Neurobiological dreams seems to be the same from

Neurobiological basis

Many EEG studies have illustrated that during lucid
dreaming there is an increased brain activity in areas that are normally
deactivated during REM-sleep. Early studies have shown that lucid dreams are
associated with an overall increase in alpha activity (8-12 Hz) at the
beginning of REM-sleep. The resulting data suggests that a momentarily peak in
alpha activity marks the initiation of lucid dreaming during REM-sleep (Ogilvie, Hunt, Paul, & Lucescu, 1982; Tyson,
Ogilvie, & Hunt, 1984). A subsequent research have shown an increase of
gamma activity (30-50 Hz) in the frontal and frontolateral region. (Voss, Holzmann, Tuin, & Hobson, 2009). This is in line with the study of Dresler
et al, where EEG/fMRI is used to investigate the neural correlates of lucid
dreaming and revealed that there is more activation in the prefrontal and
occipito-temporal cortices and bilateral precuneus, cuneus, parietal lobes.
Interestingly, a considerable part of the brain regions that show activation
overlap with parts of the frontoparietal control network (Dresler et al., 2012). This is a network that has been suggested to play
a central role in mental health (Cole, Repovš, & Anticevic, 2014).  It is known
that the parietal lobe integrates visual, somatosensory, spatial and navigational
information. Mota-Rolim & Araujo suggest that higher parietal activity may
reflect the increased self-consciousness and own-body imagery which occurs
during a lucid dream (Mota-Rolim & Araujo, 2013). Dresler et al suggests that the increased activity
could be due to memory demands related to task performance. Both studies agree,
however, that higher gamma activity in the frontal region is related to its
function in self-awareness and executive functions. Moreover there could be a
connection between lucid dreaming and brain maturation. In a study where 694
students between the age of 6 and 19 were surveyed, 52% has already had at
least one lucid dream experience. The incidence of lucid dreams seems to be the
same from the age of 6 till 16 where it makes a sharp drop. The working
hypothesis is that during the maturation of the frontal lobe, there will be
gamma wave activations that occur both during waking and sleep. When this
occurs during REM-sleep it could physiologically induce lucid dreaming (Voss, Frenzel, Koppehele-Gossel, & Hobson, 2012).

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Ways to induce lucid dreaming

The very first method that was used in an
experimental setting was the method of inducing lucid dreaming (MILD) technique,
which was first applied by LaBerge in 1982. MILD is a mnemonic technique that
involves the subject’s memory when he or she falls asleep. When the subject
awakens from a dream, he or she is required to stay awake and rehearse a dream
for 10 to 15 minutes before going back to bed. The last step before falling
back to sleep involves repeating a sentence such as: ‘Next time I am dreaming,
I will know that I am dreaming.’ (La Berge, 1980) Around the same time, Tholey introduced three other
techniques to induce lucid dreaming. The first technique to be used in field
studies was the reflection technique, which involves a routine of questioning
the current state of consciousness, asking oneself whether he or she is currently
in a dream. When this routine takes place in a dream, upon attempting to answer
the question, it is possible that the subject realizes that he or she is in a
dream. The second technique is the intention technique. This requires the
subject to imagine that he or she is in a dream, as intensely as possible. This
could cause the subject to recognize that he or she is in a dream. Finally, the
autosuggestion technique has been suggested. This should be used right before
the subject is going to fall asleep. The subject is to suggest to him- or
herself of having a lucid dream when fallen asleep. When use individually,
these techniques have a very limited success rate. For this reason, a combined
technique was established from the techniques mentioned above. The technique
consists of a reflective questions where the subject asks himself whether he is
dreaming, multiple times throughout the day. At that moment the subject should
also imagine that he is in a dream. These questions should be asked when the
subject experiences a bizarre situation or when the subject feels like there
are gaps in his memory(Tholey, 1983b).

