounding environment. For instance, if you are blindfolded and move your arm above your head, you are still able to recognize that your arm has moved from your side to above your head. Even though you can not see that your arm placement has changed, you know that you moved your arm because of proprioception.
Other somatosensations like proprioception include thermosensation and mechanoreception. Thermosensation is the ability to recognize temperature, and mechanoreception is the ability to recognize touch and pressure.
When dreaming, the brain and body are not processing stimuli. Due to the lack of stimulus input, the brain can not process what it feels like to stand on a surface. This is why you appear to be floating.
4. Look Up at the Sky
Looking up at the sky is yet another reality check that you can use to make yourself aware that you are dreaming. This tip is harder to explain than examining various parts of your body. It is commonly discussed that if you look up at the sky you will not see what you expect. Dream skies are not blue and filled with clouds, but instead appear as a painting.
Some sources claim that the sky is far too complex for your mind to recreate. This idea could be plausible but has more to do with the lack of stimulus reception, as mentioned before.
The sky is blue because blue is the shortest wavelength of light and is scattered more by atmospheric particles than other wavelengths of light. Our brain can make up the color blue because it has been exposed to the stimuli that allow us to perceive blue. However, the main reason for the distorted sky in dreams is due to how our brains perceive where the light comes from.
We assume that light comes from above. This assumption is due to our environment, the sun is above us and casts its light down. We perceive the directions of shadows, relative distance, and time of day based on light being cast from above us. This assumption is carried through to our dreams. So, when instructed to look up at the sky in a dream, where the brain is directing it’s falsified light source from, the sky appears to be a wash of color and movement.
As is the case for the other reality checks, acknowledging that this is not how the sky normally appears allows the individual to realize that they are in fact dreaming.
Consciousness and Lucid Dreaming
The tips mentioned above can be explained to have an impact on whether or not you are dreaming based on how the brain interacts with sensation and perception. What other aspects of lucid dreaming can be explained by looking at the differences between the conscious and unconscious brain?
Consciousness is the state of being awake, and through neuroscience research, is thought to be a result of metacognition. This term just encapsulates many everyday tasks such as planning, reasoning, and the ability to interact with one’s environment. These higher-level processes are governed by the brain’s prefrontal cortex, but it is unclear as to whether consciousness is housed here. This is because the prefrontal cortex also interacts with many other brain regions, so it is hard to pinpoint whether or not consciousness is dedicated to one brain region.
Consciousness: Out Like a Light
We do, however, know that there is an on/off switch in the brain that controls consciousness. This switch is called the claustrum and is a thin sheet of neurons that is attached to the underside of the insular cortex. The insular cortex is a small part of the brain that is nestled deep down, separating the temporal, parietal, and frontal lobe. The functions of the insular cortex are tied to perception, intricate motor control, self-awareness, and other cognitive functions. These functions all sound like everything we experience while in a conscious state. Although some literature suggests that this where consciousness is held in the brain, it is a much more popular opinion that consciousness is an overarching state which is governed by multiple areas of the brain.
Due to the enhanced awareness, as well as the full control that a lucid dreamer has in the dream state, it is hypothesized that like in consciousness, there is some evidence of metacognition. This is also is correlated to the amount of gray matter found in the prefrontal cortex. Gray matter is neural tissue rich in unmyelinated neurons. The more neurons, as well as connections between neurons, that exist in the prefrontal cortex, the more likely that an individual will have enhanced capabilities to lucid dream.
The similarities between the conscious brain and the lucid dreaming brain seem to conclude that lucid dreaming is more closely related to consciousness. Hopefully, through using the tips you can try to lucid dream! The personal experience can prove to you whether or not you felt as alert as you are when conscious.
Jacquelyn is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. She is studying both Neuroscience and Psychology, and earning a minor in Chemistry. Jacquelyn is particularly interested in neuromuscular research and neurobiological diseases related to aging, and hopes to apply her passions to future functional neuroscience research.