Notes can be found as interactive webpage at

5: Sleep & Dreams

Sleep and cognition #

The National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep IQ Test
  1. During sleep, your brain rests.
  2. Boredom makes you feel sleepy, even if you have had enough sleep.
  3. Resting in bed with your eyes closed cannot satisfy your body’s need for sleep.
  4. Snoring is not harmful as long as it doesn’t disturb others.
  5. Everyone dreams nightly.
  6. Raising the volume of your radio will help you stay awake while driving.
  7. Sleep disorders are mainly due to worry or psychological problems.
  8. The human body never adjusts to night shift work.
  9. Most sleep disorders go away even without treatment.
  1. F
  2. F
  3. T
  4. F
  5. T
  6. F
  7. F
  8. T
  9. F
  • Why do we sleep?
    • Fact that all vertebrates sleep, including some that would seem to be better off without it, suggests that sleep is essential
    • Indus dolphins have evolved to take mini-naps of 4-60 seconds (totalling seven hours), bottle-nose dolphins (and some migratory birds too) have evolved to sleep half their brain at the time
  • Sleep requirements
    • Most people need at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night
    • Some notable exceptions:
      • Leonardo da Vinci slept a mere 90 minutes a day, in catnaps of 15 minutes every four hours
      • Salvador Dali liked to doze off, sitting up with a spoon in his hand. As he fell asleep, spoon would fall and clatter to the ground, and he would wake rejuvenated.
      • Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill also thrived on catnaps

    • There are people who are able to function quite well on one or two hours’ sleep a night

Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition #

  • Sleep deprivation causes irritability, fatigue, impaired concentration and creativity, greater vulnerability to accidents
    • Surprisingly, people are oftentimes unaware that their concentration, judgment, etc. are impaired (‘LSD Effect’)
  • Sleep deprivation
    • Impairs functioning of the prefrontal cortex, which has a negative impact on attention, memory, and decision making (Wu, Gillin, Buchsbuam et al., 2006)
    • Reduces neuroplasticity and the proliferation of cells in hippocampus, which can result in memory impairments (Fernandes, Rocha, Rocha et al., 2015)
      • Study by Matthew Walker & Robert Stickgold (2006) found that without sleep, the brain is 40% less able to make new memories
    • Impairs process of making broad connections and gaining creative insight
      • Participants were presented with a task where discovery of a hidden rule greatly improved speed of performance (Wagner, Gais, Haider et al., 2004; Ellenbogen, Hu, Payne et al., 2007)
        • Sleep dramatically increased the likelihood of grasping the hidden rule
      • Sleep causes our brain to create new links, which is why we often wake up with solutions to previously unresolvable problems
  • Sleep also plays an important role in emotional regulation (Walker & van der Helm, 2009)
    • After a night of no sleep, brain scans show a shutdown of the medial prefrontal cortex, which normally helps keep our anxiety in check (Simon, Rossi, Harvey et al., 2019)
    • Research following youth through time found that sleep loss predicts depression rather than vice versa (Gregory, Rijksdijk, Lau et al., 2009)
  • Sleep deprivation can produce hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia
  • Sleep debt can also cause metabolic and hormonal changes that mimic aging and lead to diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and memory impairment
    • Typical 18-year-old looks like 60-year-old in ability to metabolize glucose after 2 weeks of restricted sleep
  • Sleep deprivation depresses the immune system and is associated with shorter lifespan

    “Poor sleep will make you fat and sad, and then kill you”

In adolescents #

  • Teens now average nearly 2 hours less sleep a night than 80 years ago
  • Insufficient sleep in adolescence increases risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, risk-taking behavior, depression, and car accidents
    • Teens who sleep less than 8 hours are 3x more likely to make suicide attempts
    • For each hour of sleep lost, odds of an adolescent’s being obese rises by 80%
  • Compared to A and B students, those who receive C’s, D’s, and F’s in school obtained about 25 min less sleep per night, went to bed an average of 40 minutes later, had more irregular sleep/wake schedules (greater weekend delays of sleep schedule)
  • Sacrificing sleep time to study actually worsens academic performance, by making it harder the next day to understand class material or do well on a test
  • Also, a regular full night’s sleep can “dramatically improve athletic ability”
    • Strengthens neural connections that consolidate “muscle memories”

