The science behind lucid dreaming

By Jackie Edwards

The scientific and medical community have become more interested in lucid dreaming since the discovery that it is possible to improve motor learning through lucid dreaming. As a result, there is a possibility it could have some practical use for people in rehabilitation from a sport injury. This article will look at the results of some of these studies and find out how and why it is possible to improve motor skills while lucid dreaming.

What is lucid dreaming?

During a lucid dream you are consciously aware that you are dreaming, yet you remain in the dream state rather than waking up, as such, it is possible to manipulate your dreams as you see fit. It is thought of as a a safe testing ground for trying things out without coming to harm, for example, practicing a difficult and potentially dangerous sports manoeuvre.

Discerning between reality and a dream state

Research shows that achieving a lucid dream state in the first place is no easy task, as it involves being able to discern between reality and a very convincing dream state, which seems completely real to us at the time, even despite the bizarre nature of many of the occurrence in our dreams. Research shows that discerning between the two is a cognitively complex task, and as such, the ability to do this isĀ evidence of problem-solving skills and cognitive intelligence.

Self-inducing a lucid dream

According to research around 55% of people attest to having experienced at least one lucid dreaming episode in their lifetime. While for most people this is something that happens spontaneously, it is however possible to self-induce a lucid dream. It is possible that lucid dream induction could become the target of future scientific research in order to find consistent and reliable ways for people to reap the benefits.

Lucid dreaming and motor learning

Studies have shown that the sensorimotor cortex, which is the brain region responsible for physical movement, lights up when someone is practicing a motor skill during a lucid dream. Scientists found this by monitoring the brain activity of a group of participants each placed in a brain scanner. So, whether you are practicing a motor skill in real life, through waking mental rehearsal or while lucid dreaming, the neural mechanisms responsible for physical movement light up just the same. This brain activity constitutes as evidence that learning is taking place.

Improved waking performance through lucid dream practice

Another study involved participants practicing throwing a coin into a pot. One half of the participants practiced only while awake, the other half spent some time practicing the manoeuvre during a lucid dream. The participants who had practiced during a lucid dream showed a marked improvement in accuracy afterwards during round two of waking practice.

Despite this, the study showed that practicing the manoeuvre while awake was still the most effective way to improve. This shows that while practicing motor skills while lucid dreaming does result in waking improvements in that skill, it can only be considered as supplementary, as the best and most effective way to improve a motor skill is through real life practice.

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