Can you control your dreams?
Every night, each and every one of us has, on average, 5 dreams lasting between 15 and 40 minutes. They can be exciting, frightening, funny and, sometimes, totally mad. But are they random, or can we control what we dream about? Tim Post is an expert in the art of lucid dreaming and started by telling told Chris Smith what's happening in the brain when you dream...
Tim - It's actually a kind of like a collaboration of the brain. So, the entire brain is involved with generating our dream experiences and there's a bit of subconscious process that is creating our dreams while there's also a conscious process. It's that conscious process that we can actually control as lucid dreamers to reshape our dreams and dream about anything that we can imagine while we are dreaming and that is lucid dreaming.
Chris - If you look at what the brain is doing, and how active it is or not when we're dreaming, is sleep a static thing? Are we at the same level of brain activity, all the way through the night or are there peaks and troughs on what the brain is doing, and where does dreaming fit into that?
Tim - So, we go through this sleep cycling. So, we go through deeper sleep stages and then gradually, our brain becomes more activated and sleeps into REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep). Because our brain is more activated during REM sleep, REM sleep is also referred to as paradoxical sleep, in a sense that when you look from the outside in and you see someone being asleep in REM sleep, you say, "Well, he's resting and looks quite peaceful." But if you would actually take a look at the brain, in REM sleep, our brain is highly activated. So, REM sleep has much more to do with activation and learning rather than resting and peacefully lying.
Chris - How does one set about manipulating that process and that activity in order to direct what our dreams do?
Tim - If you know as a lucid dreamer while you're aware of your dreams and you're still dreaming, you know that actually, part of the dream generation process is governed by your own thoughts and reflections while you are dreaming, you could then very simply refocus your thoughts and intentions and reshape the entire dream. So for example, if you're dreaming and you'd like to fly like superman for example, you could just initiate certain expectations and feelings that are accompanying that superman flight. So, kind of refocusing your intentions as a lucid dreamer. By doing so, reshape the entire dream and then notice that you'll be able to fly or do whatever you like.
Chris - Is this something that you do before you actually go to sleep? Do you actually put yourself in a certain mindset which then elicits that behaviour once you're asleep or is it more about training your thought processes so that you can control them once you're asleep?
Tim - Well, that's a good question. Lucid dreaming is not like something called dream incubation where before you go to sleep, think very hard on a particular theme, like for example the superman dream and then you're hoping to dream about that superman flight once you wake up the following morning and then realise, "I just dreamed about being superman." As a lucid dreamer, what actually happens is, you recognise that you are dreaming while you are still in the dream. Like, "Aha! This is a dream and actually now, I know that I'm actually lying in bed asleep with my eyes closed" and in that kind of present moment, you can then take control and initiate any kind of lucid dream that you desire for example, flying or whatever. So, it's a much more conscious live, on the fly, kind of happening.
Chris - Can anyone do this?
Tim - Pretty much, anyone can learn to become lucid. It requires a certain level of dedication and discipline to apply various techniques. Also, you need to be able to sleep for at least - well, let's say, 8 hours or so because otherwise if you are limited in your sleep time, you wouldn't generate that much REM sleep, that stage where lucid dreams are also happening and that will decrease your chances of becoming lucid. So, those are the main requirements and from that, anyone can learn to become a lucid dreamer.
Chris - Do you think you really do control your dreams?
Tim - Well, there are various scientific studies that have been conducted to experiment with this issue, you could say. Lucid dreamers were assigned as research in subjects to execute particular - carry out particular predetermined task in their lucid dreams. For example, making eye signals. Through that, we know for certain that the control is real and in that sense, lucid dreamers can do whatever they like to do in their dreams.