Treatment for insomnia #

  • Treatment of underlying physical/psychological problem
  • Behavioral treatment (CBT-I)
    • Sleep restriction: go to bed and get up at the same time everyday
    • Stimulus control: associate your bed with sleep
    • Relaxation response training
  • Many studies have indicated that CBT is just as effective as sleep meds and has more lasting overall benefit

Other helpful practices: #

  • Exercise daily (preferably in late afternoon), but not right before bed
  • No caffeine after 5PM
  • Relax and dim lights hour or two before bedtime
    • Using screens in a dark room was associated with worse sleep outcomes than using them with the lights on
    • Children who used screens at bedtime consistently scored lower on quality-of-life tests
  • Eat foods with more fiber and less simple carbs and saturated fat
    • More fiber and less saturated fat led to more slow-wave (deep) sleep
    • More sugar and simple carbs was associated with more frequently awakenings
  • Consume milk, banana, or sunflower seeds right before bed to raise serotonin levels
  • Identify problematic thoughts and determine how to deal with them

In medical students #

  • According to the Center for Disease Control, being awake more than 24 hours impairs performance as much as having a blood alcohol level of .10% - which is legally drunk
    • Many interns work 80 hours per week, typically in shifts of 30 hours
  • Medical students trained on traditional schedule, rather than alternative schedule with fewer weekly hours, made 5.6 times more diagnostic errors (Landrigan, Rothschild, Cronin et al., 2004)

Sleep Debt & Napping #

  • Sleep debt: “The brain keeps an accurate count of sleep debt for at least two weeks”
  • Potential benefits of napping
    • Federal Aviation Administration study found that pilots who took a 20-minute nap early in their 9-to-12-hour flight were significantly more alert as measured by reaction-time task
    • Research indicates that a
      • 45-minute nap improves alertness for 6 hours
      • 1-hour nap improves alertness for 10 hours
      • Napping can be an effective way to cope with sleep crisis
    • However, naps can potentially disrupt nighttime sleep, so it is generally recommended that those with chronic insomnia limit naps to 20-30 min at most or to refrain from napping altogether

Neurophysiological functions of sleep #

  • Slow wave sleep lowers the brain’s metabolism and permits it to rest
    • Regions that show the highest levels of activity during the day show the lowest levels of activity during slow-wave sleep
      • Stimulation of person’s hand with vibrator caused activation of contralateral somatosensory cortex: more delta activity was shown in that region the next night
  • On the other hand, regions involved in consolidation of memories show an increase in activity during sleep
    • The same patterns of activation of hippocampal neurons that occur during learning are repeated when animal is sleeping
    • The greater the hippocampal activity during sleep after a training experience, the better the next day’s memory
  • Also, the glymphatic system pushes cerebrospinal fluid through the brain to flush out toxins during sleep
    • Sleep clears brain of damaging molecules associated with neurodegeneration

REM sleep and dreams #

Stages of sleep #

  • Waking state
    • Alpha activity: regular, medium-frequency waves of 8–12 Hz; associated with a state of relaxation
    • Beta activity: irregular, low-amplitude waves of 13–30 Hz; associated with a state of arousal or alertness
  • Stage 1 Sleep
    • Theta activity: transition between sleep and wakefulness (nodding off, hypnagogic stage)
  • Stage 2 Sleep
    • Characterized by sleep spindles: bursts of waves, thought to be important in cognitive processing and…
    • K-complexes: sudden sharp waveforms when you hear a loud noise–you brains senses remain active

