Lucid dream researchers at the Neurological Laboratory in Frankfurt, Germany, have discovered brainwave frequencies as high as 40 Hz occuring in lucid volunteers while they sleep.
The study from 2009 was carried out on the basis that lucid dreaming is a dissociated state with aspects of waking and dreaming combined in a way so as to suggest a specific alteration in brain physiology. The study authors - who included leading dream researchers Ursula Voss and J Allan Hobson - revealed the lucid combination of hallucinatory dream activity and wake-like reflective awareness to be paralleled by significant changes in electrophysiology.
To collect the data, six student volunteers were primed with pre-sleep autosuggestions to have lucid dreams. Then, for five nights per student, the researchers monitored their brainwave frequencies with EEG, with parituclar attention to their lucid episodes.
The results were a world first. Lucid dreams occur not just in delta and theta ranges, but also higher-than-REM frequencies in the gamma band, peaking at around 40 Hz. This effect was strongest in the frontal and frontolateral areas of the brain, which are considered to be the seat of linguistic thought and higher awareness.
What does this cutting edge lucid dream research mean?
Experts have considered lucid dreaming a mixed state of REM dreaming and waking cognition for years. But this new evidence suggests that lucid dreaming constitutes a hybrid state of consciousness with definable and measurable differences from waking and from REM sleep. A new state of consciousness, perhaps?
This hybrid state of waking and dreaming fits well with J Allan Hobson's AIM model for sleep cognition. The AIM model predicts different levels of consciousness based on three features:
So lucid dreaming could now arguably be mapped as a completely separate state from REM dreaming thanks to the gamma brainwave frequency now associated with it in this experiment.
The detection of gamma frequencies may also support the use of brainwave entrainment to increase the frequency and facilitate the onset of lucid dream states.
Brainwave entrainment is a form of audio technology which relaxes the listener into a meditative state. It is designed to synchronize their brainwaves into predictable patterns required for different levels of consciousness.
With practice, entering these altered states of awareness with brainwave entrainment may habitualize the process of relaxation and falling asleep consciously - a known lucid dream induction technique. It may also lead to improved self awareness in waking life, also increasing the chances of lucidity.
High levels of meditation have been scientifically linked with gamma brainwave frequencies before (Lutz et al, 2004) and even the ability to be hypnotized (De Pascalis, 1993). There is also a scientific link between regular meditation to achieve altered states and the ability to lucid dream.
Read the full study entitled Lucid dreaming: a state of consciousness with features of both waking and non-lucid dreaming by U Voss, R Holzmann, I Tuin and J A Hobson at the JW Goethe-Universitat Frankfurt.