Reality checks, counting fingers, Dream
journals

Devices

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Hypotheses on clinical applications

Lucid dreaming based psychotherapy

Having recurrent nightmares is a well-known symptom
in post-traumatic stress disorder, narcolepsy or in some cases of depression.
There have been several case reports where patients with recurrent nightmares
have had benefits from psychotherapy that is based on lucid dreaming(Been & Garg, 2010; Brylowski, 1990; Tanner, 2004). Even though they were all case reports, all
patients have reported a reduction in nightmare frequency and the amount of
anxiety. Some patients also claimed that their sleep is improved and are no
longer in need of medication. In a pilot study, nightmare sufferers that
received a single 2-hour session of lucid dreaming treatment resulted in a
significant reduction in nightmare frequency (Spoormaker & Van Den Bout, 2006). In narcolepsy patients where recurrent nightmares are
frequently seen, 70% have reported that lucid dreaming provides relief against
nightmares. Narcolepsy patients also seems to have lucid dreams more frequently
compared to those without sleeping disorders, with an average of 8 lucid dreams
per month(Dodet, Chavez, Leu-Semenescu, Golmard, & Arnulf, 2015;
Rak, Beitinger, Steiger, Schredl, & Dresler, 2015).
It is
possible that the practice of lucid dreaming comes more naturally to those with
recurrent nightmares. Perhaps the phenomenon of lucid dreaming is the mind’s
own mechanism to avoid the stress caused by continuous nightmares.  Lucid dreaming can be used to treat recurrent
nightmares in a number of ways. First of all, there are certain lucid dreaming
techniques that allows the dreamer to wake up at will so that dreamer can avoid
any fear or distress from the nightmare  (Tholey, 1983a). Secondly, once the dreamer is in a state of
lucidity, the dreamer would be able to distinguish between dream and reality
and therefore realize that whatever happens within the dream is not a real
threat. And finally, lucidity within a dream could also lead to a certain
amount of control of the dream content. Accordingly, the dreamer could simply
change the dream scenario to avoid anything that could be considered a threat
or simply change it into a more pleasant dream (Dodet et al., 2015; Rak et al., 2015). An often reported example of a lucid dream is that
they were chased by an aggressor and when they realized that they were in a
dream, they chose to fly away from the danger(Dodet et al., 2015; Voss et al., 2012). Aside from reduction of anxiety and nightmare
frequency, there is also some evidence that lucid dreamers have a higher
psychological resilience compared to non-lucid dreamers (Soffer-Dudek, Wertheim, & Shahar, 2011). This would mean that lucid dreamers are more
likely to adapt to social disadvantages and have better performance in
stressful situations. However the study has also shown that even though lucid
dreaming training could mentally strengthening in a non-psychotic population,
it could have an adverse effect in a psychotic population (Mota, Resende, Mota-Rolim, Copelli, & Ribeiro,
2016).

Model to study dreams and mental disorders

Dreams have often been considered as a model for
mental disorders, due to similarities in certain aspects. In both dreams and
mental disorders there could be hallucinations, delusions, bizarre experiences,
disorganized thought and lack of insight into the current state of mind (Dresler et al., 2015). This could be attributed to a decrease of brain activity
in the frontal regions which is also seen in both REM-sleep and schizophrenia (Mota-Rolim & Araujo, 2013). From the results of multiple independent studies
there is evidence that grey matter volume reduction in the frontal and parietal
region marks and predicts the same insight deficits seen in REM-sleep and
schizophrenia. In contrast, an increase of brain activity is seen in lucid
dreams in the same brain regions, as mentioned above. For this reason, it is
suggested that lucid dreaming can be used to model insight in dreams and mental
disorders (Dresler et al., 2015). If understanding the lack of self-reflection
processes in dreams can be used to understand the same in mental disorders,
then understanding how lucid dreamers gain insight of their own consciousness
during dream state, could provide a way to induce self-reflection processes in
those with mental disorders.