  • Stages 3 and 4 Sleep (slow-wave sleep)
    • Delta activity: regular, low-frequency, high-amplitude waves of less than 4 Hz; occurs during deepest stages of sleep
    • Person cannot be easily awakened, and when awakened, s/he acts groggy and confused (you don’t think you’re sleeping in stage 3)

Sleep cycles #

  • Each cycle of REM and non-REM sleep lasts approximately 90 minutes
    • Most slow wave sleep occurs during first half of night
    • Later cycles contain more stage 2 and REM sleep
  • 90-minute cycles of rest and activity ( basic rest-activity cycle) have also been found for activities such as infant feeding, eating, drinking, smoking, heart rate, oxygen consumption, etc.
  • It is actually impossible to totally deprive someone of sleep for prolonged period
    • EEG shows that people start to have “microsleeps” of two or three seconds

  • Dreams and REM sleep
    • Dreams occur during REM sleep: even those who claim they don’t dream, if awakened during REM, will usually recall a dream when awakened from REM
    • Dreams also occur in non-REM (NREM) sleep
    • However, REM sleep is associated more with “true dreams” that have vivid sensory and motor imagery and sense that “you are there”;
      • NREM dreams tends to focus more on a thought (e.g., solving a problem), image, or emotion
    • Amount of time spent in REM during each cycle increases as night progresses
    • Dreams during second half of sleep become more bizarre and emotionally intense; lucid dreams tend to occur in early morning hours
    • Dreams are quickly lost from memory unless we catch them and think about them immediately upon awakening
      • To improve dream recall, keep a dream diary

Functions of dreams #

  • Why Do We Dream? Theories through the times…
  • Freud’s wish-fulfillment theory of dreams:
    • Dreams are a safety valve that discharges otherwise unacceptable feelings/desires
  • Hobson & McCarley’s activation-synthesis hypothesis
    • Dreams serve no purpose – just side effect of random firing of neurons that serve to develop and preserve neural pathways through stimulation
      • Not scientific, can’t disprove – same with Freudian views
    • Pons sends randomly generated electrical signals to the frontal cortex (activation). The frontal cortex then weaves these signals into a coherent story (synthesis)
  • Modern psychodynamic view
    • Dreams reflect what is going on in our lives, our hidden impulses and desires, and underlying conflicts
    • Dreams give clues to the solution of our underlying conflicts and problems
  • Cognitive development theory of dreams
    • The neural activation associated with dreaming aids cognitive development
      • Peak of REM sleep occurs in 30-week-old fetus, who spends almost 24 hours a day in this state
  • Memory consolidation view
    • Participants who were trained on visual search task or word learning, then deprived of REM sleep, performed significantly worse than control participants the next morning
    • REM sleep increases following stressful experiences or periods of intense learning (e.g., graduate student studying for Qualifying Exams)
  • Hypnagogic dreams and learning and memory
    • These dreams are characterized by:
      • High rate of incorporation of memories of events from the day or from older related memories
        • When researchers had participants play Tetris for 7 hours, then repeatedly awakened them during their first hour of sleep, three-fourths reported experiencing images of the game’s falling blocks
      • A preference for emotionally salient material but without high dream affect
    • Hypnagogic dreams normally lack the bizarreness, selfrepresentation, emotions, and narrative complexities common to REM dreams
  • Slow-wave sleep early in the night may aid in consolidation of declarative memory tasks while REM sleep may enhance the processing of emotional memories
    • REM sleep involves activation of the amygdala and limbic forebrain structures – structures that are associated with regulation of emotions
      • Participants deprived of REM sleep show
        • Greater amygdala and less frontal activation after viewing emotionally distressing film
        • Less reduction in negative affect upon second viewing (Rosales-LaGarde, Armony, del Rio-Portilla et al., 2012)
        • You can’t process new emotions when sleep deprived

“Sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of care.” - Shakespeare

  • Case Studies: Unconscious problem solving
  • Great discoveries and inventions have often come to people through dreams
    • The tune for “Yesterday” came to Paul McCartney in a dream
    • Man who discovered the structure of the benzene molecule had dream of snake chasing its own tail

