New Study Sheds Light on How Humans Control Their Dreams

An Australian researcher produced a recent study giving us a better understanding of the best technique for lucid dreaming.
Shelby Rogers

Researchers have figured out three key ways to help us control our dreams. Lucid dreaming has been popular for decades and gained traction in popular culture in the 1970s. Typically, lucid dreaming results from various factors specific to the sleeper rather than uniform situations. 

Being able to control your own dreams continues to grow in popularity, and movies like Inception only reignited the public's interest in lucid dreams. However, psychologist Denholm Aspy from the University of Adelaide has identified several key components for effective lucid dreaming. 

Dreaming Up a Study

Aspy and his team used 47 volunteers in each of the three groups based on 'lucid dreaming style.' He observed three unique lucid dreaming induction techniques: reality testing, wake back to bed, and mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD). 

Reality testing involves checking your environment several times a day to see if you're dreaming. The wake back to bed technique wakes someone up after five hours of sleep, staying awake for a very brief period of time, and then going back to sleep to hopefully enter a REM cycle. MILD sounds similar to wake back to bed. It also involves waking up after five hours, but it develops an intention to remember one's dream. Often, MILD requires people to repeat "the next time I'm dreaming, I will remember that I'm dreaming." (Not quite as complex as Inception made it seem, but nearly all lucid dreamers use one of these three techniques.)

Ultimately, one style of lucid dreaming proved to be most effective -- MILD. Those who fell asleep within five minutes of completing MILD had lucid dreams 46 percent of the time. Those who tried other techniques or a mix thereof only had lucid dreams 17 percent of the time.

"The MILD technique works on what we call 'prospective memory' – that is, your ability to remember to do things in the future. By repeating a phrase that you will remember you’re dreaming, it forms an intention in your mind that you will, in fact, remember that you are dreaming, leading to a lucid dream," said Aspy, Visiting Research Fellow in the University's School of Psychology, in a statement

Aspy also noted that practitioners of MILD lucid dreaming were significantly less sleep deprived the following day. Aspy said of the three types of dreaming, MILD had the fewest negative effects on sleep quality. 

Next steps for Aspy and his team include trying to pinpoint what about MILD made it the most successful way to lucid dream. Aspy's other studies also provided insight into dreams. In 2015, he studied whether or not vitamin B could affect the vividness of dreams and make them easier to remember. 

Making Dreams a 'Reality'

Prior to this study, few comprehensive studies existed regarding lucid dreaming.


"These results take us one step closer to developing highly effective lucid dream induction techniques that will allow us to study the many potential benefits of lucid dreaming, such as treatment for nightmares and improvement of physical skills and abilities through rehearsal in the lucid dream environment," Aspy said. 

During interviews regarding his vitamin B study, Aspy said, "Nightmares is one of the key aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder so being able to control nightmares and use lucid dreams to change the nightmare this could be very helpful for sufferers of PTSD."

Removing fears from your dreams remains one of the biggest benefits to lucid dreaming as it gives people a sense of control and comfort. 

Aspy's full paper can be found in the journal Dreaming. Aspy has even started a Go Fund Me account for furthering study in lucid dreaming. 

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