Tool to improve motor skills

Although spontaneous lucid dreams are often reported
to arise during nightmares, trained lucid dreamers are capable of inducing
lucidity during normal dreams. Similarly to lucid dream induction, control of
dream content can be trained as well, allowing the dreamer to do whatever he or
she wants. Naturally, many practical uses can be hypothesized when experiences
and skills learned during lucid dreams can be taken into the external world. Ever
since Laberge showed that hand clenches that are carried out in lucid dreams
can be measured in electromyogram as communicative signals, the correlation
between in-dream motor actions and real life actions was a topic to be explored
(Laberge et al. 1981). However, only quite recently was the hypothesis of
using lucid dreaming as a form of motor practice been tested in an experimental
setting. In an online experiment by Stumbrys et al., 68 participants were asked
to carry out a sequential finger-tapping task before going to sleep and after
awakening. The improvement in performance was tested between groups that
carried out either mental practice, physical practice, no practice or practice
that was carried out within a lucid dream. While all three practice methods
resulted in a significant improvement in performance when compared against
those without practice, those who practiced the finger-tapping task during a
lucid dream, showed the most improvement (Stumbrys, Erlacher, & Schredl, 2016). A similar experiment has been carried out with
darting but in a more controlled setting. 27 participants were recruited to
spend a night in a sleep laboratory. The sample was divided into three groups
of 9 to measure the effect of lucid dream practice, compared against physical
practice and no practice. Once again the results show that lucid dream practice
has provided more improvement in performance compared to physical practice and
no practice. However this is only the case among the lucid dreamers that have
reported few distractions during lucid dream practice. Due to the difficulty of
the tasks that were meant to be carried out, all those in the lucid dream
practice group has had distractions during practice. Those who had many
distractions showed a decrease of performance instead (Schädlich, Erlacher, & Schredl, 2017). Furthermore, in a survey of 840 professional German
athletes, 199 (24%) of them were already are frequent lucid dreamers. With 44
(5%) athletes stating that they use lucid dreaming to improve their sport
performance (Erlacher, Stumbrys, & Schredl, 2011). These data appears to validate the hypothesis that
lucid dreaming can be used to improve motor skills and therefore sport
performance as well. Compared to physical practice, lucid dreaming practice would
have several advantages. First of all, lucid dream practice would not result in
exhaustion or have any risk to physical injury. Secondly, it also provides an
alternative way to practice and maintain certain motor skills when one is
incapable of physical practice due to injuries. And
finally, as some athletes have also reported, within a lucid dream it is also
possible to slow down movements or even perform movements that would be
impossible with physical practice during waking life (Erlacher & Schredl, 2010).

Discussion

The greatest limitation in any study with lucid dreaming is finding a
sufficient number of experienced lucid dreamers. In almost all studies done
with experienced lucid dreamers there has only been a handful of participants.
In the preliminary experiments, only a small amount of experienced lucid
dreamers was needed to prove the concept of lucid dreaming (Dresler et al., 2012; Erlacher & Schredl, 2004;
Sleep et al., 1981; Tholey, 1983a). Further experiments based on lucid dreaming would, however, require a
bigger sample size. For example, the fMRI results in the study by Dresler et al
was based on a single subject; rendering the entire experiment into a case
study. The transferability of lucid dreaming from field studies to a sleep laboratory
is often overestimated, leading to a much smaller sample of lucid dreamers than
what would be ideal. It should also be noted that there are many different
techniques to induce lucid dreams, each having a different effectiveness (Tholey, 1983b). Also there seems to be no standardized method for inducing lucid dream.
Accordingly, there should be standardized method that consist of a combination
of the various method, as this would increase to effectiveness and make the
results more generalizable. Another weakness in question would be the amount of
lucid dreaming training given to the participants. Again this varies from study
to study. Together with the method to induce lucid dreaming, the length and
frequency of the lucid dreaming training should be standardized as well. Another
recurrent flaw in lucid dreaming studies is that most do not differentiate
between past and present lucid dreaming incidence (Voss et al., 2012).

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