  • In 1845, Elias Howe had an idea for inventing a sewing machine, but he couldn’t figure out how to connect the needle to the thread. Then one night he dreamt that he was taken prisoner by a group of natives who were dancing around him with spears. The spears all had holes near their tips…
  • Madame Walker, the first female American self-made millionaire, founded and built a highly successful African-American cosmetic company in the 1890’s that made her a millionaire many times over: the formula for her original product, which included ingredients that could only be obtained from Africa, came to her in a dream

Content of dreams #

  • Repetition dimension continuum: traumatic dreams => recurrent dreams => repetitive themes within long dream series => frequent elements in dreams
    • All of these may be viewed as attempts by the dreamer to work through emotional preoccupations, “fixations,” “hang-ups”
  • Evidence that dreams can be an effective way of working through emotional preoccupations, fixations, or “hang-ups”:
    • Patients with depression are more likely to be in remission a year later if:
      • They show high eye movement density and high affect strength during their first REM period
      • They report more negative dreams at the beginning of the night and fewer negative dreams at the end of the night
        • This research suggests that negative dreams occurring at the end of the night are indicative of person’s failure to work through problems and self-regulate mood
    • These dreams can potentially be addressed in therapy, particularly as the last dreams of the night are those that a person is most likely to recall
  • Traumatic dreams (PTSD)
    • Repetition of the traumatic event in all its emotional detail and horror
    • Dreams change over time as person recovers, incorporating other elements and becoming less like the exact experience
    • Decline in traumatic dreams if dreams are discussed in groups (e.g., with other vets)
    • Those who have recovered often suffer a relapse to the old dream content when faced with new stressors
    • Traumatic dreams are about emotional events that people cannot resolve or “assimilate”

Recurrent Dreams and Nightmares #

  • Recurrent dreams
    • About 50% to 65% of college students report that they have experienced a recurrent dream
    • Recurrent dreams are mostly unpleasant and may take the form of nightmares
      • There are usually only a few themes that make up most nightmares for most people
      • Most frequent content theme of recurrent dreams is being attacked or chased
    • Recurrent dreamers tend to score significantly lower on measures of wellbeing than either former recurrent dreamers or non-recurrent dreamers
    • Dream work as a way to resolve problem of recurrent dreams
    • Recurrent dreams may be watered-down versions of traumatic dreams
  • Those who are prone to nightmares…
    • Often do not recall any obvious traumas
    • Instead, they tend to be relatively normal people who work mainly as artists, teachers, and therapists – tend to be creative and service oriented
    • Usually extremely sensitive from childhood: open, vulnerable, with “thin boundaries”
    • Research has also indicated that people with thin boundaries have dreams that are more vivid, detailed, and emotional than those with thick boundaries
  • Theory that nightmare sufferers are highly sensitive people for whom many everyday experiences are in effect highly traumatic

Repetitive Dream Themes #

  • We tend to think of dreams as irregular and infinitely varied, but this is not in fact true – content analysis has revealed that dreams are much more repetitive than most people think…
    • Dorothea:
      • Kept dream journal from 1912 (when she was 25 years old) to 1963
      • Analysis revealed that same basic themes appeared throughout 50 years:
        • Eating or thinking of food appeared in 1 out of every 5 dreams
        • Loss of an object, usually her purse, occurred in 1 out of every 6 dreams
        • She was in a small or disorderly room, or her room was being invaded by others, in 10% of her dreams
        • Mother appeared in another 10% of her dreams
        • She was going to the toilet in 1 out of every 12 dreams
        • She was late, concerned about being late, or missing a bus or train in 1 out of every 16 dreams
      • Six themes appeared in about 70% of her dreams
    • Jeffrey
      • Moved from one coast to the other, left his wife, “came out” as gay, and retired from his teaching position
      • However, as in case of Dorothea, dream themes/elements tended to remain constant over 25 year period
    • Research has indicated that themes and emotions of dreams do not tend to change much over the course of a person’s life
    • However, if person experiences period of profound change, dreams can change dramatically

