Lucid dreaming is an unusual phenomenon in which some people are able to "wake up" while still in a dream. Though the dreamer is technically asleep, they are aware of their situation and are able to control the content of their dreams. In this state, people are also able to signal to researchers that they have entered a lucid dream through a series of prearranged eye movements; no other movement is possible during REM sleep.
Being in command of dreams opens up opportunities to manipulate them for learning and training that have an impact once the dreamer wakes up. Peter Morgan at Yale University and colleagues have shown that lucid dreamers perform better in a gambling task designed to test the functioning of the brain's ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is thought to be involved in emotional decision-making and social interactions (Consciousness and Cognition, DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2010.08.001). By training this region through lucid dreams, Morgan hopes to be able to improve a person's social control and decision-making abilities.
Lucid dreaming and ventromedial versus dorsolateral prefrontal task performance
Activity in the prefrontal cortex may distinguish the meta-awareness experienced during lucid dreams from its absence in normal dreams. To examine a possible relationship between dream lucidity and prefrontal task performance, we carried out a prospective study in 28 high school students. Participants performed the Wisconsin Card Sort and Iowa Gambling tasks, then for 1 week kept dream journals and reported sleep quality and lucidity-related dream characteristics. Participants who exhibited a greater degree of lucidity performed significantly better on the task that engages the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (the Iowa Gambling Task), but degree of lucidity achieved did not distinguish performance on the task that engages the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (the Wisconsin Card Sort Task), nor did it distinguish self-reported sleep quality or baseline characteristics. The association between performance on the Iowa Gambling Task and lucidity suggests a connection between lucid dreaming and ventromedial prefrontal function.
Other benefits for lucid dreamers
The lucid dreamers were more likely to report that they were free from mental health problems. They also scored more highly on questions relating to self-confidence, tended to be more assertive, and showed a greater satisfaction with life.
Research has already shown that people who practise tasks in their lucid dreams are better at performing them the following day.
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