Humanity has known about lucid dreams for as long as we've been dreaming. But not until this weekend have scientists even come close to describing how to make them happen.
Unless, of course, all this is just a dream.
According to a study published this weekend in Nature Neuroscience, scientists were able to achieve lucid dreaming -- in which the dreamer knows that he or she is dreaming and can sometimes control the outcome -- 77 percent of the time just by applying radio waves to the scalps of sleepers at a frequency of 40 Hertz. The brains of the dreamers, in fact, quickly mirrored the frequency shortly after it was applied by emitting 40 Hertz signals themselves.
When 25 Hertz was applied, lucid dreams came at a rate of 58 percent for the 27 subjects of study, who were quizzed about their dreaming upon awakening. But when random frequencies or no frequency were applied, no lucid dreams were reported.
The study's author and lead investigator, Ursula Voss, a professor of clinical psychology at J.W. Goethe-University-Frankfurst, bragged to National Geographic: "We can really quite easily change conscious awareness in dreams."
Added the study's co-author, J. Allan Hobson, from Harvard Medical School: "The key finding is that you can, surprisingly, by scalp stimulation, influence the brain. And you can influence the brain in such a way that a sleeper, a dreamer, becomes aware that he is dreaming."
Voss pointed to a 2009 study in which she studied known lucid dreamers and found that their brains all created brain waves at frequencies of between 30 and 40 Hertz. This range is often associated with humans in deep-thinking mode, but is much higher than average humans are known to emit during deep slumbers known as REM sleep.
One of the study's volunteers reported being taken aback when encountering an odd type of lemon cake in a dream then being instantly relieved upon remembering that it was all just a dream: "It looked translucent, but then again, it didn't. It was a bit like in an animated movie, like The Simpsons. Then I realized 'Oops, you are dreaming.' I mean, while I was dreaming! So strange!"
Not strange. Science.
Voss believes that further advances along this vein will help those suffering from traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder reverse the damage. Many people suffering these types of problems often experience terrifying nightmares from which they cannot escape, but Voss thinks that won't always have to be the case.
"By learning how to control the dream and distance oneself from the dream," she said, a nightmare can be turned into just another dream.
Hobson said this newfound understanding of lucid dreaming is "absolutely crucial. I would be cautious about interpreting the results as of direct relevance to the treatment of medical illnesses, but [it's] certainly a step in the direction of understanding how the brain manages to hallucinate and be deluded."
[Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]