Dream analysis #

  • Content analysis: systematic analysis of dream elements and themes
    • Analysis of dream elements in tens of thousands of dreams in countries across the world has allowed for the establishment of certain “norms”
      • Domhoff and his colleagues at the UC Santa Cruz have meticulously cataloged and posted more than 20,000 dreams (
  • Cross-cultural differences
    • Americans tend to dream more about animals and food while Brazilians have more sexual and emotional dreams
    • Far lower levels of physical aggression in dreams of Dutch men and women than among American men and women
      • Mirrored by the fact that the US is one of the most violent industrialized nation in the world and the Netherlands one of the least violent, according to crime statistics
    • Another study found the following rates of aggression in dreamers from different regions of the US:
      • East Coast: 40%
      • Midwest: 10%
      • West Coast: 22%
  • Most common dreams among college students – percentage of students who have had each of following types of dreams:
    Being attacked or pursued77%
    Trying repeatedly to do something71%
    Schools, teachers, studying71%
    Sexual experiences66%
    Arriving too late64%
  • Gender differences
    • Men tend to dream about sex and violence
    • Women tend to dream more about weddings
  • Continuity hypothesis of dreams: “the dream life reflects the waking life”
    • People generally dream about the same people, places, objects, activities, wishes, and fears that dominate their waking-life

Psychoanalysis #

  • Content analysis and psychodynamic view of dreams
    • Frequency with which a particular dream character or dream activity appears reflects intensity of dreamer’s preoccupation with it – dreams are a way of dealing with “emotional preoccupations,” “fixations,” or “unfinished business”
    • That is why dreams are more often unpleasant than pleasant
      • 8 in 10 dreams are marked by negative emotions
  • Barb Sanders
    • Content analysis of series of over 3000 dreams recorded between 1960’s (when she was a teenager) to late 1990’s
    • Sanders married, had three children, got divorced, was involved in a series of relationships with different men, earned a Masters’ in a helping profession, worked in a community college setting, and became an actress and director in a local theater company – but her dream themes for the most part did not change
    • Characters and social interactions (these are usually the most psychologically revealing aspect of a detailed content analysis):
      • Mother
        • Appears in 7.7% of dreams – more than any other character
        • Percentage of aggressive to friendly encounters with her is 72% – way above the national norm and her own baseline
        • Sanders described her mother as “an angry, isolating person… sharp and critical and negative and physically distant”
      • Favorite brother
        • Percentage of aggressive to friendly interactions with him is 25% – almost the mirror opposite of her relationship with her mother
    • When you tend to have a good dream about someone, then you tend to have positive interactions with them; and vice-versa
  • Use of Content Analysis in Clinical Diagnosis
    • Analysis of 1,368 dreams from a four-year period reported by a man in his mid-thirties who was undergoing psychotherapy – analyst (Calvin Hall) knew nothing about subject beyond his age and fact that he was seeing a therapist
    • Repeated themes:
      • Wide range of sexual practices and objects
      • Friendly and sexual interactions with children, with a greater focus on girls than boys
      • Urinating and defecating
      • Women with penises or beards, or who disguised themselves as men
      • Various kinds of holes, openings, and tunnels, which the dreamer usually entered and explored in some way with great curiosity
    • Based on this analysis, Hall concluded that man had poor impulse control, confusion about gender, and a particular concern with the nature of female genitals (symbolic interpretation of holes and tunnels) – and that he was a child molester whose primary desire was to look at the genitals of little girls
    • All of these inferences proved correct according to the therapist and the dreamer
    • Also, total lack of any reference to father in dreams, in contrast to a disproportionate number of dreams about his mother and sister
      • Led Hall to suspect either absence of a father or a traumatic experience with father
      • To check for the latter, Hall searched for possible symbolic substitutes for father – correctly concluded from following dream that the dreamer had himself been molested as a child by the father:

        “A bull that seemed to have human intelligence came behind me and held me against him. I did not like his advances and I sensed that he wanted to have sexual relations with me. So I broke away from him.”

