Electrical Brain Stimulation Can Trigger Lucid Dreams

By Carl Engelking | May 12, 2014 4:18 pm


Lucid dreaming, thought to be unique to humans, occurs when we realize that we are dreaming within a dream, which sometimes allows people to take control of their sleeping narrative. This powerful dream state is rare, but researchers say they’ve discovered the mechanism that triggers lucid dreams—and that they can trigger this dream state at will.

In a study published Sunday in the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers report that they caused sleeping individuals to experience lucid dreams by stimulating their brains with specific electrical frequencies. Researchers believe their findings could shed light on human consciousness and yield novel ways to treat mental illness and post-traumatic nightmares.

Eliciting a Dream

Past studies demonstrated that telltale electrical brain wave patterns accompany lucid dreams: gamma waves with frequencies ranging from 20 to 80 Hertz (Hz). So, researchers in the current study set out to test if these signature gamma waves were the cause of lucid dreams, or rather an effect of the dream state.

They rounded up 27 adult volunteers who weren’t lucid dreamers and stimulated their brains using a technique called frontotemporal transcranial alternating current (tACS), which delivered current through electrodes placed on the scalp. Researchers tested frequencies from 2-100 Hz over the course of four non-consecutive nights. Each morning when participants woke up, they were asked to recall their dreams.

The researchers discovered that the specific frequency of 40 Hz electrical stimulation, and to a lesser degree 25 Hz, caused participants to recall having lucid dreams. Participants reported that they were aware they were dreaming, and felt like they were watching themselves from the third-person perspective. Some dreamers also said they could at times control actions in the dream.

Future Treatments

Granted the researchers’ results are from a small sample size; but if they are replicable, the stimulation technique could help treat mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder. A person experiencing a repeating nightmare could theoretically enter a lucid dream state and perhaps change the outcome of the dream.

The study’s author, Ursula Voss of J.W. Goethe-University in Frankfurt, Germany, warned that any electrical brain stimulation should be conducted under the expert guidance of a physician, Reuters reports. Therefore, any Inception-inspired amateur applications of these findings should remain the stuff of dreams.


Photo credit: Fer Gregory/Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Longmire

    So will humans seek Spiritual Enlightenment or just get “Juiced by the 40”

  • zelma alexander

    I typically have lucid dreams and have control of myself during them. I taught myself.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com James Brown

      How did you teach yourself? 😮 I’ve been trying to teach myself for quite some time now.

      • zelma alexander

        I concentrated on what I wanted to dream about until I fell asleep. Then I learned to take control of my dream. I knew I was dreaming.
        Good luck….

        • zelma alexander

          Also I found some very good information on the Internet when I Googled Lucid Dreaming. I believe you will find the information useful.

  • adamweishaupt

    The Tibetans Dzogchen have been doing this Hundreds of years ago.

  • Christopher Roy

    Someone make a kickstarter!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Shirley Fair

    I’m with zelma. Been doing this since abt ’64 after seeing an author on a talk show. Thoughts&dreams can be ‘programmed’. Focus on an idea or scenerio & bring your thoughts back when the mind strays. Before bed decide how dream will end. Be sure you ‘win’. Take control & keep practicing
    Like meditation perhaps?
    Worked on reoccurring childhood dreams & most boogie men since

  • Thabang Maepa

    This used to happen to me when I was young and full of nightmeres. It took me a long time of bad dreams to finally get to experience Lucid dreaming. In most of my dreams where I could find myself chased by dogs, I could fly far away in the sky. I never told my parents about it, nor anyone. From that moment I began to experience this, I was never scared of nightmeres because I knew I could always be my own Ssuperhero. Eventually my nightmeres turned into sweet dreams…or I can relate them to movies that I create at night when asleep.

    But today I barely experience it because I don’t have nightmeres so often as I had them back then. I’m so carious if Lucid Dreaming is the brain’s remedy to free us from nightmeres..


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