Dream work #

  • Basic technique:
    1. Recall dream in as much detail as possible as soon as you awaken
      • To enhance dream recall, try not to move: stay in same position
      • Try to fully recall emotions of the dream – not the day ahead
    2. Keep a scribble pad by your bed and take notes
    3. Interpret dream
      • In general, dream dictionaries are of limited value: we all have our own unique symbols
      • Focus on emotional interpretation – not academic interpretation (What did you feel in dream? Where do you feel like that in your life?)
  • “Dreams are all about emotions (activation of the limbic system)
    • In our dreams, we may access immensely positive emotions that we may never even have experienced before in waking life
      • Focusing on those emotions can potentially cause situations to manifest that naturally elicit those emotions

Extra: Jungian Dream Analysis #

  • Jung maintained that the figures in our dreams represent aspects of ourselves that we have disowned
    • Through projection, we see in others what we fail to see in ourselves
    • These projections may be positive or negative
    • Dream work allows us to own and integrate all of these various aspects
  • Jungian dream analysis involves analysis of archetypes (basic personality features) and symbols
  • Archetypes:
    • Self: unites all other archetypes
    • Persona: public image (mask)
    • Shadow: aspects of ourselves (positive as well as negative) that we wish to deny
    • Anima: our feminine aspect
    • Animus: our masculine aspect
  • Symbols:
    • Animals: your own traits, good and bad
      • Dogs: symbol of the masculine
      • Cats: symbol of the feminine
    • Vehicles: the direction you are heading in life and your body
    • Chase: time for you to set out on your destined path, but you are refusing to let go of elements in your life that are hindering your quest
    • Children: something new, different and joyous. May also represent innocent parts of yourself sometimes, and at other times, immaturity and childishness.
    • Death: pertains to change. May also symbolize confronting fear, usually fear of death or change.
    • Falling: fear of losing respect or status; or of financial difficulties, fading physical vitality, or losing someone’s love.
    • House: represents you
      • Rooms: different aspects of yourself
      • Doors: opportunities
    • Lost: you are lost in your life, adrift. Something is gone from your life - love, career, spirituality.
    • Naked: inadequacy: you don’t feel prepared for some event, or for life itself. This dream may have an element of comedy - lighten up!
    • Water
      • Calm water: good times ahead, clear sailing
      • Rough waters: caution, reconsider your actions
      • To drown can be a warning

Lucid dreaming #

  • Lucid dreams: dreams in which one is aware that one is dreaming and is thus able to direct the course of the dream
  • Lucid dream practice originally derived from meditative traditions
    • The ultimate aim of dream yoga is not just to have fun controlling reality; rather, lucid dreams are brief, spontaneous realizations of the state of mind sought in meditation practice
      • These dreams involve a letting go of the ordinary sense of self and a bonding with the dream experiences themselves
      • There is a “special” feeling of immediacy and vividness: everything becomes much more “real, clear, and somehow present”
      • There is a sense of clarity and exhilaration that is based on a transformation of the way we normally attend to things and in our self-concept
  • Practice dream recall
    • Research has shown that people who recall dreams at least once a night report having at least one lucid dream a month
    • Learn to recognize your most frequent or characteristic dreamsigns – elements of dreams that indicate that you are dreaming (e.g., miraculous flight, purple cats, malfunctioning devices, and meeting deceased people)
  • Get ample sleep
    • The relative likelihood of lucid dreaming continuously increases with each successive REM period
    • If you sleep 8 hours, the probability of your having a lucid dream during the last 2 hours of sleep is more than twice as great as the probability of your having a lucid dream in the previous 6 hours
  • Napping
    • Trick you can use if you can’t afford to spend 8 hours in bed: get up one hour earlier than usual, stay awake for 30 to 60 minutes, then go back to sleep
    • During the wakeful period, read about lucid dreaming, practice reality checks and then do MILD as you are falling asleep
    • Study found 15 to 20 times increased likelihood of lucid dreaming for those practicing the nap technique
    • Test different sleeping positions
  • Practice reality testing throughout the day
    • Ask yourself “Am I dreaming?” and test your state…
    • Tips on reality testing:
      • The pinch test doesn’t really work
      • Try flying
      • Find some writing or a digital watch and read it once, look away, then reread it, checking to see if it stays the same
        • In dreams, text changes 75% of the time it is re-read once; 95% of the time that it is re-read twice
      • Try to turn on a light – this usually cannot be done in a dream
      • In general, things are much more changeable in dreams than in waking life: oftentimes all you have to do is look around for unusual transmutations
      • Lastly, anytime you find yourself seriously suspecting that you just might be dreaming you probably are

Induction techniques #

  • Use autosuggestion/dream inoculation
    • Imagine as vividly as possible that your surroundings are a dream
    • During the day, think continuously that “all things are of the substance of dreams”
  • Strengthen desire/intention
    • Firmly resolve to recognize dreaming
  • Tell yourself, “Tonight I will have a lucid dream,” “Tonight I will fly” – particularly in the early morning hours or during an awakening in the latter part of your sleep period
    • Visualize yourself recognizing dreaming
    • Imagine yourself carrying out an intended dream action
    • Paul Tholey claims that most participants who consistently practice the reality testing and intention techniques will experience at least one lucid dream every night


  • Mnemonic (mind) Induction of Lucid Dreams technique
  • Preliminary training: prospective memory exercise
    • Look for certain pre-specified targets each day for at least a week and do a reality test as soon as you notice the target
  • When you awaken from a dream period, recall as many details as possible from your dream
  • See yourself becoming lucid: Imagine that you are back in the dream from which you have just awakened, but this time you recognize that it is a dream
  • Focus your intent: tell yourself “Next time I’m dreaming, I want to remember I’m dreaming” – and really mean it!
  • Repeat procedure till you fall back asleep
    • LaBerge found that with autosuggestion, he had a lucid dream on only 1 out of 6 nights in the lab; with MILD, he had one or more lucid dreams on 20 out of 21 nights in the lab

Sleep paralysis #

  • Experience can be terrifying
    • Person feels they cannot move
    • May feel like a great weight is holding them down; hallucinations may appear
  • Neurological explanation:
    • During REM, the voluntary muscles of the body are paralyzed
    • Independent neural systems cause muscular paralysis, blockade of sensory input, and cortical activation – sometimes these don’t turn on or off at the same time, resulting in sleep paralysis
    • Sometimes people panic when they experience sleep paralysis and struggle to move or to fully wake up, but such reactions are actually likely to stimulate the limbic areas of the brain and cause the REM to persist
  • Solution:
    • Remember it is a dream and therefore harmless
    • Relax and adopt an attitude of interest and curiosity about what happens
      • Dreams that proceed from paralysis experiences are often quite intense and wonderful
    • About 20% of people who experience sleep paralysis say they really enjoy it because they’re able to enjoy it

Preventing Premature Awakening #

  • How to prevent premature awakening
    • Remain calm – relax and engage with the dream rather than withdrawing into your inner joy of accomplishment
    • Look at the ground or at your hands: this may help stabilize dream
    • Concentrate on the senses other than vision, such as hearing and touch (listening to voices or music, touching your body or an external object)
    • Load the perceptual system so it cannot change its focus from the dream world to the waking world
  • Spinning technique
    • Spin like a top (or fall backwards)
    • While spinning, remind yourself that the next thing you see will probably be a dream and do a reality test wherever you seem to arrive
  • The expectation of possible awakening often leads to a “false awakening” in which you dream of waking
    • Possible reason spinning technique works: it engages the vestibular and kinesthetic senses, discouraging the brain from changing state from dreaming to waking
  • Odds in favor of continuing the lucid dream:
    • After spinning, about 22 to 1
    • After hand rubbing (another technique designed to prevent awakening), about 13 to 1
    • After “going with the flow” (a “control” task) 1 to 2
    • To stay in a dream, create sensation of motion
  • If you do awaken, play dead
    • Remain perfectly motionless and deeply relax your body – there is a good chance that REM sleep will reassert itself and you will have an opportunity to enter a lucid dream consciously

Awakening at Will #

  • Yell – this directs your attention away from the dream and may actually activate vocal muscles of sleeping body
    • You can activate your vocal cords even when sleeping
  • Fixate your gaze on a stationary point: this will generally cause fixation point to blur, followed by dissolution of the entire dream scene and an awakening within 4 to 12 seconds

Q&A #

  • Q: Won’t all these efforts and exercises for becoming lucid lead to loss of sleep? And won’t I feel more tired after being awake in my dreams?
  • A: Yes, lucid dream practices may result in some loss of sleep.
    • However, how tired you feel after a dream depends on what you did in the dream – if you battled endlessly with frustrating situations in a non-lucid dream, you probably will feel very tired afterwards
    • On the other hand, a particularly exciting flight over a glamorous landscape can leave a person emotionally vitalized for several days: “I customarily wake [from a lucid dream] with a cheerful ‘afterglow’ that carries me through the day”
      • In general, people who find lucid dreams exhausting or unpleasant are not able to exercise much control over their dreams
  • Q: Might lucid dreaming be dangerous for some people?
  • A: In general, for people who are not “neurotic beyond the bounds of normality,” it is completely harmless.
  • Q: How long does it take to learn lucid dreaming?
  • A: This varies a lot with the individual. It may take a few days to a few months to induce a first lucid dream with these practices. In general though, it will take years to get to the point where one is able to have lucid dreams at will.

Transforming nightmares #

  • You can resolve re-occurring nightmares by lucid dreaming and choosing to face the fear
  • Lucid dream therapy (LDT)
    • Client is trained in progressive muscle relaxation, then rehearses recurrent dream in as much detail as possible
    • Client selects a part of the recurrent dream that is emotionally and/or visually salient and during which he can imagine carrying out a particular task
    • Client imagines performing this task (which can be as simple as looking at one’s hands) in the dream while saying that he is dreaming
    • Later, during an actual dream, this action will cue that the experience is a dream
    • Client is instructed to practice exercise at home just before going to sleep
  • Lucid dream therapy for treatment of nightmares may be particularly effective with children
    • Children tend to have spontaneous lucid dreams much more frequently than adults
      • Children who discover they can control their dreams never have to be told to go to bed!

        “Bedtime became exciting because of this new world I had discovered where anything was possible and I was the Boss.”

    • Introduction to lucid dreaming can be a wonderful gift to give to a child

Other uses of lucid dreams #

  • Dream activities produce the same physiological effects as performance of those activities in the waking state
    • Thus, rehearsal of tasks can be effective in the dream state
    • Also, lucid dreaming may potentially be useful for facilitating the functioning of the immune system and physical body generally
      • Ex: Woman suffering from inorgasmia was able to orgasm in lucid dream – and this permanently cured her disorder!
    • Same circuits activate when doing something while dreaming as doing that same something in real life

Inception #

  • What aspects of lucid dreams presented in the movie are real and what aspects are not?
  • Real:
    • It can be very difficult to tell if one is dreaming or awake
    • It is primarily emotions that create dreams
      • What characterizes REM/dream sleep neurologically is principally activation of the limbic system
  • Unreal:
    • Time does not speed up in dreams
    • It is unclear that shared dreams can occur
    • Lucid dreams do not tend to manifest as intense nightmares since by definition one is aware that it is only a dream and can exert at least minimal control over the dream